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.

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to Live Action’s Planned Parenthood Spin

  1. […] with David Sessions’ AOL Opinion Piece on Planned Parenthood.” David Sessions responded here and now I am responding to his response. Sessions writes: Live Action claims that because 1) […]

  2. Alison says:

    The videos speak for themselves really and the fact that there were so many of them shows that this is not an isolated issue and is not something to be swept under the rug. I don’t understand why this article chooses to attack those exposing the truth rather than those doing obvious wrong. Either it took Live Action an enormous amount of time to find those “certain ones of their thousands of counselors turn a blind eye to suspicious activity”, or they were extremely lucky to find them, or it was EASY because. it isn’t ones of thousands, its MANY, or MOST! I do not see any of Live Action’s press materials or blogs as misleading. Mr Sessions has given no proof, only opinion in the accusation that Lila Rose is misleading and lying. I think this article is way off base.

  3. Adam says:

    It seems to me like David Sessions is bending what I assume would be his otherwise-held standards of how quickly suspected child sexual abuse should be reported. Would Mr. Sessions find it acceptable if a church had suspicion that its minister was abusing a child and waited a whole week to notify anyone about it? And especially in the case of a possible pimp with underage illegal immigrants, even 3 days is ample time for the pimp and the girls to disappear and be almost impossible to find. “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.” Honestly, Mr. Sessions? Think about what you’re saying here. How can you possibly view that as acceptable?

    • TJ says:

      This is absolutely on target, and I believe it applies not only to this one author but all those who use this argument in Planned Parenthood’s defense. If this were a church, a hospital, a school or a daycare there would be outrage across the board; only with the abortion clinic is the protection of child victims of sexual exploitation a secondary concern to protecting the institution.

    • Jodecy says:

      I could read a book about this without finding such real-world appraohecs!

  4. jcross says:

    N. J. REV. STAT. § 9:6-8.10 (2010). Report of Abuse.
    Any person having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or acts of child abuse shall report the same immediately to the Division of Youth and Family Services by telephone or otherwise.

    What part of “immediately” don’tcha unnerstand?

  5. Pellaeon says:

    You are still taking Planned Parenthood’s word that they contacted local law enforcement. You should be concerned with the facts. Planned Parenthood should not have taken any chances or their own discretion when slowly reporting to authorities as this pertains to children. Bottom line, would you prefer they act this way had your children been a victim of sex trafficking or statutory rape? As taxpayers, we need to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for their response time. As for the 7 out of 800 clinics, you should contact Abby Johnson who was a director with Planned Parenthood. She was associated and networked with many in the organization and speaks the truth about the poor management and typical poor choices made in Planned Parenthood.

    With this article, you are desperately trying to protect Planned Parenthood by focusing on the “other” services and distracting your audience with the focus of these “stings,” rather than the actual issue Live Action has brought to light.

  6. jcross says:

    So, where are the readers who agree with David Sessions?

    • jcross says:

      ….crickets chirping….

    • Aaron says:

      I’ll take the bait here…

      I think the fault here is that Live Action is using an extreme situation to justify their point, which doesn’t really represent the majority of Planned Parenthood’s day-to-day operations. It’s similar to a pro-choice group using the “incest and rape” argument, when that doesn’t reflect the reality of the majority of abortions performed.

      I think that through reasonable discussion and both sides conceding some ground to the other, the abortions in the United States (and worldwide) can be greatly reduced. Taking all-or-nothing positions does little to accomplish this goal. I don’t see how this action by Live Action produces tangible reductions in the number of abortions. It seems like they’re just wasting Planned Parenthood’s time with their fake sting operations, and wasting our time by reading and debating the article, rather than the issue.

      • Katya says:

        How do you know that this doesn’t really represent the majority of Planned Parenthood’s day-to-day operations?

        • Aaron says:

          I could quote their own statistics on the services they perform, but Planned Parenthood’s records of themselves have been called into question here, so I’ll leave that alone. That being said, millions of people visit Planned Parenthood each year. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the vast majority of those people aren’t pimps who are trafficking underage women.

  7. Paul says:


    It turns out that Live Action edited the audio track on the videos to make it sound like PP employees were saying things that they didn’t say. I can’t say that I’m surprised.


    • Henry says:

      Have we not yet learned that these “sting” videos that purport to reveal outrageous offenses by the unsuspecting parties are rife with suspect (at best) or intentionally misleading (more likely) editing? Live Action, Breitbart, O’Keefe… We should all be taking their “exposes” not with a grain but with the whole damned shaker of salt.

  8. Scott says:


    It turns out that the link you provided was a press release from Planned Parenthood, which might, you know, have a vested interest in unjustly accusing Live Action of editing the audio track. Who are you going to believe, Planned Parenthood or your own lying eyes?

  9. Jenny says:

    If Live Action’s entire purpose in pranking Planned Parenthood was to prove that the entire organization is guilty of human trafficking, then going to 7 out of 800 clinics does not prove the entire organization is guilty of turning a blind eye toward human trafficking. It raises doubts and cause suspicion about the organization as a whole, but it only provides evidence for those 7 clinics. To that extent, I agree with Mr. Sessions. On the other hand, 7 cases is 7 cases more than there should be, and regardless of how fast Planned Parenthood was to report the issue, the evidence does show compliance, at the very least, with illegal activity. If what we are really concerned about is the protection of women or the unborn, we should deal with those 7 clinics and make Planned Parenthood defend themselves. If the life of even one person is at stake, we are wasting time debating logistics. Regardless of the agenda being pushed by either side, we should deal with what we know.

  10. “…spinning the circumstances to appear way more sinister than they actually were”
    I see….
    Of course, there’s not too much that entails killing a baby that you could place on that sliding scale, wouldn’t you say?

  11. […] with David Sessions’ AOL Opinion Piece on Planned Parenthood.” David Sessions responded here and now I am responding to his response. Sessions […]

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