On November 16, Washington state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a report on an investigation his office had undertaken at the request of GOP state legislators to investigate whether Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue or performing illegal abortions. Although The Seattle Times reported the launch of the inquiry, it has as of yet failed to inform its readers of the investigation's report that cleared Planned Parenthood.
The Spokane, Washington newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, covered the attorney general's report on November 16 and ran a follow-up editorial three days later, which wrote "These findings should be repeated as often as the baseless allegations that the clinics in this state and around the country were breaking the law." The editorial further noted that "the allegations themselves... have done considerable damage," citing the apparent arson fire at Planned Parenthood clinics in Pullman, Washington and Southern California.
While the Spokane newspaper covered the report, Washington state's largest circulation newspaper, The Seattle Times, did not. The omission is notable because the publication covered the GOP lawmakers' initial calls for the state attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood on July 27, in addition to publishing articles about other sources for donated fetal tissue in Washington state, and about Sen. Patty Murray's (D-WA) support for Planned Parenthood following a congressional vote against the organization.
The state attorney general has now concluded that there was no evidence to support any of the allegations that Planned Parenthood violated federal law or state laws involving fetal tissue donation or abortion procedures. In a letter to state lawmakers Ferguson wrote, "We found no indication that procedures performed by Planned Parenthood are anything other than performance of a legally authorized medical procedure."
Washington state GOP lawmakers had called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood stemming from the release of deceptively-edited videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress.
image via creative commons
In The New York Times, freelance journalist Meaghan Winter called attention to the dangerous implications of conservative attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, which have been bolstered by right-wing media citing the repeatedly debunked deceptively-edited videos smearing the reproductive health care provider. As Winter explained, the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood could hit low-income women the hardest.
Repeated Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have been championed and propelled by right-wing media citing the series of deceptively edited videos released by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP has been falsely smearing Planned Parenthood by baselessly claiming the health care provider profits from the illegal sale of fetal tissue. While this "campaign of deception" has been debunked repeatedly by media, experts, and several federal and state investigations, conservative media have continued to promote the falsehoods to attack Planned Parenthood. Right-wing media have also provided ammunition for lawmakers seeking to defund the women's health care provider by unrealistically claiming that community clinics could fill the gap if Planned Parenthood lost funding - an assertion that health experts have explained is impossible.
In a November 12 opinion piece for The New York Times, Winter highlighted the dire consequences of conservative attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Noting that the most dangerous threats to the vital health care services provided by Planned Parenthood -- cancer screenings, ultrasounds, contraception and other services -- are occurring on the state level, Winter explained that "legislators in at least 11 states have proposed bills designed to restrict Planned Parenthood" just since July, when the videos smearing Planned Parenthood were first released. When Republicans fight to defund Planned Parenthood and these types of providers are shut down, Winter explained, "they leave low-income women with few alternatives for reproductive and preventive health care," and effectively force "thousands of women seeking low-cost health care [to end] up at crisis pregnancy centers." Winter noted that the effects of these crisis pregnancy centers, which are being funded by some of the very states trying to defund Planned Parenthood, often mean women are "coerced to continue" unwanted pregnancies "through misinformation or a lack of access," and consequently "lose control" of their bodies, education, finances, and futures:
The Republicans who voted in September to block Planned Parenthood's funding weren't protesting covering abortion with federal dollars -- that's been restricted since 1977. Instead, they want to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing cancer screenings, ultrasounds, contraception and other services.
The question is not whether the federal government will defund Planned Parenthood -- it won't -- but how many states will. Since July, legislators in at least 11 states have proposed bills designed to restrict Planned Parenthood from providing health care to low-income women.
When providers like Planned Parenthood are shut down, they leave low-income women with few alternatives for reproductive and preventive health care. While lawmakers say they'll transfer funds to community health centers, there are too few to meet the need.
Today, thousands of women seeking low-cost health care are ending up at crisis pregnancy centers. Nationwide, there are more than 3,000 anti-choice centers advertising free services, like options counseling, pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. They now outnumber abortion clinics by at least three to one.
