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Let’s be honest about the dishonest attack on Planned Parenthood

Far-right Republicans in Congress are threatening to shut down the federal government rather than pass a budget that allows Planned Parenthood to continue receiving federal funds to provide women with healthcare. The renewed energy behind the effort to destroy Planned Parenthood, a consuming goal of anti-abortion zealots, comes from a discredited smear campaign that has provided fodder for lurid claims by pundits and presidential candidates, but has not withstood honest scrutiny. 

The campaign, based on strategically edited videos from the bogus “Center for Medical Progress,” is also providing justification for a one-sided “investigation” planned by the House Oversight Committee tomorrow. Given what is at stake for the millions of American women who rely on Planned Parenthood for health care, it is vitally important to evaluate the evidence and consider the credibility of Planned Parenthood’s accusers. 

First, a quick summary of the facts: A small fraction of Planned Parenthood facilities allow women the option of donating fetal tissue to medical research. The law allows researchers to reimburse Planned Parenthood for the costs associated with getting the tissue to researchers. And, for all the dramatic spy-camera video and righteous posturing, that is just what happens – at the one percent of Planned Parenthood facilities involved in fetal tissue research. This is a ludicrous rationale for trying to destroy Planned Parenthood, which does not use a penny of its federal funding to provide abortions. The bottom line: five states that have investigated CMP’s charges that Planned Parenthood is involved in the illegal selling of “baby parts” have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. 

So where are these charges coming from? 

The Center for Medical Progress was created by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden for the purpose of conducting the kind of “stings” used in previous efforts to “take out” Planned Parenthood. Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking members of the House Oversight and Government Reform and Judiciary committees, have urged an investigation into potentially illegal actions by Daleiden and CMP.  But Daleiden’s lawyers have said he will invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than defend his actions. 

Daleiden got his start in anti-choice activism at Live Action, which has conducted its own discredited “sting” investigations of Planned Parenthood. For his new project, Daleiden turned for advice and support to Troy Newman, the head of Operation Rescue, which has a long association with radical and sometimes violent anti-choice activism. Newman and his colleague Cheryl Sullenberger, who was once jailed for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic, advise activists that “stretching the truth” is acceptable when trying to destroy a “godless enemy.” Newman is one of two CMP board members in addition to Daleiden himself. 

Also providing strategic advice and promoting CMP’s videos are Mark Crutcher and his group Life Dynamics. It conducted a similar “sting” in 1999, which led to a “train wreck” of a congressional hearing in which Crutcher’s star witness admitted to lying and receiving $20,000 from Life Dynamics. 

Another group helping spread CMP’s videos, and providing talking points for use by churches, is Online for Life, a group that tries to intercept women seeking information about abortion and divert them to anti-abortion “pregnancy centers.” 

Life Dynamics and Online for Life have received millions of dollars in recent years from the Thirteen Foundation, set up by Texas fracking billionaire and pastor Farris Wilks. That’s the same Farris Wilks who, with his brother Dan, are the biggest donors – to the tune of $15 million – to a super PAC backing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). CNN reported this month that top officials of Online for Life are “playing a growing role in the super PACs backing Ted Cruz.” 

This most recent attack on Planned Parenthood is part of an ongoing campaign to make abortion illegal and inaccessible to American women. It is waged by ideologues for whom the end justifies dishonest means. It is being used by Ted Cruz to position himself as an uncompromising culture warrior. And at least part of the campaign against Planned Parenthood is being funded by the same people hoping to propel Cruz into the White House.  Amidst all the agendas, the people who lose out most in the political attacks on Planned Parenthood are American women.

Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way.


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