News Abortion

Iowa Appointee Claims She Had “Nothing To Do” With Group She Helped Host In 2008

Robin Marty

The Iowa Senate rejects an appointee to the Iowa Board of Medicine over Operation Rescue ties that she denies she has.

The state of Iowa will not be adding Colleen Pasnik, an anti-choice activist who was formerly the executive assistant for the Dubuque County Right to Life, as a member of the Iowa Board of Medicine, despite Governor Terry Brandstad’s recommendation. 

The senate refused Pasnik’s appointment after her connections to Cheryl Sullenger, a felon convicted of planning to bomb an abortion clinic, as well as other members of Operation Rescue, surfaced. 

Pasnik, however, says the “connection” is overblown. Via the Des Moines Register:

Colleen Pasnik, Branstad’s nominee for the Iowa Board of Medicine, denied any direct association with anti-abortion activist Cheryl Sullenger.

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Pasnik and Sullenger were pictured standing beside each other at a 2010 hearing before the Iowa board the governor wanted her to serve on. At that hearing Pasnik and other anti-abortion advocates lobbied against Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s telemedicine program for medical abortions.

“It was simply to petition. It was a time of public input, which I think is how our society works. People do have the right to do that,” Pasnik told The Des Moines Register today.

Pasnik acknowledges she is in the picture with Sullenger but said she didn’t realize at the time who she is other than a Kansas attorney.

That may have been the only connection at that time, but Pasnik has had a long history with Operation Rescue.  Back in 2008, when she was the executive assistant for the Dubuque County Right to Life, the group hosted Operation Rescue’s president, Randall Terry.  To imply that she had no idea who Sullenger, the group’s long time policy director, was other than “a Kansas attorney” seems disingenuous at best.

Roundups Politics

Ted Cruz Is No Moderate: Meet Some of His Most Extreme Allies

Ally Boguhn

The presidential candidate has lined up supporters who have suggested that marriage equality may usher in a second civil war and compared Planned Parenthood workers to perpetrators of clinic violence.

In his quest to secure conservative votes, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) has embraced extremists across the country, many of whom have well-documented histories of anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and racist rhetoric. As more moderate Republicans flock to Cruz in a push to block Donald Trump from winning their party’s nomination, Cruz’s support of these extremists sheds light on his future policy making, should he be elected president.

Though hardly an exhaustive list of the radicals with whom Cruz has aligned, here are some of the most reactionary characters in his playbook.

Troy Newman

Cruz and activist Troy Newman, head of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, have spent months on the campaign trail praising each other’s extreme stances on abortion.

Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 2002 to continue its campaign to intimidate abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, whom it had nicknamed “Tiller the Killer.” Before Newman came on as president, the group had previously targeted Tiller as part of its 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” when it led protesters to physically block and verbally intimidate those entering abortion clinics in Wichita, holding signs that, among other things, read “Tiller’s Slaughter House.”

Although Newman issued a statement on behalf of Operation Rescue condemning Scott Roeder when he murdered Tiller in 2009, a 2010 Ms. investigation reported that, according to Roeder, Newman had once told him that “it wouldn’t upset” him if an abortion provider was killed. (Newman denied meeting Roeder.) Roeder also had the phone number of Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger on a note on the dashboard of his car when he murdered Tiller. Sullenger, the senior vice president of the group, had been sentenced to prison time in 1988 for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic.

Newman co-founded anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) in 2013, whose widely discredited videos alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations. Multiple ensuing investigations at both the state and federal level produced no evidence of wrongdoing, and one of the group’s other founders, David Daleiden, was later indicted in connection to the videos. Newman later separated from the group.

Despite the extremism of Newman’s groups, Cruz lauded the anti-choice activist upon receiving his endorsement in November, saying in a statement, “We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”

Cruz announced in late January that Newman would co-chair his coalition of anti-choice advisers, “Pro-Lifers for Cruz,” listing Newman’s book co-authored with Sullenger, Their Blood Cries Out, among his accomplishments. As Right Wing Watch noted, however, the text argues women who have abortions should be treated like murderers, and that abortion doctors should be executed. The book, now out of print, read: “[T]he United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt [sic] from the land and people,” according to Mother Jones.

Tony Perkins

Troy Newman isn’t the only radical in “Pro-Lifers for Cruz”—the group’s chair, Tony Perkins, is an anti-LGBTQ activist with a history of aiding extremist anti-choice groups.

Since 2003, Perkins has led the Family Research Council (FRC), classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “hate group” for its anti-LGBTQ record.

