Weeks before the first undercover Planned Parenthood video surfaced, Rep. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackBottom line Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party | More states sue Purdue over opioid epidemic | 1 in 4 in poll say high costs led them to skip medical care Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee MORE was given a sneak preview of three hours of the not-yet-released footage.
“It literally made me sick to my stomach,” Black (R-Tenn.) recalled during an interview with The Hill on Monday. “I was emotional and tearful.”
Snippets of the footage showing a Planned Parenthood official candidly discussing the price of fetal tissue for medical research began to emerge about a month later, thrusting Planned Parenthood into a media firestorm and rekindling a national debate on abortion.
The fallout was no accident. Calls in Congress to defund the taxpayer-backed organization and the unexpected injection of abortion into the building of the 2016 presidential race are the result of a carefully planned strategy by The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-abortion group behind the videos, and its allies.
Black said she was invited to the screening by two other anti-abortion lawmakers who had been given early access to the footage. She said the viewing was to help understand the wealth of footage and “so I could be prepared for comment” when the videos became public.
The work on the videos stretches back much further, according to CMP, which calls the videos the result of a 30-month-long effort. David Daleiden, the group’s head, has a history, going back several years, of making videos.
Ovide Lamontagne, general counsel for Americans United for Life, said his group had been working with CMP since January, and providing “advice” (the content of which, he declined to elaborate on) ahead of the release of the videos.
One of the primary aspects of the strategy, which has allowed the videos to help push the issue of Planned Parenthood to the forefront, is spacing out the releases. Since July 14, five videos have been released at the rate of about once a week, setting off a fresh round of reaction and media coverage each time.
Lila Rose, a long-time friend of Daleiden and president of the anti-abortion group Live Action, said that the spacing out of the video releases is beneficial.
“The power of having time to evaluate each exposé is very helpful in public education,” Rose said, adding that they also deserve the scrutiny of people in “regulatory bodies.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, added that spacing out the releases is “very smart.”
“The arc of intensity lasts as long as people are watching and hearing and acting,” she said. “You don’t want it to be just one day.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight House sets up Senate shutdown showdown Biden says he doesn't believe a government shutdown will happen MORE (R-Ky.) last week sought to shift the conversation away from trying to defund the group through the broader government funding bill, which could lead to a government shutdown this fall. Instead, he emphasized congressional investigations.
However, more hard-line members, like Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE (R-Texas), are sure to use the release of more videos as fuel to continue their calls to cut off federal funding. Daleiden told CNN last month that he plans to release about 8 to 10 more videos.
Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight House passes bipartisan bills to strengthen network security, cyber literacy Senate nearing deal on defense bill after setback MORE (R-S.D.), a member of leadership, told reporters last week that the Planned Parenthood issue is “going to be around for a while.”
“Because I just think if there are more videos coming out, I think that'll probably trigger a lot of discussion around the country,” he explained.
In addition to the government funding fight, the issue could return to the fore after the August recess, via a House vote on Black’s bill to cut off money to Planned Parenthood for one year while it is investigated.
“[House Majority Leader] Kevin McCarthy did indicate to me that they would allow a vote on my bill when we come back,” Black said, adding that the vote might not be right away, but rather, after hearings that could further elevate the issue in Washington.
While the videos appear to have succeeded so far in spurring calls for action against Planned Parenthood and put new pressure on White House hopefuls to weigh in on the issue, the tactics have also met strong opposition from defenders of the organization.
Planned Parenthood said in a July letter to the House Energy & Commerce Committee — which is investigating the group — that the video makers could have broken the law.
“It appears that the only people who have broken laws are the extremists who have been hounding women and Planned Parenthood doctors for years,” the letter states. It raises the argument that the video makers violated state recording laws that require consent in order to be videotaped.
In two separate cases in California, judges have issued temporary restraining orders, preventing the CMP from releasing footage of a National Abortion Federation annual meeting and of a meeting with StemExpress, which provides fetal tissue to researchers.
At the National Abortion Federation meeting, the video makers gained access under the guise of a fake fetal tissue company, called Biomax.
The letter also says that Daleiden used a fake driver’s license to gain access to Planned Parenthood facilities, and that over the past eight years Daleiden has taped Planned Parenthood staff and patients without their knowledge at least 65 times.
Daleiden did not respond to a list of emailed questions touching on a range of topics including these claims.
In response to the lawsuits, the CMP has said it “follows all applicable laws.”
Planned Parenthood has also strongly denied any wrongdoing, pointing to its officials’ statements in the videos that they are looking for legal compensation for expenses, not for profit.
But outside of the question of legality, some abortion opponents also say statements in the videos, such as referring to a “less crunchy” technique to keep more fetal parts intact, should be shocking.
Dannenfelser, of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the effect of the videos has already been seen in the strong denunciations of Planned Parenthood from Republican presidential candidates, and from the fact that abortion is more prominent than it was in the 2012 race.
“This time the pressure is you must care,” she said. “If you don't care, your candidacy is in trouble.”