For the past week or so, I’ve gotten emails and calls from people who want to know why I won’t help “expose” the evil being done by Planned Parenthood. They say that it has now been definitely proven that the non-profit family planning organization profits off the sale of fetal body parts, which they say Planned Parenthood deliberately harvests in brutal ways.
This has caused sort of a national “primal howl” by conservative and anti-abortion activists, who are demanding Planned Parenthood be defunded or even prosecuted.
Well, the truth is that Planned Parenthood is indeed guilty – of not responding quickly or forcefully enough to an outrageous smear campaign. A shadowy anti-abortion group misnamed the Center for Medical Progress sent two actors to pose as potential buyers of fetal tissue. They met with senior medical officials of Planned Parenthood, secretly videotaped their meetings, and selectively edited a long conversation down into a few minutes calculated to be shocking.
During those portions of the video, they discuss providing fetal tissue for research, something for which Planned Parenthood does charge a fee they say is meant only to cover their costs. During the conversation, one Planned Parenthood official does discuss abortion procedures in terms that sound insensitive and callous.
The release of these videos, which were clearly obtained under fraudulent circumstances, has caused a storm of protest. GOP Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul immediately called on Congress to defund and investigate the organization.
Well, there are several things to remember here. First of all, abortion, like it or not, is a legal medical procedure. And it is not illegal to use voluntarily donated fetal tissue for research. Selling it for a profit may be illegal, but a provider is allowed to be reimbursed for their costs.
This, by the way, is not an issue in Michigan. According to Lori Carpentier, who has been CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan for the last decade, neither of their two affiliates in the state is involved in procuring fetal specimens for research purposes, and, she added, they “presently do not have a plan to offer that option to our patients.”
Carpentier also noted that most of what Planned Parenthood does has nothing to do with abortion –and none of the federal funds they receive are used for terminating pregnancies. Planned Parenthood mainly provides birth control information, cancer screenings, other health care services, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
She added, “keep in mind that calls to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood will not affect abortion but will have a dire effect on the health care services we provide to more than 70,000 people in Michigan each year.” Less than five percent of that involves abortions.
And Carpentier told me that Planned Parenthood is not a supplemental service for most of its clients; 80% have no other health care provider.
Planned Parenthood has been saving women and families from poverty and desperation for 99 years. Now, its enemies are “swift boating” it; presenting lies and distortions as fact. If they get away with it, and its funds are slashed, the result could very well be more sexually transmitted diseases, more unwanted pregnancies, and finally -- more abortions.
If you like your tragedy with irony, this could be it.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.