Early in September of this year, arson investigators determined that a fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington was set deliberately. The same clinic was the target of demonstrators several weeks earlier. The demonstrators in Pullman were upset about a recent series of “sting” videos, the latest salvo in ongoing efforts to demonize and defund Planned Parenthood. Back in 1996, four men from a white supremacist, anti-abortion group were convicted of bombing a Planned Parenthood clinic near Spokane.
In the days before medical care became politicized, it was hard to imagine that a health clinic that historically caters primarily to the uninsured and under-served would be the target of a highly publicized undercover sting operations, misinformation campaigns, bombings and arson attacks.
In 2011, Senator John Kyl (R-Arizona), speaking on the floor of the United States Senate, said, “Everybody goes to clinics, to hospitals, to doctors, and so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”
It’s not clear where Kyl got his information, but the fact is that over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is preventative health services, including cancer screening, STD testing, and birth control. Factcheck.org dismissed Kyl’s statement as “wildly incorrect,” pointing out that 35% of Planned Parenthood’s services is testing and treatment of STDs, another 35% is contraception, and 16 percent is cancer screening. Three percent of their services are abortions, and, by law, none of that three percent can be funded by federal monies.
Despite these facts, the anti-abortion movement has set their sights on Planned Parenthood, pounding away at the false narrative that the clinic is primarily an abortion provider, and worse: that it’s run by a bunch of ghouls. The attack gained traction recently with the heavily-edited propaganda videos created by the anti abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, designed to present Planned Parenthood as a sort of morbid clearing house for fetal body parts. Subsequent investigations have uncovered no illegal activity or wrongdoing. Several insensitive staff members were ensnared in the sting operation but what the propaganda videos neglect to show is the reason why fetal tissue is donated to medical researchers: to help improve and save lives.
In the Washington Post, a Rutgers Law School professor, Margo Kaplan, described her experiences with in IVF, or vitro fertilization (“Fertility clinics destroy embryos all the time. Why aren’t conservatives after them?” August 14, 2015). She pointed out that IVF clinics routinely give unused embryos to medical research, with permission from the donors, in a similar procedure to that used by Planned Parenthood and described in the “sting” videos. She wondered why protestors aren’t also targeting those clinics but remain fixated on Planned Parenthood. Good question.
Never mind that abortion has been safe and legal in the United States since 1973, that it was legalized to put an end to the horror of back-alley abortions. Never mind that contraceptive services provided by Planned Parenthood result in a vast reduction in unwanted pregnancies and by extension, abortions.
All Americans are entitled to their beliefs and free speech is part of our Constitution. Misinformation campaigns and sting operations aren’t illegal – they’re just sleazy. It’s something worse when a U.S. senator stands on the Senate floor and tells lies. It something worse again when extremists resort to arson and bombings.
Although the propaganda videos have been damaging, consistent public polling reveals that most Americans do not want to defund Planned Parenthood. A group of liberal clergy stepped up to support the organization against these “politically motivated, heavily edited, and secretly recorded” videos. The Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board issued this statement: “As faith leaders committed to justice, honesty, and liberty, we are troubled by the decades-long campaign of harassment against Planned Parenthood and those they serve. Our faiths demand care for those marginalized by poverty and other oppressions. Faith leaders have supported Planned Parenthood for nearly 100 years because of our shared goals: every person — regardless of income, race, or religion — deserves access to safe, affordable, high-quality health care.”