New York Times: Anti-Abortion Groups Step Up Campaign Against Planned Parenthood

This article originally ran in the New York Times on February 3, 2011 and on on February 2, 2011.

Anti-Abortion Groups Step Up Campaign Against Planned Parenthood

By Erik Eckholm and Jennifer Medina

Planned Parenthood has fired a clinic manager who was seen on videotape advising a man posing as a sex trafficker, and anti-abortion groups seized on the episode to step up their campaign to cut off public financing for the organization.
Live Action , via Associated Press

A photo provided by Live Action of its founder, Lila Rose.

The manager was videotaped covertly in a clinic in Perth Amboy, N.J., by actors working for an anti-abortion group, Live Action. The manager gave advice on how to get medical care for under-age prostitutes. The tape’s release on Tuesday embarrassed Planned Parenthood, which provides contraceptives, gynecological care, cancer screening and abortions across the country, mainly to low-income women.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said that immediately after the “highly unusual” visit, its affiliate had notified prosecutors.

The organization said last week that people claiming to be sex traffickers visited at least 12 of its clinics in six states in January and that it had concluded that the visits were a hoax by Live Action. But Planned Parenthood officials expressed dismay at the statements of the office manager in the videotape, and fired her on Tuesday night.

“We were profoundly shocked when we viewed the videotape,” Phyllis Kinsler, chief executive of the agency’s central New Jersey branch, said in a statement. Ms. Kinsler said the tape “depicted an employee of one of our health centers behaving in a repugnant manner that is inconsistent with our standards of care and is completely unacceptable.”

Stuart Schear, vice president for communications of the national federation, said in an interview on Wednesday that Planned Parenthood had “zero tolerance” for unethical behavior and that the behavior filmed in the video was “very isolated.”

“We cannot lose sight of the bigger picture that we have opponents who are in many cases opposed to birth control, honest sex education and legal abortion, and are coordinating with allies on Capitol Hill to defund Planned Parenthood,” Mr. Schear said.

On Wednesday, a large number of anti-abortion groups including Live Action announced a new campaign called “Expose Planned Parenthood,” tied to the videotape, which will promote a bill now before the House of Representatives that would cut the more than $75 million in federal money that Planned Parenthood affiliates receive each year for family planning.

Federal compensation for abortion is already outlawed, but conservative groups attack Planned Parenthood for including abortions among its services.

Some critics go further. In the videotape and some previous incidents, Planned Parenthood officials “collaborated with the exploitation of young girls,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that is helping to organize the de-financing campaign, in an interview Wednesday. “They don’t have institutional controls to prevent this.”

Mr. Schear of Planned Parenthood said that abortion accounts for only 3 percent of the organization’s health services and that the federal money under attack goes toward family planning and preventive health care for women, “including many low-income women who have relied on our services for decades.” He said that Planned Parenthood and affiliates received a total of about $363 million a year from federal, state and local governments combined.

The video was produced by 22-year-old Lila Rose, who runs Live Action. It shows a woman identified as Amy Woodruff, the office manager, responding to an unseen man and woman. The man says he is involved in sex work and wants to bring girls, some only 14 or 15 and illegal immigrants, for medical exams.

The manager says that 14-year-old girls should not admit their ages, because doing so triggers extra reporting requirements. “For the most part, we want as little information as possible,” she says. Asked if the girls can obtain abortions, the manager replies that if they are under 15, they should go to another clinic where “their protocols are not as strict as ours.”

The new video resembles those made in 2009 by a conservative activist, James O’Keefe, in which employees of the community group Acorn gave tax advise to a man posing as a pimp.

Ms. Rose worked in the past with Mr. O’Keefe on undercover videos in Planned Parenthood offices but says she has not worked with him in recent years. He is serving three years’ probation after being arrested while trying to tamper with the telephones of Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana.

In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Rose indicated that her group had other damaging materials. “Soon, we will be releasing more evidence to law enforcement officials and the public showing that Planned Parenthood is willing to aid and abet sexual exploitation of minors and young women,” she said.

Lila Rose’s videos first made headlines in 2007, when, as a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, she went undercover to an abortion clinic in California and told workers that she was 15 years old and pregnant by a 23-year-old man. By law, clinic employees should have reported the incident as statutory rape but did not do so.

That video propelled her into the embrace of anti-abortion activists. Now, at 22, she has achieved a sort of celebrity status in some conservative circles — her Facebook updates are followed by nearly 5,000 fans.

“We were thrilled when we saw that she was doing something so new and exciting and creative,” said Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who runs the Christian Defense Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group. “The fact that she was not someone like me in her mid-50s, but a young bright student, really added to the impact.”

Ms. Rose graduated from U.C.L.A. in December with a bachelor’s degree in history. During her time there, the university’s Live Action chapter (one of four in California) organized a “Genocide Awareness Project” in the campus center. According to the group’s Facebook page, the display showed “the disturbing parallels between abortion and past genocides like the Holocaust and Rwanda, as well as the lynching in the Jim Crow South.”

Ms. Rose declined to be interviewed. But she used Twitter and Facebook to claim a victory against Planned Parenthood, telling followers that its decision to fire the office manager pointed to “much broader and more endemic” problems in the organization.

Mr. Schear replied: “We’re staying focused on giving women the health care they need and deserve.”

A version of this article appeared in print on February 3, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition.

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