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Monitor Board of Contributors: The Planned Parenthood witch hunt



Last modified: Thursday, August 06, 2015
Planned Parenthood is under siege. Long-term opponents have been working overtime to create a witch hunt atmosphere in an attempt to take down the organization. It is a creepy form of McCarthyism based on maliciously edited videos, which aim to make it look like Planned Parenthood is profiting from selling fetal body parts.

I have been surprised that the media has treated this story as credible. Usually, there is an expectation of evidence behind a story. The concept of evidence implies some degree of reliability and authenticity.

In this instance, we have a group of zero credibility (the Center for Medical Progress, the group behind the videos), which falsely presented itself to Planned Parenthood employees over the course of three years in an attempt to get a gotcha moment. They then doctored the videos to manufacture wrongdoing and create a misleading impression. I would point out that the Center for Medical Progress, humorously named, had no online presence until a few weeks ago. Some of the actors involved have a long history with deceptively editing undercover footage of abortion clinics.

The news cycle becomes slow during the summer, but this smear campaign doesn’t deserve the heading “news.” It is less newsworthy than shark bite stories.

The accusation that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal body organs and tissue is patently false. Women who have abortions, which is a legal medical procedure, can, in some states, donate fetal tissue to research if they choose to do that. That does not happen at Planned Parenthood centers in New Hampshire.

I would note that donating fetal tissues to scientific researchers can help contribute to our understanding of Parkinson’s, diabetes, muscular dystrophy and eye diseases. Scientists at universities and at government labs have been using fetal tissue for many years.

On July 28, the New York Times provided much more detail about the value of this scientific work. As the Monitor pointed out in its July 30 editorial, the Planned Parenthood affiliates in other parts of the country do not profit from the service. The money Planned Parenthood receives only recoups the costs of collecting and preserving it and sending it to researchers.

Less reported than the videos has been the recent breach of Planned Parenthood’s employee database. Anti-abortion hackers who have the announced intention of decrypting and releasing personally identifiable information are behind this. Given the track record of the pro-life movement, I have to say this is scary.

Whatever the innocence of many in the pro-life movement, there is a dangerous minority of anti-abortion fanatics who will stop at nothing to obtain their goal of shutting down Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood employees have a perfect right to be concerned and frightened. The extreme element of the anti-abortion movement has killed abortion providers. Dr. Tiller and Dr. Slepian come immediately to mind. The mainstream of the anti-abortion movement says precious little about its crazies. Maybe they are scared of them, too.

The intent of releasing personally identifiable information is about harassment. Part of the strategy of the extreme sector of the anti-abortion movement has been threatening and stalking abortion providers. It is hard to know what these fanatics will do, but past history is not reassuring.

The story of vigilante action against abortion providers has been underreported. For those who doubt that, read Living in the Crosshairs by David Cohen and Krysten Connon. The authors document how every day, men and women who are associated with abortion care are harassed, threatened, stalked, picketed, sent hate mail and terrorized.

This is a more worthy news story than the transparently phony videos devised by fanatics.

Rebecca Watson, who blogs at Skepchick.org, persuasively compares the Planned Parenthood video story to other examples of alleged heresy. I think of the blood libel against the Jews and the persecution of witches. Begin with a fake story, add hysteria (and social media) and, voila, you have the recipe for a debacle.

Facts get lost

In considering the value of Planned Parenthood to our communities, we should remember that it provides health care, education and outreach to more than 5 million women, men and adolescents. Nationwide, only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion-related. More than 90 percent of the abortion services are for first trimester abortions.

Planned Parenthood performed 400,000 pap tests and 500,000 breast exams. These services are critical for detecting cancer. It also has provided 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections.

As a nonprofit, Planned Parenthood has been a critical provider insuring poor women have access to basic medical care, including birth control. Contraception accounts for 34 percent of its services. It is estimated that the work of Planned Parenthood prevents 516,000 unintended pregnancies a year.

There is an irony in the attacks on Planned Parenthood. Through its sex education efforts and its promotion and distribution of birth control, it has done more to prevent abortions than anybody.

Planned Parenthood has been around almost 100 years. It will not be as easy to take down as, say, ACORN. It is the largest provider of reproductive services in the United States, with more than 700 locations.

Historically, attacks are nothing new. When Margaret Sanger, her sister and another woman founded the first American birth control clinic in Brooklyn, they were arrested and jailed for violating the Comstock Act. Then the accusation was distributing obscene materials. That conviction was overturned.

I have come to believe that “pro-life” is really a misnomer for the anti-abortion movement. More correctly, it should be identified as “pro-birth.”

A quote from Sister Joan Chittister makes the point: “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation what the morality of pro-life is.”

The extreme right-wing jihad against Planned Parenthood is disturbingly irrational. We now have 18 male House Republicans signing a letter committing to shutting down the federal government if Planned Parenthood is not defunded.

In New Hampshire, the Executive Council is voting on Planned Parenthood’s state contracts. After the 2008 and 2012 national election defeats, I would have thought the national Republican Party would have reconsidered whether attacking Planned Parenthood and denying women access to reproductive health was wise strategy.

I guess the war on women is not dead.



(Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is an administrative law judge. His column reflects his own views and not those of his employer, the Social Security Administration.)