Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Planned Parenthood Controversy: An Introduction

Over the past few weeks, an anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress has released several videos showing conversations between Planned Parenthood staff and undercover activists posing as employees of a sham company. The videos are part of the group's Human Capital Project, a smear campaign meant to depict Planned Parenthood as an illegal purveyor of fetal tissue. In reality, Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue from abortions to medical research, which is both legal and vital to the search for new medical discoveries. For me, the video scandal triggers feelings of déjà vu, stirring memories of Live Action's undercover smear videos. The controversy comes at a time when the U.S. is still polarized about abortion and states legislatures are restricting abortion access.

The Center for Medical Progress insists that the videos show Planned Parenthood representatives discussing the illegal sale of fetal tissue derived from abortions. Media sources, blogs, and watchdog websites have argued that the videos were deceptively edited, pointing out that officials in the video discuss reimbursement for clinic expenses, not sale of fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood has asserted its innocence. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, reminded the public that the organization provides important health services and does not sell fetal tissue. Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications, explained that Planned Parenthood receives reimbursement for tissue transport but does not financially benefit in any way. The organization's clergy advocacy board blasted the "fraudulent and extreme tactics" used in the video smear campaign. Moreover, Planned Parenthood hasn't taken politicians' attacks attacks lying down. According to Politico, the organization launched an ad campaign calling out senators who supported defunding measures.

The Center for Medical Progress, is anti-abortion organization calling itself "a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances". The group claims that "trafficking in aborted baby parts" is a "national problem" warranting congressional investigation and defunding of Planned Parenthood. The smear campaign is yet another attempt by anti-abortion activists to turn public opinion against Planned Parenthood, undermine its funding, and deny reproductive health services to women. People for the American Way called the campaign "part of a long-running effort to undermine access to reproductive health care — including contraception, reproductive health screenings, sex education and legal abortion — by providing cover to legislators who want to dismantle women’s access to reproductive care."

Predictably, the Center for Medical Progress was founded by prominent anti-abortion activists. According to the Center for Medical Progress' registration form with California's Registry of Charitable Trusts, Troy Newman serves as the group's secretary. (Hat tip to the Nation.) Troy Newman is president of Operation Rescue, a zealous anti-abortion group that tormented the late Dr. George Tiller, a provider of late-term abortions. Albin Rhomberg, the group's chief financial officer, has a history of anti-abortion activism in California, according to Planned Parenthood's California affiliate. According to the Baptist Press, Rhomberg took photos of aborted remains at at the Los Angeles County coroner's office in 1982.

Media outlets and lawmakers have noticed the group's unsavory tactics and ties. David Daleiden, CEO of the Center for Medical Progress, defended his ties to Troy Newman, deflecting Alisyn Camerota's questions about Newman during an appearance on CNN's New Day. (Hat tip to Raw Story.) In July, three House Democrats urged U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the Center for Medical Progress to determine if they broke any laws, reports Huffington Post. Harris has agreed to investigate, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Unfortunately, other lawmakers were taken in by the inflammatory videos. Politico reports that some Republican politicians were so outraged by the videos that they wanted to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood -- despite Republican lawmakers' past support for the use of fetal tissue in medical research.The threat of a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding fizzled, and efforts to defund the organization failed.

Even some state leaders were swayed by the videos, which gave them an excuse to deny funding to the reproductive health care provider. Earlier this month, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced that he was terminating an agreement between Planned Parenthood and the Alabama Medicaid Agency. Al*com quoted Bentley as decrying the "deplorable practices" at Planned Parenthood.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal also announced the termination of a Medicaid agreement between Planned Paranethood and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. In an August 3rd press release, Jindal blasted Planned Parenthood for its alleged "disrespect for human life", insisting that " this is not an organization that is worthy of receiving public assistance from the state."

The federal government has warned both states against denying Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) has warned Alabama and Louisiana that terminating Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood may run afoul of federal law, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Despite the lurid accusations of anti-abortion activists, state investigations have affirmed Planned Parenthood's innocence. Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, and South Dakota conducted reviews of Planned Parenthood and found no violations of the law, according to the Hill. Governors of other states have declined to investigate Planned Parenthood. For example, the Spokesman-Review reports that Idaho Governor C. L. Otter turned down a request by 30 Republican state lawmakers to investigate the organization, arguing that there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood violated state or federal law.

Despite the fact that the Center for Medical Progress' videos were edited and that Planned Parenthood has done nothing illegal, anti-abortion figures will continue to incorrectly accuse the health care provider of selling fetal tissue. The videos have given them another excuse to attack Planned Parenthood's funding, promote outlandish myths about abortion, and target reproductive rights. This controversy is about crippling reproductive freedom, not ethics or laws.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

People for the American Way: The Activists And Ideology Behind The Latest Attacks On Planned Parenthood

RH Reality Check: A Network of Lies 

Los Angeles Times: Undercover video sting of Planned Parenthood is off-base, as usual

New York Times: The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood 

The Daily Beast: These States Are Illegally Defunding Planned Parenthood


  1. Thanks you for these postings. I've been hearing about this smear campaign, of course, and I knew the videos were deceptively edited and that several investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, but it's very valuable to have all this information together in one place. Once again you're "warily watching the religious right" for the rest of us.

    1. Infidel -- Thanks. I'm working on some posts on the August 22nd protests, so stay tuned.

      To be honest, I approached the Planned Parenthood controversy with trepidation, since there was SO MUCH information to sift through. A quiet weekend gave me the opportunity to look through all the news that has happened.

      Anti-abortion zealotry is alive and well. Now more than ever, we need to be vigilant.


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