NYTimes.com: After Video Exposé, Planned Parenthood Fires Employee

This article originally appeared online at NYTimes.com on February 2, 2011.

After Video Exposé, Planned Parenthood Fires Employee

By Erik Eckholm

Planned Parenthood has fired a clinic manager who was caught on a videotape advising an apparent sex trafficker how to get medical care for underage prostitutes.

The videotape was filmed covertly in a New Jersey Planned Parenthood clinic by actors working for an anti-abortion group, Live Action. Its release on Tuesday has embarrassed Planned Parenthood, which provides contraceptives, gynecological care, cancer screening and abortions across the country, mainly to low-income women. It has also given new energy to abortion opponents who want to eliminate federal and state money for the agency.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said that immediately after the “highly unusual” visit to a clinic in Perth Amboy, N.J., by a man posing as a sex trafficker and a woman posing as a prostitute, its affiliate had notified prosecutors.

But Planned Parenthood officials expressed dismay at the statements of the office manager in Perth Amboy, N.J., in the videotape, and fired her on Tuesday night.

“We were profoundly shocked when we viewed the videotape released this morning, which 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,” said Phyllis Kinsler, chief executive of the agency’s central New Jersey branch, in a statement late on Tuesday.

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

But Mr. Schear added: “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.”

Planned Parenthood has long been a target of the anti-abortion movement. On Wednesday, a large number of anti-abortion groups including Live Action announced a new campaign called “Expose Planned Parenthood,” tied to the new videotape, which will promote a bill now before the House of Representatives that would cut tens of millions in federal money that Planned Parenthood affiliates receive each year in family planning and other grants.

Direct federal financing of abortion is already outlawed, but the critics, led by conservative Catholic and evangelical groups, attack Planned Parenthood for including abortions among its services, and some say its entire operations are immoral.

“The horror exposed in the video released yesterday was not an isolated incident in the history of a group willing to be a chief ally in the exploitation of women and girls,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony list, which is helping to organize the de-financing campaign.

Mr. Schear of Planned Parenthood said that abortion accounts for only 3 percent of its health services. As for the federal money under attack, he said, “We’re not talking about abortion funds, it’s family planning and preventive health care for women, including many low-income women who have relied on our services for decades.”

Last week, Planned Parenthood announced that people claiming to be sex traffickers had visited at least 12 of its clinics in six states in January and that it had notified the Justice Department. The group also said that, based on an identification of one of the visitors, it had concluded that the visits were a hoax by Live Action. Planned Parenthood said the group, which is led by Lila Rose, 22, had a history of using “surreptitious videotaping and manipulative editing” in a campaign to destroy it.

The video from the clinic 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 seems ready to bend the rules to provide medical care to the girls and says the girls should be careful about admitting their ages, especially if they are under 15, which 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 newly released video resembles those made in 2009 by a conservative activist, James O’Keefe, in which employees of the community group Acorn appeared to advise a prostitution ring how to avoid taxes. Ms. Rose has worked with Mr. O’Keefe on previous undercover videos in Planned Parenthood offices.

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