Planned Parenthood Responds to “Sting” Videos

Deborah Kotz

In an interview, Planned Parenthood responds to the use by a UCLA student and anti-choice agitator of hidden video cameras to exploit service providers.

The following article originally appeared on and is being republished with permission from U.S. News & World Report‘s “On Women” blog.

For nearly two years, Lila Rose has been a thorn in Planned Parenthood’s side. The UCLA student has taken a hidden video camera to various clinics across the country and posed as a minor who is several weeks pregnant by a much older boyfriend. Her aim is to see if clinicians follow state laws regarding the reporting of statutory rape and getting parental consent for abortions. In nine cases, her videos suggest they weren’t.

In fact, two weeks ago Alabama put a Birmingham Planned Parenthood clinic on probation after an inspection triggered by one of Rose’s videos. State health inspectors found that the clinic failed to get the signature of minors on its forms verifying parental consent for abortions. Vanessa Cullins, Planned Parenthood‘s vice president for medical affairs, told me the national office is “concerned” and that this affiliate will soon be merged with a Georgia affiliate that “has more resources.”

In one of the videos, taped in July 2008 at a clinic in Memphis, Rose poses as a pregnant 14-year-old who wants to have an abortion immediately. She’s told that as a minor she has to bring a parent along but then convinces the receptionist to allow her to talk to a counselor. During the ninth minute in this unedited video, Rose says that she’s 14 and her boyfriend (who’s not with her) is 31 and then asks if he’s going to get in trouble. “No,” the counselor says. “You promise?” Rose asks. The worker then says the boyfriend could if she tells her manager but adds, “I’m not going to tell anybody. Please don’t say that I told you this. … Just say that you have a boyfriend 17 years old.” Tennessee state law defines statutory rape as someone at least four years older than the victim having sex with someone older than 13 and younger than 18. The state requires a reporting of such cases to authorities.

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The counselor did tell Rose that she’d need to see a judge if she wanted to have an abortion without her parent’s consent. The counselor said that she should tell the judge that her boyfriend was also a minor to protect him from a statutory rape charge.

A similar scenario had occurred when Rose took her hidden video camera to an Indianapolis clinic a month earlier.

A Planned Parenthood spokesperson who didn’t want to speak for attribution says that the counselor on the Memphis tape was no longer an employee by the time the tape was released. Nonetheless, the clinic immediately retrained all its staff, the spokesperson says. According to a December 2008 statement from Planned Parenthood of Indiana, the Indianapolis clinic dismissed two employees who were featured in Rose’s video, and the president of the state organization said that “we’ve already made changes to tighten procedures and reinforce our reporting policies with all health center staff across the state.”

Though Rose refers to herself as a student journalist, she clearly has an agenda. In an interview Tuesday, Rose, 20, told me she’s “unabashedly a pro-life advocate” and that abortion is a “human rights abuse.” She says that she’d like to see all taxpayer dollars taken away from Planned Parenthood and that her videos show that the organization “doesn’t take the law seriously and doesn’t take adult-child sexual relationships seriously.” She declined to reveal to me the source of funding for her group, Live Action, which makes and posts the videos on its website, except to say that it’s not funded by “active” antiabortion groups like National Right to Life and that in 2009 it spent $124,000, which was provided by individuals and a few foundations sympathetic to the cause.

Earlier this week, Live Action released another video along the same lines as the others, generating another round of media coverage. The video, made at a Milwaukee clinic, was nearly two years ago. Coincidence or not, it was released during the week when President Obama is meeting with congressional leaders to discuss a health reform bill. In the White House’s list of proposed changes to the Senate-passed health reform bill, the funding of community health centers like Planned Parenthood rises from the $7 billion to $11 billion.

[Read Abortion Coverage Severely Restricted in House Health Reform Bill.]

Taxpayer dollars aren’t legally allowed to be used to fund abortions. When I point this out to Rose, she says that Planned Parenthood “is concerned with upping their abortion numbers” and that “they’ve increased their share in the abortion market steadily.” She adds, “At the end of the day, even if federal funds can’t be earmarked for abortions, those used to support Planned Parenthood support abortions.”

Cullins calls Rose’s claims “totally absurd and totally unfounded,” stressing that 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does has nothing to do with abortions. “Our foremost focus is on prevention of unplanned pregnancies through the use of safe and accepted contraceptive methods,” she says. While she admits that Planned Parenthood is providing a larger share of abortion services in this country than in the past, she says that’s because “we’ve had a paucity of new providers who have come into the system to start their own clinics.”

I want to know what, if any, action Planned Parenthood has taken on a national level in response to these videos. Cullins first tells me that much of the footage is highly edited—like this latest video from Milwaukee—and can’t be taken at face value. She says she hasn’t seen raw footage of the videos. Still, Cullins adds, that “we take seriously any allegations that come our way and take corrective action in the form of training and retraining in order to ensure that care is in accordance with the law.” The organization already had a system in place, before the first video came out, for doing routine spot checks of its facilities with investigators posing as teens. “Of all the calls we’ve done,” Cullins says, “we’ve had a couple of instances we’ve seen where employees didn’t respond the way they should with regards to teens and reporting abuse.”

As a result of these spot checks, Cullins adds, Planned Parenthood decided to institute a program of retraining. There’s now a policy in place, she says, to transfer patients to a trained “skills interviewer” whenever a patient hints at abuse—be it statutory rape, domestic violence, or pregnancy coercion. In the case of statutory rape, “first and foremost, clinicians must explain that there is reporting that must be done to proper authorities,” says Cullins. “They must send the primary message that this is an unhealthy relationship, and parents need to be brought into the teen’s confidence, though we can’t legally inform parents” that a teen is pregnant and seeking an abortion because of medical privacy laws. While some states don’t have laws requiring parents to be notified before a minor obtains an abortion, most have some law requiring at least one parent to be notified. (Parental consent can sometimes be bypassed by obtaining court approval.)

Cullins conceded that the videos have put a spotlight on some weaknesses in the system and that Planned Parenthood has made some changes as a result. The national office has sent out new training materials to affiliates, she says, and has conducted teleconferences with affiliate leaders and workshops at professional meetings. She adds: “The one thing I really want to reinforce is that we’ve already had system in place to assure the quality of care so that when we pick up deviations, we can readily address them.”

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”