Will the Planned Parenthood Attack Backfire on Antis?

On this episode of Reality Cast, host Amanda Marcotte analyzes the Planned Parenthood attack videos, which she thinks may, in the long run, end up hurting anti-choicers more than helping them. Also, ThinkProgress reporter Erica Hellerstein is on the show and talks about how abstinence-only didn’t go away but just got rebranded.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Related Links

Bobby Jindal’s rhetoric dehumanizes women

NPR on the Planned Parenthood hoax

Second hoax video

Research on fetal tissue saves lives

Dr. Ann Davis explains the reality of medical research

The New York Times denounces failed efforts to entrap Planned Parenthood

Who is behind the Center for Medical Progress?

Hagee plays the Hitler card

Nazis were strongly anti-choice


On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll do a political analysis of the Planned Parenthood hoax videos, which I think may, in the long run, end up hurting anti-choicers more than helping them. I also have an interview with Erica Hellerstein about how abstinence-only didn’t go away, but just got rebranded.

As I’ll lay out, this entire campaign against Planned Parenthood has been a total derail from the right wing attempts to recast the anti-choice movement as a lady protection movement. Indeed, much of the reaction to the video was a reversion back to the anti-choice tradition of telling women they don’t matter at all. Like Gov. Bobby Jindal, who seems to forget that women even exist.

  • Jindal *

It’s not just the insistence that a fetus is the same thing as a baby, which is the same categorical mistake as calling an acorn a tree. It’s the complete erasure of women and attempts to deny that women are the patients that abortion doctors are serving. That’s a far more chilling form of dehumanization than the use of fetal tissue in medical research ever could be.


Last week, it seemed a little touch-and-go on the politics of this Planned Parenthood video hoax. Most pro-choice activists and experts in right-wing conspiracy theories understood right away that even though this was supposedly a brand-new group that is releasing a supposed undercover investigation, it was likely the same old anti-choice fanatics that have been behind video hoaxes coming out of Live Action, a group run by Lila Rose that is notorious for putting out deceptively edited videos making lurid accusations that are invariably debunked. It’s not like the ruse was particularly sophisticated. David Daleiden, the guy running this supposedly “new” group, the Center for Medical Progress, used to work for Live Action and Live Action “broke” the videos within minutes of them going up on YouTube. It may technically be a new group, but they were coordinating with Live Action. I suspect that the reason they made a new group at all was because they knew the Live Action name was hopelessly tainted and this was a way to try to trick the media into thinking it was someone else.

When last week’s podcast went up on Monday, it was really up in the air whether the hoax was a success. In the “yes” column was the number of Republican officials who rushed to use this hoax as a pretense for calling defunding Planned Parenthood.

  • PPFA 1 *

But anyone who knows Live Action’s M.O. knows that they usually try to fire their biggest bullet first. The first video showed no evidence of wrongdoing. But what did happen was that once journalists finally had time to sit down and watch the whole, three-hour unedited version was that they found that the edited version was really, really deceptive. They left out all sorts of important context, such as the many times that the doctor they interviewed insisted that Planned Parenthood does not sell fetal tissue. Or the way she described how careful they are about getting patient consent. Or the way that the tissue is used for necessary research into devastating diseases. So by the time the second one dropped, the media knew to be cautious and skeptical. And sure enough, this one, which purports to show Planned Parenthood medical director Mary Gatter “selling” fetal tissue, does nothing of the sort. In fact, she says this.

  • PPFA 2 *

They try to scratch away, but for whatever reason, they left that in there. I don’t know if it’s because Gatter talks fast and it made it hard to cut it out, or what. But they cut out similar comments from Dr. Nucatola, who was the object of the first hoax video, so let’s be clear that they are usually happy to hide exculpatory evidence. But most of the right-wing media focused on this part.

  • PPFA 3 *

Since the entire conversation was about how this was only reimbursement for costs and that there was no profit motive whatsoever and she has no interest in money, this is clearly an ironic joke, like someone with a small apartment jokingly calling it their “manor.” It was actually kind of darkly funny watching right wingers pretend they’ve never heard of the concept of sarcasm in order to generate outrage. Meanwhile, the more mainstream media journalists learned, the better Planned Parenthood looked while the worst the Center for Medical Progress looked. I will get into that part in the second segment, after the interview.




