See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
Standing outside the U.S. Capitol in front of about 150 anti-choice supporters, conservative blogger Matt Walsh said he had a message for the “elitist cowards” in Washington about what he called the “cartel of serial killers” at Planned Parenthood.
“You betray us when you force the American people to be sugar daddies for a criminal conglomerate of liars who say they are in the business of health care, but who push abortion, like dealers push crack on a street corner,” Walsh said Tuesday at an anti-choice “Women Betrayed” rally in Washington, D.C.
The rally was one of more than 50 anti-choice gatherings taking place throughout the country Tuesday, organized by the group Students for Life of America, which recruits anti-choice activists from college campuses.
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If Walsh’s talk of sugar daddies and crack dealers came off as racially tinged, other speakers made racial issues explicit.
“There was a time in this country when there were people who thought it was OK to own other people, and they thought they could do anything they want with them, because they belong to me,” said 2016 presidential hopeful Ben Carson, drawing an explicit connection between abortion and slavery when discussing how America is “capable of changing.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said he was “disgusted” by Planned Parenthood’s “targeting of minority communities,” repeating a common anti-choice falsehood about why Black women have high abortion rates.
Walsh’s drug-dealer diatribe continued: “Planned Parenthood claiming it’s a health-care organization because it occasionally stops killing babies to hand out a packet of birth control to a teenage girl is like that very same street dealer saying he’s really in the medical supplies business because sometimes he also sells syringes.”
It was an ironic comment for an event inspired by people who pretended to be in the biomedical research business in order to achieve their political aims.
Deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a front group for anti-choice activists whose sole purpose appears to have been attacking Planned Parenthood for its legal tissue donation programs, have caused a stir in the media and an uproar on Capitol Hill as Republicans line up to call for investigations and for the organization to lose its federal funding.
Some of the loudest cries are coming from 2016 presidential hopefuls like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom spoke at the rally along with fellow candidate Ben Carson.
Cruz called for the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood, and urged the media to ask Hillary Clinton if she is “pleased to have so much passionate support from Planned Parenthood, an entity that appears to be a national criminal enterprise.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said the department will review the information available and determine next steps. House Democrats called on Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate CMP for the laws it may have broken while making its videos, and Harris responded saying she would review those allegations.
Paul, asked by Rewire what he thought of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) 1993 vote to legalize fetal tissue donation programs like Planned Parenthood’s, avoided answering the question by talking about his own bill to defund the organization.
“All I know is that the Senate leadership … have announced that there will be a vote, that I will get a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood,” Paul said.
Paul echoed common themes from other speakers at the D.C. rally—that CMP’s videos offer some kind of revelation about fetal personhood (“That liver had to come from somewhere,” Paul said), and that Planned Parenthood’s health services for low-income women like contraception and well-woman exams would be acceptable collateral damage if the organization lost its federal funding.
“Everything people say they do other than abortion is done by community health centers,” Paul said. “It’s a duplication of something already being done by government agencies.”
“You don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood,” urged Meg McDonnell, communications director of Women Speak for Themselves. “To begin with, there’s 9,000 community health centers around this country. There’s about 4,500 Title X clinics. And there’s certainly Medicaid for poor women. But beyond that, there’s also crisis pregnancy centers.”
McDonnell didn’t acknowledge that many Planned Parenthood clinics are included in those 4,500 Title X clinics, that anti-choice Republicans in Congress would like to eviscerate the Title X program as well as cut teen pregnancy prevention funds, that many anti-choice Republicans are also hostile to Medicaid expansion or propose cuts to the program, or that crisis pregnancy centers usually don’t offer professional medical care or contraception.
Moreover, existing public funding for contraceptive services don’t come close to meeting the needs of low-income women, with only 42 percent of the need for those services being met in 2013. Still, Title X clinics prevent about a million unintended pregnancies per year.
The idea that women can and should go elsewhere for their care during pregnancy was also a prevalent theme at Tuesday’s #WomenBetrayed rally in Chicago, where about 100 anti-choice activists gathered in Millennium Park across from Planned Parenthood’s Loop clinic.
“A lot of people don’t know how unsafe abortion can be. It’s a blind procedure,” said Jackie Chism, an anti-choice activist who carried a clipboard through the crowd with a petition addressed to elected officials. “We would like to see women go into pregnancy centers where they can be supported.”
Studies have shown that abortion as currently practiced in the United States is very safe. Staff at abortion clinics also typically provide patients with the full spectrum of their options before obtaining consent for a procedure.
As assembled teenage parishioners from the St. John Cantius church on the Near North Side sang anti-choice adaptations of songs, such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “The Moose Song” popular at summer camps, activists clapped and cheered for a handful of speakers, who were often barely audible amid the sounds of bustling downtown.
Adriana Morales, a client advocate at Aid for Women, a crisis pregnancy center two doors down from the Planned Parenthood in Chicago’s Loop, told the crowd, “Abortion is not the solution. There are programs out there, such as Pregnant on Campus, that help women … who are pregnant and who are currently parenting,” she said, referring to the Students for Life-created directory.