These organizations and their friendly volunteers may seem innocuous, but the centers are often staffed by evangelical women who lack professional licenses and belong to religious organizations that actively discourage them from recommending contraception, let alone abortion. Two such organizations, Heartbeat International and Care Net, coach staff members to seem credible to "abortion-minded" women by scrubbing their websites, signage and waiting rooms of all evidence of their underlying evangelical goals. Staff members themselves say their centers are most appealing to young women without anywhere else to turn.
When a woman is coerced to continue an unwanted pregnancy through misinformation or lack of access, she loses control of her body, education, finances -- her future. The struggle for reproductive rights is inextricable from other movements for racial and economic justice. We will not achieve equal opportunity until a poor woman has the same sovereignty over her body and her future as a wealthy man. We must roll back the anti-choice legislation in our states that holds back equality.
From the November 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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While appearing as a guest on CNN, Rachel Campos-Duffy, a spokeswoman for The Libre Initiative -- the Koch brothers-funded organization that reaches out to Latinos with conservative talking points -- pushed false claims about Planned Parenthood that have been widely debunked, while ignoring that defunding the organization would have a negative impact on Latinas.
An OB-GYN who also provides abortions wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post titled, "Being a doctor who performs abortions means you always fear your life is in danger" in which she explained how threats of violence and intimidation tactics directed at reproductive health service providers affect them and their patients.
Conservative media often compare abortion providers -- like people who work at Planned Parenthood -- to Nazis and Josef Mengele, but the potential for inciting violence is very real when radio, television, online, and print outlets use their public platforms to spout extremist rhetoric and fan the flames of public anger. Reproductive health care facilities have suffered arson attacks and other forms of vandalism in the wake of this summer's release of deceptively-edited videos by an anti-choice group that were heavily promoted by Fox News and other conservative media organizations.
From Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper's October 29 Washington Post op-ed:
Every few months, I do an Internet search for my name, as recommended by a media-savvy colleague. In the past I've found myself in all the predictable places -- among a list of doctors who graduated from my residency program, on my employer's Web site, in various social-media posts. But in the stillness of a warm evening this past August, after putting my daughter to bed, I found myself in a new and terrifying place: an anti-choice Web site that claims I am part of an "abortion cartel." In addition to my office address and links to find my medical license numbers, it features several photos of me. In one of the photos, taken from social media, I'm holding my then-15-month-old daughter.
Though the site claims to be "informational" in nature, the real purpose is clear. There is no better way to intimidate and incite fear than to target a family member, especially a child. The message is unambiguous: I'm being watched, and so is my daughter.
I am an obstetrician-gynecologist. Among the many medical services I provide my patients, I also perform abortions for women who need them. That's made me a target for harassment online and in person over the course of my career.
Numerous colleagues have similar stories. On social media, I've witnessed friends and mentors called murderers, Nazis, racists and whores. The threats can be vague ("I hope someone does to you what you do to babies") or terrifyingly specific ("I know where you live, and someday I might show up at your doorstep").
Too often, these threats are not all talk: In the past two decades, 13 physicians or staff members at abortion-providing facilities have been killed or seriously injured.
As hard as it is for physicians and staff who work at these clinics, the impact isn't just on providers. When patients are confronted by threats and intimidation, some of them are too frightened to enter the clinic to get the care they need. These women deserve empathetic, respectful care -- which is what my colleagues and I have studied and practiced for years to give them -- not judgement, and not violence. Targeting clinics also prevents women from getting other essential medical services, from cancer screenings to ultrasounds to sexually transmitted-infection testing and treatment.