As noted in the first segment, I’m going to look at how the attempt by a Live Action spin-off called the Center for Medical Progress to falsely accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal body parts might actually be backfiring on them. At first, a lot of people were surprised to find out that fetal or embryonic tissue extracted from abortions is sometimes donated to science, with the full consent of the woman getting the abortion. But where there is surprise, there is an opportunity for reporters to research and report, which is what happened. A number of media outlets used this as a chance to investigate what happens with this fetal tissue and found out that it’s actually pretty important and life-saving stuff.

  • Planned 1 *

Considering the fact that anti-choicers often try to claim to be “pro-life”, the fact that they oppose research into life-saving technology calls that claim into question. Anti-choice forces made a similar misstep a decade or so ago, when they made opposing stem cell research a major issue. The point of it was to shore up their false claim that they are about “life” and not controlling sexuality, but the real world impact was that they looked like a bunch of religious fanatics who were so caught up in their weird supernatural beliefs that they were blocking important, life-saving medical research. They’ve since shifted priorities and don’t talk much about that stem cell stuff, so a return to that tactic of demonizing medical research isn’t just dumb, but surprising.

The “trickling out” strategy, which they probably thought was genius, is actually giving journalists some time to learn more about this issue and experts more time to explain the facts in public. Dr. Ann Davis of Physicians for Reproductive Health went on MSNBC on Tuesday to explain the realities of this.

  • Planned 2 *

I just can’t imagine what kind of political value that anti-choicers expect to gain in the long term by reviving people’s suspicions that the anti-choice movement is anti-modernity, anti-technology, anti-medicine, and anti-all these things especially when it comes to helping women live healthier, better lives. I mean, that’s exactly what the anti-choice movement is, a movement that opposes medical developments because they help women live healthier, better lives. But they know as well as we do that they have to lie about that and pretend to be something else, in order to get any public traction. So why portray yourself as just anti-medicine so blatantly? It’s actually kind of weird if you think about it. But here’s more of Dr. Davis.

  • Planned 3 *

She also helpfully explained why storing and transporting tissue for research costs money, in case you were under the impression that it’s free.

  • Planned 4

This is just so obvious and commonsensical when you point it out that it’s become undeniable that the Center for Medical Progress was just trying to trick you. There’s no other way around this: They were using a lot of medical discourse that sounds gross to outsiders in order to scare people about what turns out to be responsible, humanitarian work that helps save lives. People don’t like being tricked, it turns out. The editorial board of the New York Times put out an op-ed denouncing the quote “years long campaign of deception.” They note that the Center for Medical Progress tried to offer Planned Parenthood $1,600 for a fetal liver and thymus, in an obvious attempt to entrap them into accepting more than simple reimbursement for storage and shipping. Planned Parenthood, you will not be surprised to find out, did not take the money.

That these anti-choice activists think they can lure people into unethical behavior isn’t that surprising to me. These anti-choice activists are, themselves, deeply unethical people who think nothing of lying all day long. People like that, I think, honestly do think the rest of us are as sleazy as they are. But they’re finding that is not the case and their targets aren’t walking into their traps. More to the point, I think this campaign has had the effect of reminding people that the anti-choice movement is full of sleazy, unethical people and, in many cases, it’s worse than that. After all, Troy Newman is on the board of the Center for Medical Progress. He is also the president of Operation Rescue, a harassment campaign that harassed Dr. George Tiller every day until he was murdered in 2009 by one of the regular Operation Rescue protesters. That organization’s second in command has also done time for anti-choice terrorism, an attempt to bomb a family planning clinic.

It has seemed for a time that the anti-choice movement was really abandoning the guts-and-sluts strategy for a new strategy of pretending to care about women, arguing that abortion rights and contraception access need to be taken away from us to protect us. That strategy assumes women are mental children, but it was, at least, politically effective. I don’t know why they’re going back to grossing people out, implying women getting abortion are murderers, and making it clear that they just generally oppose modern science and medicine. I feel that this whole hoax is really going to be a misfire for anti-choicers.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, ah jeez the Hitler thing again. You know that this Planned Parenthood hoax was going to bring back that favorite and utterly discredited right-wing trope about how abortion is Hitler, which John Hagee was spouting.

  • Hagee *

As I mention every time the right goes there, the opposite is true. The Nazi policy on abortion is actually right in line with what anti-choicers want. Abortion was illegal during the Weimar Republic, but under the Nazis, it was even further penalized, with the death penalty being prescribed if you performed an abortion on an Aryan woman. That’s just a fact and no amount of overheated rhetoric from the right will change it.