See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
The release last week by the previously little-known Center for Medical Progress of a video purporting to expose Planned Parenthood violating federal law in its handling of fetal tissue donations brought a flood of apparent shock and dismay from GOP lawmakers and anti-choice leaders across the country.
GOP presidential candidates, including Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker fell all over themselves demanding that Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) be defunded. Ted Cruz called on President Obama to launch “an immediate investigation.” At a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), stated that he could not discuss the video or he would “vomit.” Virtually every GOP presidential candidate and anti-choice organization took advantage of the controversy by sending out a flood of fundraising emails within hours of the release of the video, seeking to capitalize on the supposed sale of body parts.
Several GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce and House Judiciary committees—all of whom are also members of the House “Pro-life” Caucus and all of whom expressed outrage at the video—immediately announced hearings and investigations. Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), for example, said: “The chilling video released today is yet another tragic and heart-breaking reminder of Planned Parenthood’s legendary disregard for the sanctity of innocent human life. The trafficking of the little hearts, livers and heads of these precious unborn children resulted in significant financial benefit for Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country.”
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Apparently, Franks was not “chilled” enough by the video to do anything about it when he first saw it at least a month earlier than it was released to the public, as he later admitted to Roll Call. At least one other lawmaker is on record as having seen the video well before its release. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) also admitted to Roll Call having seen the video at least a month earlier. When pressed by Roll Call as to why he did nothing about these explosive charges in the intervening time, Murphy cut off the reporter, saying: “This interview never happened.”
Ah, but it had.
Both congressmen suggested that they’d delayed any action in order to get further information and so they could “alert the authorities.” Franks told Roll Call his “hope was to have as much information as possible so that the authorities could be notified effectively before the media.” And reached later by Roll Call, Murphy spokeswoman Gretchen Andersen said that the congressman had a responsibility to do “due diligence” before starting an investigation.
Rewire called Murphy’s office twice and followed up with two emails to Andersen seeking further information on what due diligence had been performed. We asked what form of research or background information their due diligence included; whether they had conducted a research and background check on the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which it turns out is a sham organization that may have violated several laws; whether the congressman had seen both the long and the short versions of the video, and whether that had raised questions about the clear manipulation of the shorter version; and whether they had found any evidence of whether Planned Parenthood violated any laws.
None of our calls were returned and none of our emails were answered. It seems strange that having done a month’s worth of due diligence of some kind, the congressman’s office refused to share it. We were especially curious if they had decided to alert the authorities to the shady nature of CMP’s nonprofit registration in California, or to the fact that videotaping without consent is illegal in California, or that there had been a doctored video prepared to slander a health-care provider.
But they did not answer, and it seems that it is unlikely they would answer these questions to protect themselves from having to explain why, having seen the video so much earlier, they didn’t act on what they claim is a crisis. Instead, it appears that these and other members of the GOP coordinated with CMP and its colleague organizations to create a firestorm out of lies and misrepresentations prior to the kick-off of the GOP primary debate season, and to provide distracting and virtually pornographic investigations of the non-existent commerce in “fetal body parts” by congressional committees.
Advocacy groups and congressional representatives work together all the time, so that in itself is not remarkable. Reputable, honest, and legitimate advocacy groups gather and present facts, consider data and budgetary concerns, and do their best to make the case for translating facts into policies that actually help people.
What is happening here is profoundly different. GOP legislators and presidential wannabes appear to be coordinating attacks on Planned Parenthood with a group that may have violated numerous federal and state laws, including using secret videotaping (which is illegal in the State of California, where the taping took place) to surreptitiously record Dr. Deborah Nucatola, and now Dr. Mary Gatter, later dramatically altering both videos to make it seem as though they were saying things they never had.
The anti-choice groups with which the GOP has joined forces have a very long history of using lies and deceit to make claims about services and of creating “gotcha” videos that always turn out to be false, though the media continues to lap these up. They’ve made up their own “science” and disregarded medicine and public health to force doctors to provide and women to undergo unnecessary procedures, waiting times, and lectures, all in the service of a radical ideology. Their work to undermine basic public health advances endangers the lives of literally millions of people, including children. But “babies” and children are not really their concern, all protestations aside. They seek total control over sex and sexuality.