Like those in Washington, D.C., the assembled anti-choice activists in Chicago strongly advocated for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, suggesting that the deceptively edited videos released by CMP are proof that the organization has been misusing taxpayer funds.
“This organization, Planned Parenthood … has told us for years that they have been for women’s health, to take care of women and their needs and helping women first. Turns out that their main market, and their main business plan, so to speak, is harvesting human organs, and selling them is a large source of profit for them,” Jeremiah Rauwolf, who organized the rally, said in an interview with Rewire.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards has said that the allegations of the organization profiting from its tissue donation program are untrue.
“There’s a price tag on every woman’s head who walks in there,” said Rauwolf, vice president of the Chicago chapter of Pro-Life Future, an anti-choice group founded by Students for Life of America directed at recruiting support from young adults after college.
“In the America I grew up in and know and love, people who lie and deceive and murder and hurt for profit go to jail. They do not get a half-billion dollars of profit,” Rauwolf said. “I mean half a billion dollars of tax donations.”
When asked about the non-abortion services Planned Parenthood provides, Rauwolf said that the medical care the organization offers is almost always in the context of abortion, such as “pre-abortion ultrasounds.”
Planned Parenthood’s federal funding cannot legally be used to pay for abortions. But as several anti-choice activists maintained to Rewire, that money is “indirectly” going toward the procedure by keeping the organization’s door’s open.
Mary Hallan-FioRito, who sits on Aid for Women’s Board of Directors, suggested during her speech, “Let’s take that $500 million and put it where American women really want it to go: safer neighborhoods, better housing, and better education for their children.”
Thomas Olp, board member for the anti-choice law firm Thomas More Society, suggested during his speech to the crowd that Planned Parenthood, or possibly its supporters, is “delusional.”
“I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie Blue Jasmine; it’s a movie by Woody Allen. It’s a story … about living a life of fantasy and delusion,” he said. “Some people, as Woody Allen pointed out, never leave their lives of illusion and delusion.”
“And being here at Planned Parenthood has caused me to think of that movie, because what an example of living in illusion and fantasy and delusion,” he continued, pointing to the clinic’s approximate location across busy Michigan Avenue.
Cindy Morales, an anti-choice activist passing out flyers advertising the film 40, told Rewire after the rally that she wasn’t surprised by the contents of CMP’s videos. “I like the videos because I think they’re shining a light, like the little ashes coming down from Auschwitz, on people,” she said.
Anti-choice protesters in Baltimore, meanwhile, chanted at Planned Parenthood officials and clinic escorts gathered outside the health-care facility just across the steaming Baltimore street.
Anti-choice activist Frank Richardson’s voice boomed, with the cadence of a preacher in full throat.
“We’ve seen the Wikileaks of aborted fetuses,” Richardson said to an audience of about 50 people attending the #WomenBetrayed rally, referring again to the misleading videos.
“The culture of death is right here,” Richardson yelled over the cheers of attendees. “They are a death cult. … Our babies are being ripped apart and sold on the street. … They say Black lives matter. How about unborn lives?”
Joanna Diamond, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said that while the misleading videos released by CMP have renewed calls for the elimination of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, Tuesday’s rally was hardly original.
“They use deceitful and dishonest tactics over and over,” Diamond said. “We’ve seen this time and again. We just want to make it clear that these accusations [in the CMP videos] are false. They’re put forward by extremists who want to score political points with these heavily edited videos.”
Speakers at the Baltimore anti-choice gathering compared legal abortion to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Holocaust, and the murder of children in the street.
Attendees were encouraged to call their congressional representative and demand the immediate defunding of Planned Parenthood’s health-care programs.
“These protests are generally designed to prevent people from accessing the vital services we offer,” Diamond said. “We provide life-saving services … and we need to make sure that these critical services are provided to anyone and everyone who needs them.”
Rebecca Cramer, who attended the #WomenBetrayed rally with her husband, John Cramer, said Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is a violation of her religious freedom.
“My taxes are going to [Planned Parenthood],” she said. “I don’t think that’s right.”
Cramer said she had seen the edited CMP videos, and wasn’t surprised by what the videos claimed: that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.
“I think organ donation is a wonderful gift of life,” Cramer said, “and [participating] in a fetal tissue program might make some women feel better about what they’re doing—to mask the fact that they killed their own child.”
Cramer said the editing of the CMP videos raised some questions about the veracity of the group’s claims, but that “didn’t change my perspective on it.”
“We live in a culture of sound bites and one-minute comments,” she said.
Although the focus of the rallies was largely on Planned Parenthood, many participants made no secret of their long-term goal: to end legal abortion care throughout the country.
As Walsh said in Washington, D.C., “Let this moment be the catalyst, let it be the gasoline on a fire that’s been raging for 40 years.”
“Let it start with taking the funding away from Planned Parenthood, but let it not end there. Let it end when every Planned Parenthood clinic is boarded up, when abortion is outlawed,” he continued. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to merely take some money from Planned Parenthood. I want to smash it to pieces and banish it from the Earth.”