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Recounting Perkins’ biography, the SPLC noted that although he claimed to have left a police force position over a disagreement about containing an anti-choice protest, “the reality is quite different.” The SPLC pointed to a report from the Nation finding that Perkins “failed to report an illegal conspiracy by anti-abortion activists” Operation Rescue during the group’s 1992 “Summer of Purpose,” while he worked dual roles as a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge and reporting for a conservative television station:

According to Victor Sachse, a classical record shop owner in the city who volunteered as a patient escort for the clinic, Perkins’ reporting was so consistently slanted and inflammatory that the clinic demanded his removal from its grounds.

In order to control an increasingly tense situation, the police chief had a chain-link fence erected to separate anti-abortion activists from pro-choice protesters, and he called in sheriff’s deputies and prison guards as extra forces. Perkins publicly criticized the department and the chief. Then, after learning about plans for violent tactics by anti-abortion activists to break through police lines and send waves of protesters onto the clinic’s grounds, he failed to inform his superiors on the force. As a result of his actions, Perkins was suspended from duty in 1992, and he subsequently quit the reserve force.

Perkins also has ties to white supremacist groups and is well known as a vocal opponent of LGBTQ equality, having suggested, among other things, that there is “a correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia,” and that lawmakers who supported the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy had “the blood of innocent soldiers on their hands.”

Frank Gaffney

Cruz’s list of national security advisers, meanwhile, includes Frank Gaffney Jr. Even in the face of criticism, Cruz has defended his pick, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker who has been focused on fighting jihadists, fighting jihadism across the globe.”

Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official, is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). In this year’s Intelligence Report, which documents extremist groups, the SPLC categorized CSP as an anti-Muslim hate group.

The CSP’s primary focus in recent years “has been on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security” by promoting conspiracy theories, according to SPLC. The Center for American Progress’ 2011 report, The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, featured Gaffney as a key player in promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States, writing that he often “makes unsubstantiated claims about ‘stealth jihad,’ the ‘imposition of Sharia law,’ and the proliferation of ‘radical mosques.'”

Gordon Klingenschmitt

Cruz announced in early April that his Colorado Leadership Team included state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), asserting he was “honored” to have the support of the politician and 24 other conservatives from the the state.

The previous week, Klingenschmitt had made headlines for claiming transgender people are “confused about their own identity” during an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Klingenschmitt had been previously stripped of his position on the Colorado House of Representatives’ House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in early 2015 after claiming on his television program that a violent attack on a pregnant woman in the state was the result of “the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”

“Part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open,” claimed Klingenschmitt at the time before going on to pray for an “end to the holocaust which is abortion in America.”

In the wake of the deadly shootings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in November 2015, Klingenschmitt claimed that “Planned Parenthood executives” have the “same demonic spirit of murder” as the alleged killer, Robert Lewis Dear Jr.

Earlier in 2015, the Colorado state representative said that Planned Parenthood executives have “demons inside of them, you can see the blood dripping from their fangs. These people are just evil.” That June, he criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) for signing a measure forcing those seeking abortions to receive medically unnecessary forced ultrasounds, claiming that the law didn’t go far in enough because it didn’t ban abortion entirely
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James Dobson

Focus on the Family (FoF) founder and chairman James Dobson played a starring role in a February ad released by the Cruz campaign, which praised the candidate for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” That same month, he rolled out a robocall for a super PAC supporting the candidate after giving Cruz his endorsement last year.

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the aforementioned Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Other Notable Extremists Working With Cruz

Conservative radio host Steve Deace, a member of the Cruz campaign’s Iowa leadership team, is “virulently anti-LGBT, having repeatedly attacked supporters of LGBT equality as being part of a ‘Rainbow Jihad,'” according to media watchdog organization Media Matters for America.

In October Cruz announced he was “thrilled” to receive the endorsement of Sandy Rios, a conservative radio host and official at the American Family Association-yet another organization classified by the SPLC as a hate group. Rios gained notoriety during the 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia after claiming the conductor’s sexuality may have played a role in the accident.

Cruz and several other Republican presidential candidates spoke alongside far-right, anti-LGBTQ pastor and Christian radio host Kevin Swanson in November at the National Religious Liberties Conference. Swanson is featured in GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project, which highlights figures who “represent extreme animus towards the entire LGBT community.”

A&E’s Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson has been a fierce Cruz supporter, and in February the presidential candidate pitched the idea of making him an ambassador to the United Nations should he be elected. Just weeks earlier, Robertson had called same-sex marriage “evil” during a Cruz rally. This statement came as little surprise given the reality television star’s previous comments condemning homosexuality and linking it to bestiality.

Cruz was also “thrilled” in March to win an endorsement from “Ohio’s top conservative leaders”—a list that included activist Linda Harvey, who once wrote that LGBTQ youth may be possessed by “demonic spirits.”

