The next videogate episode is out! This one features Planned Parenthood worker Amy Woodruff advising a man posing as a sex trafficker on how to get health care for girls as young as 14 who, he implies, work for him as prostitutes. If the gotcha! is reminiscent of the deceptively edited tapes that cost Shirley Sherrod her job at the US Department of Agriculture or the separate fake pimp scandal that brought down the community organization Acorn, that’s probably because it was produced by antichoice activist Lila Rose—the president of an organization, Live Action, who, since 2006 has collaborated with the mastermind of those previous episodes, James O’Keefe.
The widely viewed tape has brought about the expected fallout: the New Jersey Planned Parenthood affiliate where the video was taken has received threats, including one mentioning a bomb. Woodruff was promptly fired. (That action was predictable and appropriate, given that she violated Planned Parenthood policy by advising the fake pimp how to get the teenagers abortions, after he told her that they were sex workers in the country illegally. While Woodruff seems to be just a bad—and, perhaps, insecure—apple, her fawning treatment of the fake pimp also speaks to the sad fact that Planned Parenthood clearly also needs to ensure that clinic staff follow its policy for dealing with pimps, whether they’re real or fake.) A Twitter war has even ensued, with the video being used alternately as evidence of a smear campaign or of the fact that somehow Planned Parenthood is “aiding and abetting Sex Trafficking of Minors,” as RedState.com put it.
In keeping with the videogate genre, there isn’t much that could reasonably be considered scandalous behind this latest tempest. After visiting at least twelve Planned Parenthood clinics in six states, Live Action’s elaborate charade turned up just this one heavily edited video. You might expect more from Rose, a 22-year-old former student activist who is part of a wacko fringe that lumps pro-choicers in with Nazis. (Activist Mark Crutcher, who runs a fake abortion clinic in Denton, Texas, and has himself waged fake phone call campaigns against Planned Parenthood, is one of her heroes.)
The problem is that, while you might want to laugh off Rose and her fake pimp as just a couple of creepy video pranksters, this latest stunt is prompting a conservative pile-on that could have serious legislative impact. If wackos are leading the charge, unfortunately, some of them of them have seats in Congress.
Rep. Michele Bachmann linked to the Live Action video on her Facebook page on Tuesday, noting that “I am introducing a bill that would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving any future federal money directly or indirectly…. You must see this undercover video. This is horrifying!"
She’s not being abstract. Her colleague, Rep. Mike Pence, recently introduced legislation that would deny federal dollars to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that receive family funds and also provide abortion. The Pence bill, which has 154 sponsors, has seen no action since it was introduced almost a month ago. But, yesterday, after the Live Action video came out, an antichoice coalition launched a website pushing it forward. The release of the video has prompted Pence to call for immediate action on the bill. And now sources say it looks as though the amendment may be brought to a vote within the next two weeks.
ExposePlannedParenthood.com, a site sponsored by a number of anti-abortion groups, including Rose’s Live Action, Students for Life of America, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, is designed so visitors can send direct e-mails to their legislators in support of the Pence bill. Meanwhile, the Family Research Council is planning a live webcast for Thursday night headlining Lila Rose and, no doubt, also pushing for the legislation.
It’s clearly a bad moment for Planned Parenthood. But while it can seem like they’re getting it from all sides, the truth may be that what looks like a random pile-on is actually a coordinated campaign.
“We definitely see a connection between all of this activity,” says Stuart Schear, vice president for communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “These organizations are working very much together with the legislative agenda of defunding Planned Parenthood in mind.”
Planned Parenthood has had its funding threatened before. Pence introduced bills that would have cut off federal funding to the organization in 2007 and 2009, but this may be his lucky legislative session, judging from the extremely conservative post-election make-up of Congress.
Meanwhile, family planning is also facing new threats on the state level. New Jersey, the state where the Live Action video was shot, has already severely cut state money. Last year, Governor Chris Christie defunded fifty-eight family planning centers, and he is widely expected to veto legislation that would give New Jersey women greater access to family planning and other health services.
Christie, the story goes, cut the money because he’s opposed abortion. In reality, of course, reduced access to contraception means only more unintended pregnancies—and more abortions. But, then again, if you think getting rid of family planning will cut down on abortions, you might also see why a video of one misguided woman who, for all we know, was trying to help some fictitious teenaged sex slaves, should bring an end to federal funding for our nation’s biggest reproductive healthcare provider.