On the October 29 edition of CNN's New Day, host Alisyn Camerota called out Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina for repeatedly making inaccurate statements in the presidential debates. During the October 28 CNBC debate, Fiorina falsely claimed that "92 percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama's first term, belonged to women," but Camerota explained that her faulty statistic was "a recycled talking point from the Mitt Romney campaign that they've deemed as false." Camerota also pointed out that in the previous Republican debate, Fiorina made false statements about Planned Parenthood based on deceptively edited videos:
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The Center for Medical Progress attempted to smear Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas by releasing a new undercover video that it falsely claims shows a clinic doctor discussing how she might conduct illegal abortion procedures for "harvesting intact fetal heads," and affirming a price for the specimens. But experts say the procedures she describes are legal, the footage actually reveals that the doctor specifically said she does not do fetal tissue donations at her clinic, and the undercover actors are the only ones who discuss procedure costs.
The editorial board of the Austin American Statesman has called the decision by Texas "lawmakers and state officials" to investigate Planned Parenthood for Medicaid fraud part of a "witch hunt" that won't stop until the health care provider "is completely dismantled in Texas."
An October 28 editorial by the Austin American Statesman discussed the state's plan to stop reimbursing Planned Parenthood with state Medicaid funds for treating low-income patients and its issuing of subpoenas to three clinics for detailed patient records as part of an investigation into alleged Medicaid fraud. The editorial board correctly pointed out that the state "has not yet produced any evidence to support its allegation that laws or policies were broken aside from the heavily edited videos taped in secret and released by an anti-abortion group" -- videos which have been thoroughly debunked by independent experts but are still being characterized as factual by right-wing media. The editorial added that "the timing of the investigation" suggests that the state is attempting to "validate its decision with a retroactive investigation." And it warned that "the apparent willingness of Texas leaders to put politics before public health bodes ill for them and for the state.
Texas is gearing up for a full-fledged witch hunt.
The target is women's health provider Planned Parenthood, and it is clear that lawmakers and state officials will not stop until the 94-year-old nonprofit is completely dismantled in Texas.
Last week ended with Planned Parenthood being put on notice that the state intended to strip the nonprofit of its ability to receive Medicaid reimbursement for health services, alleging that Planned Parenthood had "committed and condoned numerous acts of misconduct captured on video."
Interestingly, the state has not yet produced any evidence to support its allegation that laws or policies were broken aside from the heavily edited videos taped in secret and released by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress. The controversial fetal tissue program that has dominated the national headlines doesn't even exist in Texas.
The timing of the investigation certainly gives the impression that the state is trying to validate its decision with a retroactive investigation.
Ultimately those who will suffer are the low-income Texas families who rely on Planned Parenthood for contraception and medical care. They deserve the same access to care and the same ability to choose their own medical providers that the rest of us have come to expect.
When it comes to women's health care, Republican leaders seem determined to score political points at the expense of the state's public health and individual freedom of choice that extends far beyond the ability to decide whether to have an abortion.
We fully understand the politics of abortion. However, the apparent willingness of Texas leaders to put politics before public health bodes ill for them and for the state.
From the October 27 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Mother Jones highlighted scientists explaining that "the vilification" of Planned Parenthood in the aftermath of the "bogus" deceptively-edited videos smearing the reproductive health care provider may have serious ramifications on the "life-saving research" that fetal tissue donations enable.
Since July, the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released at least ten deceptively-edited videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood personnel were illegally selling fetal tissue for profit. Although multiple state and federal investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, in the time since the videos were released multiple clinics across the country have been the targets of "terroristic" arson attacks on which cable news shows and leading newspapers around the country have remained largely silent.
In an October 26 article Mother Jones reported that conservatives' relentless campaign to discredit Planned Parenthood using "bogus" allegations and "an anti-abortion group's deceptively edited videos" has "begun to undermine potentially life-saving research on diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's." Highlighting scientists explaining the ramifications the baseless attacks have had on their work, the article noted that labs that once "distributed 1,109 tissue samples to more than 60 researchers" in the last year now have "only five specimens in total." Gail Robertson, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told the publication that the setbacks in research that have resulted from CMP's videos are "anti-progress ... we're in a fight for the future of cures to the diseases that will affect us all":
Since July, an anti-abortion group's deceptively edited videos targeting Planned Parenthood for allegedly profiting off sales of fetal tissue appear to have prompted at least four arson attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics. And even though the allegations were bogus, the vilification of the women's health organization has done additional damage: Violent threats and a political chill in the wake of the videos have begun to undermine potentially life-saving research on diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Fetal-tissue donation programs essential to such research have been shut down, supplies of the tissue to labs have dwindled, and legislation is brewing in multiple states that could hinder cutting-edge scientific studies.
