Some Democrats Go on Offense Against Front Group Behind Planned Parenthood Videos

While many Democrats avoid discussing the deceptive Center for Medical Progress videos, others are starting to push back against the front group.

While many Democrats avoid discussing the deceptive Center for Medical Progress videos, others are starting to push back against the front group. Senator Patty Murray / YouTube

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

Republicans and anti-choice activists have reached a fever pitch of outrage at Planned Parenthood in recent weeks, fueled by the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice front group.

Republicans in Congress are using the videos as an excuse to call for defunding Planned Parenthood, and some are even threatening to shut down the government this fall if they don’t get their way.

Most pro-choice Democrats are holding firm in support of Planned Parenthood and seem willing to call the GOP’s bluff on a government shutdown.

“Not on my watch,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told Politico on whether Republicans can force Democrats to defund Planned Parenthood by holding up spending bills.

“I am absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the likely next Democratic minority leader in the Senate, told reporters Thursday.

But when many Democrats speak out in defense of Planned Parenthood these days, they try to keep the focus on Planned Parenthood’s merits and avoid discussing the videos that opponents are using to attack the organization. This is particularly true of 2016 presidential candidates, who either say they haven’t watched the videos or concede that they are “disturbing,” as Hillary Clinton did Wednesday.

A growing number of Democrats have started bucking that trend, pushing to discredit the Center for Medical Progress for its misleading videos and shady tactics and put the attack group on defense. 

Perhaps the most potent call-out of CMP came in a Wednesday Senate floor speech by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

“Attacks on Planned Parenthood are a concerted attack on access to safe, legal abortion services in this country. Make no mistake about it,” Feinstein said. “The group behind this latest attack, the Center for Medical Progress, has longstanding ties to the anti-choice movement, including Operation Rescue, which is closely associated with clinic violence.”

Feinstein talked about how anti-choice violence in the 1990s led to the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, and her concern that the “aggressive tactics” used by anti-choice groups today such as “the illegal filming of a medical procedure and the hacking of Planned Parenthood’s records” could lead to similar violence.

“I am concerned that the message being sent is that it is OK to commit crimes against Planned Parenthood, its employees, and its patients; and it is not,” Feinstein said. “That sort of message can be taken up by extremists and become very dangerous for women and doctors across the country.”

Feinstein’s speech included the typical Democratic defenses of Planned Parenthood: how it’s the primary health-care provider for millions of women, especially low-income women, and how one in five American women have gone there for health care. How Planned Parenthood’s care has been crucial for her constituents who have told her their stories. How efforts to defund Planned Parenthood distract from more important issues like national security.

But Feinstein also turned a typical Democratic talking point—that abortion only makes up 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services—on its head. Instead of waving aside that 3 percent and pointing out that federal money doesn’t pay for it, Feinstein vigorously defended it as crucial health care for women who have nowhere else to go for abortion care in their region.

“If Planned Parenthood closes, Texas loses half of its remaining abortion providers in one fell swoop,” Feinstein said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) conceded that the “highly edited” videos are “disturbing” and that a review of them by the Department of Justice is “appropriate,” but also highlighted CMP’s “single purpose” to limit access to abortion services and its ties to anti-choice groups.

“[The group’s] three officers are prominent in the anti-abortion movement,” Shaheen said. “They have ties to many other politically motivated groups who are working to take away a woman’s right to choose. They have been tied to organizations that harass medical providers, doctors, and patients, try to limit access to women’s health care clinics, and they actively work to limit the reproductive health care decisions a woman can make.”

Other Democrats also called out CMP’s tactics on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“We know this extremist group went undercover and secretly taped people,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said. “That is what they did. If you approve of those tactics that is fine, but what I approve of is women getting health care. I think that when you scratch the surface, what you will find is that a lot of my colleagues don’t think women should be able to plan their families. We are still debating birth control. You have got to be kidding.”

Murray called out Republicans’ use of “undercover attack videos, produced by a radical, right-wing organization dedicated to taking away a woman’s right to choose,” and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) encouraged Planned Parenthood to keep speaking on the “merits” of their program that is “under siege from a sensationalistic and disingenuous kind of publicity.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday the videos were obtained “fraudulently” and that “there’s not a lot of evidence right now” that Planned Parenthood hasn’t lived up to the “highest ethical standards” that it describes in its policies and procedures.

And on Tuesday, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote a letter to Rep. Chris Murphy (R-PA), her colleague on the House Energy and Commerce committee, urging him to include CMP in the committee’s upcoming investigation into Planned Parenthood.

“I am disappointed that you have decided to open an investigation based on a clearly manipulated, deceptively edited video by an organization using ethically and legally questionable tactics,” DeGette wrote, citing a complaint against CMP filed by the American Democracy Legal Fund as well as a letter from four of her Democratic House colleagues calling for an investigation into CMP.

Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for an investigation of CMP, which she said was “trying to ensnare Planned Parenthood in a controversy that doesn’t exist.”

It seems likely that some Democrats are listening to the growing critiques of CMP from mainstream media outlets and independent investigations, and that they may be responding to pressure from progressives and pro-choice advocates to defend Planned Parenthood just as forcefully as conservatives attack it.