Commentary Politics

Is GOP Leadership Coordinating Harassment of Planned Parenthood With Anti-Choice Radicals?

Jodi Jacobson

Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), for example, was not "chilled" enough by the video to do anything about it when he first saw it at least a month earlier than it was released to the public, as he admitted to Roll Call.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

The release last week by the previously little-known Center for Medical Progress of a video purporting to expose Planned Parenthood violating federal law in its handling of fetal tissue donations brought a flood of apparent shock and dismay from GOP lawmakers and anti-choice leaders across the country.

GOP presidential candidates, including Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker fell all over themselves demanding that Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) be defunded. Ted Cruz called on President Obama to launch “an immediate investigation.” At a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), stated that he could not discuss the video or he would “vomit.” Virtually every GOP presidential candidate and anti-choice organization took advantage of the controversy by sending out a flood of fundraising emails within hours of the release of the video, seeking to capitalize on the supposed sale of body parts.

Several GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce and House Judiciary committees—all of whom are also members of the House “Pro-life” Caucus and all of whom expressed outrage at the video—immediately announced hearings and investigations. Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), for example, said: “The chilling video released today is yet another tragic and heart-breaking reminder of Planned Parenthood’s legendary disregard for the sanctity of innocent human life. The trafficking of the little hearts, livers and heads of these precious unborn children resulted in significant financial benefit for Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country.”

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Apparently, Franks was not “chilled” enough by the video to do anything about it when he first saw it at least a month earlier than it was released to the public, as he later admitted to Roll Call. At least one other lawmaker is on record as having seen the video well before its release. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) also admitted to Roll Call having seen the video at least a month earlier. When pressed by Roll Call as to why he did nothing about these explosive charges in the intervening time, Murphy cut off the reporter, saying: “This interview never happened.”

Ah, but it had.

Both congressmen suggested that they’d delayed any action in order to get further information and so they could “alert the authorities.” Franks told Roll Call his “hope was to have as much information as possible so that the authorities could be notified effectively before the media.” And reached later by Roll Call, Murphy spokeswoman Gretchen Andersen said that the congressman had a responsibility to do “due diligence” before starting an investigation.

Rewire called Murphy’s office twice and followed up with two emails to Andersen seeking further information on what due diligence had been performed. We asked what form of research or background information their due diligence included; whether they had conducted a research and background check on the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which it turns out is a sham organization that may have violated several laws; whether the congressman had seen both the long and the short versions of the video, and whether that had raised questions about the clear manipulation of the shorter version; and whether they had found any evidence of whether Planned Parenthood violated any laws.

None of our calls were returned and none of our emails were answered. It seems strange that having done a month’s worth of due diligence of some kind, the congressman’s office refused to share it. We were especially curious if they had decided to alert the authorities to the shady nature of CMP’s nonprofit registration in California, or to the fact that videotaping without consent is illegal in California, or that there had been a doctored video prepared to slander a health-care provider.

But they did not answer, and it seems that it is unlikely they would answer these questions to protect themselves from having to explain why, having seen the video so much earlier, they didn’t act on what they claim is a crisis. Instead, it appears that these and other members of the GOP coordinated with CMP and its colleague organizations to create a firestorm out of lies and misrepresentations prior to the kick-off of the GOP primary debate season, and to provide distracting and virtually pornographic investigations of the non-existent commerce in “fetal body parts” by congressional committees.

Advocacy groups and congressional representatives work together all the time, so that in itself is not remarkable. Reputable, honest, and legitimate advocacy groups gather and present facts, consider data and budgetary concerns, and do their best to make the case for translating facts into policies that actually help people.

What is happening here is profoundly different. GOP legislators and presidential wannabes appear to be coordinating attacks on Planned Parenthood with a group that may have violated numerous federal and state laws, including using secret videotaping (which is illegal in the State of California, where the taping took place) to surreptitiously record Dr. Deborah Nucatola, and now Dr. Mary Gatter, later dramatically altering both videos to make it seem as though they were saying things they never had.

The anti-choice groups with which the GOP has joined forces have a very long history of using lies and deceit to make claims about services and of creating “gotcha” videos that always turn out to be false, though the media continues to lap these up. They’ve made up their own “science” and disregarded medicine and public health to force doctors to provide and women to undergo unnecessary procedures, waiting times, and lectures, all in the service of a radical ideology. Their work to undermine basic public health advances endangers the lives of literally millions of people, including children. But “babies” and children are not really their concern, all protestations aside. They seek total control over sex and sexuality.