"It's anti-progress," says Gail Robertson, a veteran researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who uses cell lines derived from fetal tissue to study heart disease, including sudden cardiac death, the largest cause of natural death in the United States. "We're in a fight for the future of cures to the diseases that will affect us all."
Since the 1990s, Robertson and her colleagues have developed pharmaceutical technology using cells from embryonic tissue known as the HEK line--research credited with saving lives from fatal heart disease. "If lawmakers were to say, 'You can't use HEK cells because they come from fetal tissue,' it would be impossible to continue my work in my lab," Robertson says. "It's something we use every single day."
According to Theresa Naluai-Cecchini, a scientist at Birth Defects Research Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, the political controversy has hurt the work at her lab, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and also supplies other scientific researchers with fetal tissue. "We are in the last year of funding, and if we are unable to supply tissue to the research community we would have to close," she says. "We may be able to obtain an extension, but the climate in DC does not look favorable in an election cycle."
Naluai-Cecchini told the Seattle Times that over the past year her lab has distributed 1,109 tissue samples to more than 60 researchers elsewhere who are working on solutions for spinal cord injuries, eye disease, cancer, and HIV. That supply line relies on about two to three samples per day coming into Birth Defects Research Lab, which has long been the lab's norm. But over the past month, Naluai-Cecchini told Mother Jones, only five specimens in total have come in. If that trend continues, she says, "promising research would stop until a commercial alternative is found. The cost of research would increase dramatically, and new findings would take considerably longer."
Texas has become the latest of several states to use deceptively-edited videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress and promoted in right-wing media as a reason to attack Planned Parenthood. After informing the health care provider that it will no longer be reimbursed for treating low-income patients with funds from the state's Medicaid program -- a maneuver that has been ruled illegal elsewhere in the country -- Texas officials issued sweeping subpoenas and requests to Planned Parenthood clinics across the state for thousands of documents going back five years, including patient records and medical information, and employees' salaries and home addresses.
An editorial in the Houston Chronicle called out the recent decision by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood over deceptively-edited videos, saying the decision "is about politics" not about "fighting for taxpayers or setting good policy."
An October 19 editorial by the Houston Chronicle discussed the circumstances around Abbott's decision to attempt to cut funding to the organization saying the decision was made due "to a series of surreptitiously recorded videos released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress" -- videos that have been thoroughly debunked despite being continuously touted by right-wing media. The editorial further explained that it was unlikely the state would find anything unpropitious happening in Texas because Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state do not participate in the fetal tissue donation program and other "[i]nvestigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota found no evidence of lawbreaking." Ultimately, the editorial explained that "the whole fight takes aim at an invented fear" that the reproductive health provider is using federal funds for abortion when "[w]hat Medicaid does fund is family planning services that help make abortions unnecessary":
The reason behind the Medicaid cut, according to inspector general Stuart Bowen, rests upon a series of surreptitiously recorded videos released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. Those videos, which were made public this past July and August, purported to show illegal trafficking of fetal tissue. Abbott quickly responded by instructing the Health and Human Services Commission to launch its own investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota found no evidence of lawbreaking. The Texas Attorney General's Office has yet to complete its own investigation into those videos, but it isn't hard to guess what they'll find - nothing. That's because Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas don't currently collect fetal tissue for medical research.
This whole fight takes aim at an invented fear. And even if the Texas Health and Human Services Commission successfully cut Planned Parenthood from its distribution of federal Medicaid dollars, abortion services will remain at the same funding level of essentially zero. The federal family planning program, Title X, provides no money for abortions. The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, prohibits Medicaid from spending money on abortions except in the rare cases of rape, incest and the health of the mother.