The most frightening aspect of all of this, however, is the degree to which deeply radical anti-choicers have infiltrated a major political party. These are literally domestic terrorists. As our infographic shows, the Center for Medical Progress has some notable friends and supporters, including Troy Newman, head of Operation Rescue and defender of “justifiable homicide” for those seeking to kill abortion providers. Then there is Cheryl Sullenger, whose name and phone number were found on the dashboard of Scott Roeder, the man who assassinated Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of his church on a Sunday five years ago. Or Jill Stanek, who prominently posted the names and addresses of abortion providers so that lunatics hell-bent on stalking or harming them could more easily find them. These groups work closely and hand-in-hand with members of Congress who support their cause and look the other way as domestic terrorists stalk and kill providers, as women go without health care, and as the rights of all people to bodily autonomy are eroded. They stalk, harass, and threaten doctors, nurses, clinical staff, and patients in their daily work.
Moreover, both anti-choice groups and anti-choice politicians have shared a long-standing vendetta against Planned Parenthood. Why? Because it is a large provider that serves three million people per year with things like medically accurate information, and with services that range from abortion care to prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, to Pap smears and other forms of cancer screening. Because Planned Parenthood is large and well-funded, it has been relatively immune to TRAP laws, and because Planned Parenthood is popular and well-loved, the anti-choice movement is desperate to do anything it can to erode that support, even if that is accomplished through gross lies and distortion.
The vendetta against Planned Parenthood is no secret, and any media outlet that reports on these attacks without considering their source is failing miserably in the world of journalism.
Well before anyone had heard of CMP, for example, virtually every single current GOP presidential candidate had already declared his or her desire to eliminate funding for PPFA. Several governors running for president are notorious for eliminating and attacking reproductive health-care services of all kinds, including Planned Parenthood clinics in their own states, all to win political points with a small and narrow slice of the American public, otherwise known as the “conservative base.” In 2001, for example, then-governor of Florida Jeb Bush vetoed funding for family planning services provided through Planned Parenthood. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the “cuts included $302,843 for family planning services provided to poor women through local Planned Parenthood affiliates, money that had been provided each year for more than a decade.” Bush continued cutting throughout his terms. In 2015, a Bush senior adviser and prominent Christian evangelical attorney told the crowd at the Faith and Freedom Summit in Iowa, “We have got to defund Planned Parenthood, by the way, and Gov. Bush supports those efforts.”
Scott Walker has spent most of his tenure as governor of Wisconsin decimating access to basic health-care services, including abortion care. In 2011, while campaigning for governor, Walker told a conservative group that he was proud of “trying to defund Planned Parenthood and make sure they didn’t have any money, not just for abortion, but any money for anything.” As a presidential candidate, he proudly proclaims his intentions to eliminate funding for reproductive and sexual health care, including all funds for Planned Parenthood.
As a senator, Marco Rubio (R-FL) has voted twice to defund Planned Parenthood and made it clear that as a presidential candidate he supports doing so. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who oversaw the destruction of primary preventive care in his state), and others repeatedly voiced and acted upon where possible their intentions to destroy Planned Parenthood and more broadly to deny people access to life-saving reproductive health care.
Likewise, many of the congressional representatives involved with CMP’s videos have made virtual careers out of calling for investigating Planned Parenthood on every conceivable trumped-up charge they can find. In 2009, for example, Franks called on Arizona state officials to investigate Planned Parenthood. Defunding Planned Parenthood is his goal, period, no matter how many lies or cut-and-spliced videos it takes. Franks has also helped lead House efforts to cut family planning funds, pass 20-week abortion bans, and otherwise attack primary health care for anyone who needs it. Congressman Murphy, along with many of his colleagues, supported shutting down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood.
So it is no surprise to know that Franks, Murphy, and almost certainly many others on the Hill and in the GOP presidential pool also saw or knew about the video before it was released, and unless they are all incredibly unsophisticated, they had to know, or would at least have asked, to see the full transcript or tape of the video before signing on, or at least might have asked who was driving this bus. Having seen the full videos and the transcripts as compared to the doctored version, it is hard to conceive anyone without an agenda would waste the country’s time and taxpayer funding on baseless charges and investigations. Anyone with integrity would be embarrassed to do so.
Not a single prior investigation of Planned Parenthood—and there have been many—has ever resulted in findings of wrongdoing. Ever. But it is clear that the GOP does not care about facts or evidence, nor about the lives that would be affected by the loss of affordable reproductive health care were Planned Parenthood to in fact be defunded. They certainly do not care about the taxpayer funding wasted on committee-led witch hunts. The only thing on the GOP’s mind is hitting an ideological target, and that one is on Planned Parenthood’s back.