A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the anti-abortion group Live Action and their undercover video stings at Planned Parenthood clinics. I was critical; I don’t think the videos show what Live Action claims they show, and they are spinning the circumstances to appear way more sinister than they actually were. Now, the group has responded to my piece with several criticisms. I’ll respond to them here, and also suggest they read the full version of my piece since they appear to have only seen the shortened version that ran on AOL News.
I gave Planned Parenthood undue credit for their response. After Live Action carried out stings at several of their clinics across the country, sending in fake pimps pretending to seek help for their underage immigrant sex workers, Planned Parenthood notified the Department of Justice and the FBI about what they thought was suspicious activity. (PP is well acquainted with Live Action’s antics, and the letter they sent to the authorities suggests they suspected some sort of undercover operation.) Live Action claims that because 1) Planned Parenthood has not publicly declared which local law enforcement each one of the visited clinics contacted immediately, and 2) because they took three to seven days to send a letter to the authorities, then they were obviously “covering their tracks.” David Schmidt, who wrote the group’s response to my column, says that Planned Parenthood “acted in an unacceptably slow manner.”
Again, this is Live Action dictating the acceptable response and then crowing when their own arbitrary criteria are not met. (Lila Rose, the group’s founder, did the same thing when she declared that because the Planned Parenthood counselors didn’t immediately call the police during their interviews with the fake pimps, they were automatically guilty of abetting sex trafficking.) But this is so illogical and uncharitable that it borders on being intentionally deceptive. For one thing, we know that at least some of the 7 clinics saw through the plot against them; after all, the fake pimp and his wild story about underage sex slaves were pretty implausible. The fact that the clinics reported the visits to their head office in Washington suggests they knew what was happening. Why would they call the police? Still, a couple of them did.
Second, Planned Parenthood is a huge organization. It operates over 800 clinics in the U.S. alone. Live Action visited 7 of them. Forgive me for finding it realistic that it would take up to a week for a large organization to field reports from several affiliates, make its leadership aware of the situation, draft a letter and get it to the Justice Department. These stings didn’t all happen on the same day, and of course it took a few days to recognize there was a pattern and make an institutional decision on a response. But because Planned Parenthood didn’t react within Live Action’s arbitrarily-set timeframe—”within 24 hours”—Live Action expects us to believe they can be instantly presumed guilty and that anything done later than that was done to “cover their tracks.” I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. This is predatory political theater at its worst, and I find it completely unsurprising that Planned Parenthood would pause to calculate its response in such a charged environment.
Schmidt is right that we don’t know for sure who Planned Parenthood called when. But this is beside the point; Live Action wants to make it about when they called the police, rather than acknowledge the pretty obvious fact that the organization took a few days to size up the situation and realized they were being pranked. If the crimes had been real and Planned Parenthood decided it needed to notify authorities, doing so a few days later would have still been a timely, appropriate response.
I granted that the Live Action tapes suggest Planned Parenthood sometimes looks the other way in order to do what they think is most necessary: getting women reproductive care. I’m sure certain ones of their thousands of counselors turn a blind eye to suspicious activity, and maybe they shouldn’t. But even if they do, and even if someone caught them doing it on video, it does not prove Planned Parenthood is a criminal enterprise that is systematically flaunting the law. Live Action makes this jump so easily because they believe Planned Parenthood is inherently a criminal enterprise. I’m willing to look at facts about ways Planned Parenthood could conduct itself more circumspectly, and make sure it avoids enabling exploitation if it has the power to do so. But this is ideology-driven propaganda, and Live Action is not really interested in productive discussion or even primarily in protecting women.
I called the videos “misleading” without citing any evidence. I did not mean the videos were dishonestly edited, à la O’Keefe and Brietbart. To its credit, Live Action posted the uncut videos and transcripts. I said the videos were “trumped up” to a misleading conclusion. Read any of Live Action’s press materials or blogs about the stings, and you’ll most certainly be misled. To hear Lila Rose tell it, these videos prove “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that Planned Parenthood has covered up the exploitation of young girls to push a radical pro-abortion agenda. That’s not just misleading, it’s lying.
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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