What Medicaid does fund is family planning services that help make abortions unnecessary.
But in the war against abortion, fighting Planned Parenthood is easier than actually reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. So instead of better sex education or broader access to birth control, Texas will get another lawsuit. That won't do much to help everyday Texans, but politicians will be able to count it as a win. If only they could share the spoils of victory with a young woman who can't afford basic health care.
NARAL President Ilyse Hogue criticized the press for insufficient coverage of recent arson attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics, saying that the media "need to report these incidents as what they are: domestic terrorism" or they will be giving "extremists the cover to regressively and violently attack women, their access to health care, and the medical professionals who provide it."
Since the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress has released a series of deceptively-edited videos smearing Planned Parenthood, multiple clinics across the country have been the targets of "terroristic" arson attacks. A Media Matters review found that cable news shows and leading newspapers around the country remained largely silent on the topic.
Hogue released the following statement in response to Media Matters' review:
Make no mistake: we are witnessing acts of domestic terrorism at health care facilities across the country, targeting women who seek medical advice and the doctors who are brave enough to counsel them--in the face of repeated, violent attacks and daily threats. But, instead of treating these incidents as the real and present danger to innocent civilians that they are, Congress is inviting anti-abortion extremists to testify at hearings, the Department of Justice has yet to announce a full investigation, and the news media remains silent. Where is the outrage?
Women can and will continue to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives, despite murders, bombings, arsons and intimidation by those who will stop at nothing to deny women legal abortion services. We have to remember that just six years a go a doctor was gunned down in the pews of his own church in the name of this extremist movement and against a backdrop of tolerance for the radical views.
The media need to report these incidents as what they are: domestic terrorism. By staying silent or failing to discuss this new wave of attacks on health clinics in the context of anti-abortion extremism, the media is giving extremists the cover to regressively and violently attack women, their access to health care, and the medical professionals who provide it. We call on the DOJ to investigate the recent arsons, showing that our legal system will not tolerate any further assault on women, clinic escorts, security personnel or medical staff, and the news media to hold the government accountable for keeping Americans safe from harm.
NARAL has also launched a petition calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the Planned Parenthood arsons as instances of domestic terrorism.
A largely positive Washington Post profile of David Daleiden, the person behind the deceptively-edited videos smearing Planned Parenthood, left out important facts surrounding Daleiden and the controversy his work has stirred, including that repeated investigations into the videos found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
In the October 14 article titled "Meet the millennial who infiltrated the guarded world of abortion providers," the Post described Daleiden as the "slim young man with the Clark Kent glasses" and reported that his videos "shed harsh new light on the venerable women's health organization, capturing officials sipping wine while joking about abortion and appearing to haggle over the price of fetal tissue."
But the profile never mentions that multiple federal and state investigations have reviewed Daleiden's deceptively-edited videos and already cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. Even Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) who chaired the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is investigating Planned Parenthood based on Daleiden's videos has admitted that his investigations have found no evidence of wrongdoing from Planned Parenthood.
Additionally, the Post's profile discusses Daleidan's relationship with a notorious anti-choice activist who he says gave him advice how to run his operation against Planned Parenthood, Mark Crutcher. The Post reports that years ago, Crutcher "had infiltrated a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kansas to prove that it was illegally selling fetal tissue. But after an investigation by ABC's '20/20' and a congressional inquiry, the clinic was cleared of wrongdoing."
But the report leaves out that Crutcher's allegations of illegal activity fell apart when Crutcher's lynchpin witness -- who had made claims during that 20/20 appearance similar to the allegations promoted by Daleidan -- later admitted to lying about having seen illegal activity.
Fox News is parroting anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress' (CMP) claim that Planned Parenthood's decision to stop accepting reimbursement for fetal tissue donations is an "admission of guilt," ignoring that state and federal investigations have already cleared the organization of wrongdoing.