An undercover anti-abortion group’s videos of discussions with Planned Parenthood officials about use of fetal tissue in medical research has propelled effectively the general assault on Planned Parenthood.

All the Republican members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation have spoken warmly of legislative efforts to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood (in the form of reimbursements for a range of important medical services, NOT abortion.) It’s understandable. All oppose abortion. Shutting down the primary work of Planned Parenthood (only about 3 percent of its activities are abortion related) could shut down abortion as well. If the legislation really did redirect that money into equally accessible medical clinics (which isn’t certain) it wouldn’t take it to places that also provide abortions.


I support Planned Parenthood. I support abortion rights. I recognize the emotion that attaches to use of fetal remains in research, but it’s worth reading this AP tutorial about the subject. It’s vital and long-standing. It saves lives. It — and organ transplants at all ages — are a routine and important part of medical practice. When opponents decry tissue research based on Planned Parenthood activities, do they also decry that based on conventional miscarriages? Fetal tissue research led to discovery of a polio vaccine, to name one reason to reconsider reflexive opposition to the practice.

Sen. Jason Rapert is one of many who’d have you believe the $500 million in federal money  funneled to Planned Parenthood nationwide goes to “killing babies.” That’s simply a lie.


More than 90 percent of the services provided to 2.7 million men and women a year goes for preventive care, such as cancer screening, sexual disease testing and — PLEASE NOTE — contraception. Contraception practiced comprehensively and effectively PREVENTS unwanted pregnancies and abortion.

About 1.5 million people receive family planning services each year, most of them members of working poor families. Another 1.5 million get sex education and counseling services. Again, comprehensive sex education can reduce — not create — abortions.


In a year, Planned Parenthood did 400,000 Pap tests, 500,00 breast exams, 4.5 million sexual disease tests.

Again, all the government money, much coming through Medicaid, is restricted. By law it may not be used for abortion except in Medicaid-supported cases of rape and incest or to save the life of a mother.

The fetal tissue work is done in only five states. Abortions in many places, including Arkansas, don’t include surgical abortions. Rather, it’s a pharmaceutical abortion used in the earliest stages of fetal development, less than nine weeks into pregnancy and often much earlier. To opponents, even a pill that works 48 hours after intercourse is abortion or, to use Rapert’s term, “baby killing.” I don’t view it that way. Many religious traditions don’t view it that way. The whole debate could use a calmer level of discussion, though the core differences on whether abortion at any stage should be legal are not likely subject to influence by debate, rational or otherwise. But anti-abortion groups do know that fetal images and the use of tissue for research, no matter how life-saving, gives even pro-choice people pause and so it will continue, along with the chants of “baby killing.”

Would it matter if you knew that people involved with the undercover videos have long histories in such radical anti-abortion groups as Operation Rescue,  whose followers harass women at abortion clinics and who’ve been linked to bombing plots and the slaying of a doctor in Wichita? They call this pro-life — visiting cruelty on living women in the name of a microscopic embryo.


Does it matter that the undercover videos on which the campaign is based amount to violation of the medical privacy of women who consented to the procedure and use of fetal tissue in research? Does it matter that, despite claims that the material has been sold, which would be a law violation, no evidence of that has yet been produced?

I rise in defense pessimistically. I have the distinct feeling that this will turn out to be the most effective and damaging attack on Planned Parenthood. If so, it will succeed more on emotion than  facts, thanks to a fraudulent organization with dishonest tactics. And, from Texas, another report on fraudulent tactics.

I also question the sincerity of the Tom Cottons and others proclaiming high moral ground in their cause and promising that money taken from Planned Parenthood will still serve the same purpose through other channels. Too many Republican-controlled legislatures and officials also oppose widespread availability and use of contraception. Hobby Lobby anyone?

Arkansas has a long record of opposition to contraception from hate groups such as the Family Council, now an influential player in state politics. Many in Arkansas still like their women barefoot and pregnant. Control of reproduction is a degree of autonomy many men just don’t want to cede to women. A measure of this is how few voices stand in defense of an organization with a proud history of service to women. I can do no other.

PS — Republicans such as Winthrop Rockefeller, Barry Goldwater and George H.W. Bush once supported Planned Parenthood. Bush was such an advocate for its family planning and spoke so often on the topic in Congress that he was given a nickname — “Rubbers.”

Also: More here on how the videos have been edited to remove remarks that tend to corroborate Planned Parenthood assertions that arrangements are legal.

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