News Politics

Some Democrats Go on Offense Against Front Group Behind Planned Parenthood Videos

Emily Crockett

While many Democrats avoid discussing the deceptive Center for Medical Progress videos, others are starting to push back against the front group.

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

Republicans and anti-choice activists have reached a fever pitch of outrage at Planned Parenthood in recent weeks, fueled by the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice front group.

Republicans in Congress are using the videos as an excuse to call for defunding Planned Parenthood, and some are even threatening to shut down the government this fall if they don’t get their way.

Most pro-choice Democrats are holding firm in support of Planned Parenthood and seem willing to call the GOP’s bluff on a government shutdown.

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“Not on my watch,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told Politico on whether Republicans can force Democrats to defund Planned Parenthood by holding up spending bills.

“I am absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the likely next Democratic minority leader in the Senate, told reporters Thursday.

But when many Democrats speak out in defense of Planned Parenthood these days, they try to keep the focus on Planned Parenthood’s merits and avoid discussing the videos that opponents are using to attack the organization. This is particularly true of 2016 presidential candidates, who either say they haven’t watched the videos or concede that they are “disturbing,” as Hillary Clinton did Wednesday.

A growing number of Democrats have started bucking that trend, pushing to discredit the Center for Medical Progress for its misleading videos and shady tactics and put the attack group on defense. 

Perhaps the most potent call-out of CMP came in a Wednesday Senate floor speech by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

“Attacks on Planned Parenthood are a concerted attack on access to safe, legal abortion services in this country. Make no mistake about it,” Feinstein said. “The group behind this latest attack, the Center for Medical Progress, has longstanding ties to the anti-choice movement, including Operation Rescue, which is closely associated with clinic violence.”

Feinstein talked about how anti-choice violence in the 1990s led to the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, and her concern that the “aggressive tactics” used by anti-choice groups today such as “the illegal filming of a medical procedure and the hacking of Planned Parenthood’s records” could lead to similar violence.

“I am concerned that the message being sent is that it is OK to commit crimes against Planned Parenthood, its employees, and its patients; and it is not,” Feinstein said. “That sort of message can be taken up by extremists and become very dangerous for women and doctors across the country.”

Feinstein’s speech included the typical Democratic defenses of Planned Parenthood: how it’s the primary health-care provider for millions of women, especially low-income women, and how one in five American women have gone there for health care. How Planned Parenthood’s care has been crucial for her constituents who have told her their stories. How efforts to defund Planned Parenthood distract from more important issues like national security.

But Feinstein also turned a typical Democratic talking point—that abortion only makes up 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services—on its head. Instead of waving aside that 3 percent and pointing out that federal money doesn’t pay for it, Feinstein vigorously defended it as crucial health care for women who have nowhere else to go for abortion care in their region.

“If Planned Parenthood closes, Texas loses half of its remaining abortion providers in one fell swoop,” Feinstein said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) conceded that the “highly edited” videos are “disturbing” and that a review of them by the Department of Justice is “appropriate,” but also highlighted CMP’s “single purpose” to limit access to abortion services and its ties to anti-choice groups.

“[The group’s] three officers are prominent in the anti-abortion movement,” Shaheen said. “They have ties to many other politically motivated groups who are working to take away a woman’s right to choose. They have been tied to organizations that harass medical providers, doctors, and patients, try to limit access to women’s health care clinics, and they actively work to limit the reproductive health care decisions a woman can make.”

Other Democrats also called out CMP’s tactics on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“We know this extremist group went undercover and secretly taped people,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said. “That is what they did. If you approve of those tactics that is fine, but what I approve of is women getting health care. I think that when you scratch the surface, what you will find is that a lot of my colleagues don’t think women should be able to plan their families. We are still debating birth control. You have got to be kidding.”

Murray called out Republicans’ use of “undercover attack videos, produced by a radical, right-wing organization dedicated to taking away a woman’s right to choose,” and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) encouraged Planned Parenthood to keep speaking on the “merits” of their program that is “under siege from a sensationalistic and disingenuous kind of publicity.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday the videos were obtained “fraudulently” and that “there’s not a lot of evidence right now” that Planned Parenthood hasn’t lived up to the “highest ethical standards” that it describes in its policies and procedures.

And on Tuesday, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote a letter to Rep. Chris Murphy (R-PA), her colleague on the House Energy and Commerce committee, urging him to include CMP in the committee’s upcoming investigation into Planned Parenthood.

“I am disappointed that you have decided to open an investigation based on a clearly manipulated, deceptively edited video by an organization using ethically and legally questionable tactics,” DeGette wrote, citing a complaint against CMP filed by the American Democracy Legal Fund as well as a letter from four of her Democratic House colleagues calling for an investigation into CMP.

Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for an investigation of CMP, which she said was “trying to ensnare Planned Parenthood in a controversy that doesn’t exist.”

It seems likely that some Democrats are listening to the growing critiques of CMP from mainstream media outlets and independent investigations, and that they may be responding to pressure from progressives and pro-choice advocates to defend Planned Parenthood just as forcefully as conservatives attack it.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

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.