Lawmakers, fact checkers, and reproductive justice advocates sounded the alarm this week over a series of deceptive—and some say fraudulent—anti-choice videos aimed at slandering the not-for-profit organization that provides vital health services to millions of people a year.
Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) sent a letter on Wednesday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris urging them to investigate "whether any laws were broken by individuals who participated in an elaborate, multi-year scheme to impersonate corporate officials from a fake biologics company, secretly filmed video of a Planned Parenthood physician in California, and make public portions of the video without her consent."
The shadowy anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress last week released a heavily-edited, nine-minute video that claims to "Hold Planned Parenthood accountable for their illegal sale of baby parts." Its hidden camera footage depicts Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's director of medical services, explaining the processes of collecting fetal tissue to individuals from the Center for Medical Progress who falsely posed as buyers. Another video released this week depicts a different staffer with Planned Parenthood discussing fetal tissue.
However, the full video provides no evidence that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, as many—including the organization itself—have noted.
The full and unedited footage of the discussion shows Dr. Nucatola clearly stating that Planned Parenthood "affiliates are not looking to make money by doing this. They’re looking to serve their patients and just make it not impact their bottom line." Moreover, nowhere in the video does Nucatola discuss selling fetal tissue for profit.
"We know the real agenda of organizations behind videos like this, and they have never been concerned with protecting the health and safety of women."
—Sasha Bruce, NARAL Pro-Choice America
"Clearly, the shorter version was edited to eliminate statements by Dr. Nucatola explaining that Planned Parenthood does not profit from tissue donation, which requires the clear consent of the patient," wrote the editorial board of the New York Times this week, slamming the move as "the latest in a series of unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood."
Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, declared last week that the organization "stands behind our work to help women and families donate tissue for medical research when they wish to" and assured the public that "our donation programs—like any other high-quality health care providers—follow all laws and ethical guidelines."
Furthermore, Planned Parenthood lawyer Roger Evans sent a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee raising concerns about the group that launched the multi-year campaign aimed at deceiving the public:
The head of the Center of Medical Progress is David Daleiden, who previously worked for the discredited anti-abortion group Live Action, wrote Evans. Over the last eight years, Mr. Daleiden has participated in at least 10 separate attacks on Planned Parenthood involving gaining access to our health centers and offices under false pretenses, taping staff (and sometimes patients) without their knowledge on at least 65 occasions (not counting this latest fraud) and misleading the public with heavily edited tapes and flat-out false charges.
Meanwhile, public health and reproductive justice advocates around the country are taking to social media to declare: "I stand with Planned Parenthood." However, public support is not stopping a political storm in Washington, D.C.—where anti-choice lawmakers are grabbing onto the video's false claims to launch their own efforts to erode access to reproductive health services.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation on Wednesday to completely slash federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to subpoena a Planned Parenthood official unless she voluntarily appears to testify about the charges levied in the video. And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined 49 Republicans in sending an open letter sent a letter on Tuesday to the Justice Department and Health and Human Services Administration urging a full investigation into Planned Parenthood.
The right-wing media is having a field day with the videos. As watchdog group Media Matters pointed out Wednesday, Fox News "devoted 10 segments on seven separate programs in one day to hyping a deceptively edited video purporting to show Planned Parenthood 'haggling' over the price of 'baby parts,' while mainstream media and fact checkers roundly discredited the video and its smears."
Health advocates, however, say they are not fooled.
"The heavily edited videos recently released are further evidence of the manipulative lengths that anti-choice extremists will go to make sure every door closes on women who need reproductive health care, and ban abortion entirely," Sasha Bruce, senior vice president at NARAL Pro-Choice America, said this week. "We know the real agenda of organizations behind videos like this, and they have never been concerned with protecting the health and safety of women."