Politics and Prejudices: Smearing Planned Parenthood

Did you "know" Planned Parenthood is making scads of money by selling the organs of aborted fetuses, babies whose heads are crushed to kill them without damaging their valuable body parts?

Lots of people believe that, anyway, thanks to some scurrilous, selectively, and politically edited videos floating around on YouTube.

But the fact is that all of this is, well, a total lie.

Planned Parenthood is a 99-year-old nonprofit family-planning organization. The vast majority of what PP does involves things like birth control, cancer screenings, testing, and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, they do provide abortion services — but that's less than 5 percent of their total caseload. And no federal tax dollars are ever used for abortions — patients or their insurers pay.

But what about the story that they are "harvesting" and selling fetal tissue? The excerpts of the videos seem to make it look that way, with PP medical officials appearing to discuss what they charge.

The truth is that there is nothing illegal about using fetal tissue for research, when the women having the abortions voluntarily donate the specimens for that purpose. Nor is there anything illegal, immoral, or wrong with Planned Parenthood charging for the costs of carefully storing, preparing, and shipping those samples.

What is totally wrong and fraudulent is what a fanatic anti-abortion group misnamed the "Center for Medical Progress" did.

They hired two actors who, lying through their teeth, claimed to be from a biotech company interested in procuring fetal tissue for research. They managed to get an interview with Planned Parenthood's top research staffers.

They then edited it down to a distorted eight minutes carefully spliced together to give a totally misleading impression. Deborah Nucatola, PP's senior director of medical research, does use some unfortunate words to describe the abortion procedure itself.

"We've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver ... so I'm not going to crush that part," she says on the video. Not pleasant language. But what she also told her phony interviewers is that Planned Parenthood makes no money and wants to make no money from the fetal organs themselves. Instead, they are sent to laboratories for research to use in doing research on the causes and possible cures for diseases from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's.

Naturally, the anti-abortion fanatics seeking to do in Planned Parenthood left that out in their scurrilous video release. Back during the Watergate scandal, National Lampoon released an album that used similar techniques to sabotage Richard Nixon.

For example, they spliced in a question: "Mr. Nixon, did you have sex in the White House?" followed by this excerpt from a speech: "I had a firm staff, and I stuck it out." (OK, OK, not all that hilarious. It was the 1970s, after all, and we were all young and usually high ... but you get the idea.)

But in this case, the lives and health of millions are at stake. Immediately after the release of the video, those two charming Senatorial demagogues, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, called for Congress to instantly "defund" Planned Parenthood.

That would have a devastating effect on the agency — but would do absolutely nothing to stop abortions. Last week I talked to Lori Carpentier, who has been CEO of Planned Parenthood in Michigan for the last 10 years. "Keep in mind that no taxpayer dollars are being used to fund abortion," she said.

PP does get roughly a quarter of its funding from the government, and losing that money "would have a dire effect on the important preventive health care services we provide every year."

Interestingly, the whole fetal tissue argument is moot in Michigan — the two Planned Parenthood outlets here don't supply any for research purposes, and, despite the fact that fetal stem-cell research is now legal, "We presently do not have a plan to offer that option to our patients." What they do instead for tens of thousands of women, most of whom have no other coverage, is offer them access to birth control. They also test and treat thousands for STDs every year.

Now, because they do offer another fully legal procedure, they're being swiftboated for it — and rather successfully too.

But think about this: If their funds are slashed, the result could very well be more unwanted pregnancies, more sexually transmitted diseases, and in the end ... even more abortions.

I don't know if that's more ironic or tragic.

I do suspect the fanatics behind these videos never even thought about that, and may not care.

This could get ugly

Here's a story that's been going on under the radar — but which could end up playing havoc with our economy and our farms. Seven years ago, we started a program called COOL, which stands for "Country of Origin Labeling."

What that meant was that all meat products had to be labeled where they came from, which added cost, since it had to be segregated and handled separately at every point in the process.

That might make perfect sense, if you're talking about China. But not Canada, which is supposed to have essentially totally free trade with the United States, under NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. There have never been any health worries about Canadian meat; for years, American and Canadian ranchers sold and traded cattle and hogs back and forth whenever one party was short. But since COOL kicked in, that hasn't happened so much.

Canadian meat suddenly became more expensive. Irked, Canada took the U.S. to the WTO, the World Trade Organization.

They ruled against the United States. Washington appealed. The WTO ruled for Canada again. We sued again. We lost again.

We lost four times in all. Now, Canada's understandably getting sick of all this. They've announced that unless we repeal COOL by the end of the summer, they — and Mexico — are going to slap $3 billion in retaliatory tariffs on our agriculture.

Michigan may well be the hardest-hit state; this will directly affect $684 million worth of agricultural products we've been selling to Canada every year, mainly beef, chicken, corn, and cereals.

The U.S. House of Representatives has repealed COOL, but attempts are stalled in the Senate, in large part because our own U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is holding out for "voluntary labeling."

The Canadians, who seem to have favored voluntary sanctions in the past, now say nothing doing. Repeal all of COOL, they say, or face the consequences.

When I talked to her last week, Stabenow said negotiations were "tough," but she was confident a deal could be reached. We better hope that if she's playing a game of chicken, somebody ducks before the price of losing gets too high.

Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.
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