The most frightening aspect of all of this, however, is the degree to which deeply radical anti-choicers have infiltrated a major political party. These are literally domestic terrorists. As our infographic shows, the Center for Medical Progress has some notable friends and supporters, including Troy Newman, head of Operation Rescue and defender of “justifiable homicide” for those seeking to kill abortion providers. Then there is Cheryl Sullenger, whose name and phone number were found on the dashboard of Scott Roeder, the man who assassinated Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of his church on a Sunday five years ago. Or Jill Stanek, who prominently posted the names and addresses of abortion providers so that lunatics hell-bent on stalking or harming them could more easily find them. These groups work closely and hand-in-hand with members of Congress who support their cause and look the other way as domestic terrorists stalk and kill providers, as women go without health care, and as the rights of all people to bodily autonomy are eroded. They stalk, harass, and threaten doctors, nurses, clinical staff, and patients in their daily work.

Moreover, both anti-choice groups and anti-choice politicians have shared a long-standing vendetta against Planned Parenthood. Why? Because it is a large provider that serves three million people per year with things like medically accurate information, and with services that range from abortion care to prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, to Pap smears and other forms of cancer screening. Because Planned Parenthood is large and well-funded, it has been relatively immune to TRAP laws, and because Planned Parenthood is popular and well-loved, the anti-choice movement is desperate to do anything it can to erode that support, even if that is accomplished through gross lies and distortion.

The vendetta against Planned Parenthood is no secret, and any media outlet that reports on these attacks without considering their source is failing miserably in the world of journalism.

Well before anyone had heard of CMP, for example, virtually every single current GOP presidential candidate had already declared his or her desire to eliminate funding for PPFA. Several governors running for president are notorious for eliminating and attacking reproductive health-care services of all kinds, including Planned Parenthood clinics in their own states, all to win political points with a small and narrow slice of the American public, otherwise known as the “conservative base.” In 2001, for example, then-governor of Florida Jeb Bush vetoed funding for family planning services provided through Planned Parenthood. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the “cuts included $302,843 for family planning services provided to poor women through local Planned Parenthood affiliates, money that had been provided each year for more than a decade.” Bush continued cutting throughout his terms. In 2015, a Bush senior adviser and prominent Christian evangelical attorney told the crowd at the Faith and Freedom Summit in Iowa, “We have got to defund Planned Parenthood, by the way, and Gov. Bush supports those efforts.”

Scott Walker has spent most of his tenure as governor of Wisconsin decimating access to basic health-care services, including abortion care. In 2011, while campaigning for governor, Walker told a conservative group that he was proud of “trying to defund Planned Parenthood and make sure they didn’t have any money, not just for abortion, but any money for anything.” As a presidential candidate, he proudly proclaims his intentions to eliminate funding for reproductive and sexual health care, including all funds for Planned Parenthood.

As a senator, Marco Rubio (R-FL) has voted twice to defund Planned Parenthood and made it clear that as a presidential candidate he supports doing so. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who oversaw the destruction of primary preventive care in his state), and others repeatedly voiced and acted upon where possible their intentions to destroy Planned Parenthood and more broadly to deny people access to life-saving reproductive health care.

Likewise, many of the congressional representatives involved with CMP’s videos have made virtual careers out of calling for investigating Planned Parenthood on every conceivable trumped-up charge they can find. In 2009, for example, Franks called on Arizona state officials to investigate Planned Parenthood. Defunding Planned Parenthood is his goal, period, no matter how many lies or cut-and-spliced videos it takes. Franks has also helped lead House efforts to cut family planning funds, pass 20-week abortion bans, and otherwise attack primary health care for anyone who needs it. Congressman Murphy, along with many of his colleagues, supported shutting down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood.

So it is no surprise to know that Franks, Murphy, and almost certainly many others on the Hill and in the GOP presidential pool also saw or knew about the video before it was released, and unless they are all incredibly unsophisticated, they had to know, or would at least have asked, to see the full transcript or tape of the video before signing on, or at least might have asked who was driving this bus. Having seen the full videos and the transcripts as compared to the doctored version, it is hard to conceive anyone without an agenda would waste the country’s time and taxpayer funding on baseless charges and investigations. Anyone with integrity would be embarrassed to do so.

Not a single prior investigation of Planned Parenthood—and there have been many—has ever resulted in findings of wrongdoing. Ever. But it is clear that the GOP does not care about facts or evidence, nor about the lives that would be affected by the loss of affordable reproductive health care were Planned Parenthood to in fact be defunded. They certainly do not care about the taxpayer funding wasted on committee-led witch hunts. The only thing on the GOP’s mind is hitting an ideological target, and that one is on Planned Parenthood’s back.