An investigation into the US women’s health service Planned Parenthood took an unexpected turn this week, with a Texas jury indicting the anti-abortionists responsible for the very investigation.
It’s the latest development in a widespread, widely-disputed investigation into the organisation, which uses federal funding to provide services including family planning, cancer screening, and sexual health and contraception services. Abortion services are also provided, which explains the GOP handwringing, though these are, by legal necessity, paid for using private funds and not federal dollars.
Regular Republican attempts at reducing the funding to the organisation were stepped up in July of 2015 following the release of a secretly-recorded videotape. Activists from the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress posed as medical buyers while meeting with Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood. In the video, Nucatola talked about the donation of abortion tissue to medical research facilities, and the financial reimbursements Planned Parenthood receives to cover shipping expenses. She talks about their reluctance to be paid extortionate amounts, to not harm public perception, and that typically they are often reimbursed somewhere between $30 to $100 for each donation.
Despite repeated assurance from Planned Parenthood that Nucatola was solely discussing reimbursement for expenses, the Center for Medical Progress determined that Planned Parenthood was involved in the selling of foetus tissue for profit. Conservative critics were quick to respond with outrage. Some, including Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, demanded immediate investigation and defunding of the organisation itself.
This week saw two members of the Center for Medical Progress, one its founder David Daleiden, indicted on charges of tampering with a government record, a felony, and on a misdemeanour charge related to purchasing human organs. The government record tampering references the use of fake IDs in the making of the video, with the intention to defraud Nucatola herself. Harris County district attorney Devon Anderson also confirmed that the jury had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.
Regardless of the legal outcome, however, the video itself has long succeeded in damaging the pro-choice narrative. Regardless of Nucatola’s words, what made the video particularly powerful for anti-abortion rhetoric was her candour. Nucatola’s dry, staid delivery went against the notion that those involved with abortion should feel sorrowful or emotional about their work. She was just too blasé.
You’d think it would make sense for medical professionals to dehumanise their job and the emotional toll it would otherwise take – but for anti-choice activists, seeing someone speak so casually about aborted foetuses over brunch was reprehensible. “The videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion,” said Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, “and the shameful disregard for human life within the abortion industry.”
Regardless of this week’s ruling, the video only added more fuel to the mission to dismantle Planned Parenthood in its current form. Despite the omnipresence of abortion rights throughout American political debate, nationwide opinion has barely shifted since the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1975. Current statistics indicate that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in either all or at least certain circumstances (in cases of rape, incest or the threatened health of the mother), while only 19% believe it should be illegal in any circumstance. In comparison to opinions on similarly hot-button subjects like the death penalty or gay marriage, the numbers have remained generally consistent over the past forty years.
Because of that, anti-abortion campaigners and their political counterparts have aimed a sharper focus on defunding Planned Parenthood. Crippling abortion rights through the back-door, rather than striking at Roe v. Wade itself. Despite the Senate voting in December to defund Planned Parenthood, they were unable to make it pass due to the lack of Republican seats in the House. As a result, President Obama can easily veto any opposition to its funding. Planned Parenthood as an institution is also tied up with Obamacare, the President’s pioneering law responsible for lowered health insurance costs and increased public health programs. Defunding Planned Parenthood would therefore have widespread implications for the entire United States, something even Republican senators aren’t eager to risk.
But it’s not just political safety nets that could ensure a happier future for Planned Parenthood, there’s also the undeniable truth that anti-abortionists are regularly attacking the organisation with easily-discredited nonsense. Several of Daleidan’s videos, in particular, have been criticised for their use of misleading images. One piece of footage, showing an apparently aborted foetus moving its leg, formed the backbone of Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s anti-Planned Parenthood platform. Yet Daleidan has confessed he has no idea where the footage actually came from, and had edited the footage to incorrectly indicate that the foetus was about to be harvested for tissue.
Similarly, September 2015 saw Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards casually dismantle Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz during a congressional hearing. After attacking her annual pay, leading a Democrat congresswoman to call him “discriminatory”, Chaffetz presented Richards with a bafflingly nonsensical chart to highlight the number of abortions her organisation had carried out in 2013.
Much of the rhetoric against Planned Parenthood can be disproven when properly probed, likely preventing radical changes in its existence for the time being… or at least until a Republican candidate takes office. But the long-term side effects of persistent, soundbite-driven, Fox News-baiting distortions of the truth can’t be quantified.
Fiorina was the first of many GOP candidates quick to distance themselves from the November gun attack on a Planned Parenthood centre in Colorado, in which three people were killed. This was in spite of the indications that it was a politically-motivated act of terror. Echoing the tales spun of illegal organ harvesting and moving foetuses, shooter Robert Louis Deer made one direct statement to his arresting officers: “No more baby parts.”