Last week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” As members of Congress ramp up the hearings and votes targeting Planned Parenthood, it’s important to understand this hearing was triggered by a series of videos created by the fanatical anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress, and is happening despite the fact that three teams of forensic experts concluded that the videos “significantly distort and misrepresent” the actual events presented.
This is not just political theater, it’s refried and rehashed political theater.
Anti-abortion activists have followed this script since 2000: They release audio or video footage that claims to prove wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood investigates and finds the footage to be heavily edited and/or doctored. That conclusion is supported by independent investigators. Republican lawmakers often schedule a hearing anyway. Planned Parenthood is ultimately exonerated.
Planned Parenthood has been transparent throughout these attacks. What we’re asking from our leaders is to seek the facts, and not promote fraud. Our motto: #FactsNotFraud.
Let’s take a look at the timeline of these “sting” attacks by anti-abortion activists over the last 15 years:
Footage aired on 20/20 claimed to show sale of fetal tissue. The pathologist interviewed in the video was not an employee of Planned Parenthood. The “whistleblower,” Dean Alberty, featured in the undercover video was found to have little or no credibility, given that his sworn statements were in direct contradiction to those he’d made in the video.
The video footage prompted an investigation launched by a Republican-led congressional committee. An FBI investigation ultimately concluded that there was no evidence that any laws had been broken, and in the House committee hearing, one Republican member went so far as to say to Albery that he noticed
“so many inconsistencies in your testimony … your credibility, as far as this member is concerned, is shot.”
A woman involved with the anti-abortion organization Life Dynamics posed as a 13-year-old girl who’d been impregnated by her 22-year-old boyfriend and called over 800 clinics in an attempt to prove that Planned Parenthood did not comply with state statutory rape reporting requirements.
The state of Connecticut conducted a criminal investigation, which rapidly collapsed due to a lack of evidence that any actual victims were hurt. Further investigation showed that the conversations were often held with administrative staff, not with doctors who would be in the position to determine whether an abuse report was necessary. The clinical staff’s work to make the caller feel at ease and encourage her to come to the clinic for a consultation were the corrects steps to take before potential abuse could be reported.
The Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General also conducted an investigation, at the request of a congressional subcommittee. They found no violations and reported that Planned Parenthood was aware of their responsibilities and that their compliance with those responsibilities was clear in site visits and chart reviews.
Anti-abortion activist group Live Action released a video featuring an anti-abortion activist pretending to be 13. The video purported to show Planned Parenthood failing to report minor abuse. A review of the full footage showed that she told one staffer that she was 13, and another that her boyfriend was 31. Planned Parenthood staff immediately asked if she had a parent with her. They later told her that if she’s a minor, they will have to have either a parent or guardian — or she will need a judicial bypass — to approve an abortion. Had she moved on to a consultation, she would have been asked for and required to show proof that she was over 18.
Live Action released another series of videos, this time making the false claim that Planned Parenthood violated informed consent laws and pushed women to obtain abortions under duress. Clips shot in Indiana and Wisconsin clinics were edited to make it seem that the potential patient was being rushed through the process or that key information was being left out of discussions. One video was edited to remove footage that showed Planned Parenthood staff asking if the patient is sure about her decision and letting her know she’ll need to speak with a counselor and sign a consent form.
Another video claiming to show a Planned Parenthood counselor helping a minor patient to circumvent parental consent requirements, shot in an Alabama clinic, was proved actually to show the Planned Parenthood staffer explicitly stating that she is only a translator, that the fake patient will need a guardian’s signature for the abortion if she is under the age of 18. She even goes on to say,
“No, that’s the law. Period. Anywhere you go, if you are under the age of 18 you’re going to have to have a parent’s consent.”
Another video was released by Live Action. In it, an actress pretended to be a pregnant woman seeking help. The video clip as originally published by Live Action, presented the allegation that Planned Parenthood staff were pressuring the woman to have an abortion. In what has become a hallmark of Live Action’s “sting” videos, the footage was determined to be heavily and deceptively edited. The full, unedited footage revealed that staff repeatedly counseled her to think seriously about her decision and reminded her that she could change her mind up until the procedure began.
The staffer even informed the patient that she will “always recommend adoption first, but if you can’t do that — if you can’t let people know you’re pregnant, and you’re considering abortion, really sit down and think about it.” That, too, was edited out.
Live Action released videos making false claims about Planned Parenthood: both that they covered-up sex trafficking and that they condoned statutory rape. Not only did both allegations prove to be false, and the videos aggressively edited, Cecile Richards (president of Planned Parenthood) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder before the videos were released, summarizing the visits and informing him of a potential multi-state trafficking ring.
One video actually showed a Planned Parenthood staff member behaving in a professional and appropriate manner, providing information to the potential patient that was consistent with state law. Additionally, she followed up by reporting the incident to her supervisor.
Republican congressmen ignored the evidence discrediting the videos, and brought the government to the brink of a shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood on the basis of this “evidence.”
House Republicans then launched a baseless investigation into Planned Parenthood following Live Action’s videos.
Congressman Cliff Stearns launched an investigation based on the rationale that even though Planned Parenthood doesn’t use federal funds to perform abortions, the funds allow them to use money from other sources to cover the costs of abortions. He demanded a gargantuan volume of documents that included over a decade of audit reports and internal documents from dozens of Planned Parenthood affiliates.
At the time, ranking members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce questioned whether “Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of a Republican vendetta.”
Months of investigation revealed no malfeasance, and Rep. Sterns conceded that
“undercover videos often times might lack a credibility.”
Live Action released clips purporting to show a patient who states that she’d get an abortion if her fetus turned out to be a girl then receiving information from a Planned Parenthood staff member on the types of tests used to assess the sex of the fetus, agreeing to schedule a procedure, and telling the patient “it’s not up to us to decide what is a good or a bad reason for somebody to decide to terminate a pregnancy.”
In footage edited out of the original clips, clinic staff listen compassionately to the potential patient and inform her of all of her potential available options — including prenatal care and adoption. They ask her if she’s “definitely decided” to terminate, and again ask her, “is adoption something that you were interested in considering?”
Despite the fact that these videos were discredited, congressional Republicans used them to push a ban on sex-selective abortions.
Live Action released another set of undercover videos, this time claiming to show that Planned Parenthood was conducting abortions on viable fetuses. An actor inquired about a legal abortion, which was then edited to make it seem that a clinician described a scenario in which a baby that survived an abortion was still terminated. It was ultimately determined that the videos had been edited to remove key portions, including statements that doctors would not terminate once the fetus was out of the body, and that “once that pregnancy comes out alive [the doctor] will do everything he can to save it.”
“What the video does not depict is any evidence whatsoever that the doctor at the clinic stands in violation of the New York murder statute or the federal Born Alive Infants Protection Act, as Live Action claims.”