Anti-choice protesters in September gathered outside Gov. Mark Dayton's home to rally against his decision not to investigate the health-care organization. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) has long denied donating fetal tissue.
Minnesota’s GOP is pushing for more restrictions on fetal tissue research at public universities after a news outlet supported by local Tea Party groups implicated the university in an illegal exchange of fetal tissue.
State Rep. Abigail Whelan (R-Anoka) in an opinion piece for the Star Tribune last week wrote that she was “appalled to learn that the University of Minnesota participates in research on aborted human fetal organs.”
The Republican backlash against fetal tissue research began after therelease of surreptitiously recorded, highly edited videos published by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Those videos were edited in an attempt to show that Planned Parenthood engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. While Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue and receives some compensation to pay for obtaining and preserving the tissue, officials have denied profiting from it. Many GOP lawmakers have launched investigations into Planned Parenthood, but those investigations have turned up no wrongdoing.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) refused to order an investigation into the state’s Planned Parenthood chapter, despite push back from anti-choice legislators and activists. Dayton told reporters in July that he did not want to spend taxpayer money on an unnecessary investigation.
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“There’s not a shred of evidence to implicate Planned Parenthood Minnesota in what they were being accused of,” Dayton said in September.
In September, anti-choice protesters gathered outside Dayton’s home to rally against the governor’s decision not to investigate the health-care organization. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) has long denied donating fetal tissue.
Minnesota legislators in 1990 passed a law requiring hospitals and clinics to arrange burial or cremation of fetal remains. The legal question regarding the University of Minnesota is not whether it uses aborted fetal tissue in its research, but whether that fetal tissue comes from Minnesota, NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s Executive Director Andrea Ledger told Rewire.
The controversy is over how the statute should be interpreted, whether it means that aborted fetal tissue must be cremated or buried immediately, or whether that means that when it’s disposed, it must be cremated or buried. One interpretation outlaws the donation of fetal tissue, and one does not. Ledger says she doesn’t think it’s about the research at all—it’s about access to abortion.
“This is model legislation that’s being introduced in lots of different states,” Ledger said. “It comes from a desire not to regulate fetal tissue research, which we’ve all benefited from and which has had a huge impact on health and science, but it’s about restricting reproductive rights.”
Whelan, in her commentary for the Star Tribune, credits an investigation by a Tea Party-supported media outlet, Alpha News, with proving that the university is performing research using aborted fetal tissue, but the issue is really whether or not that tissue comes from Minnesota.
Alpha News alleges to be a news site, but has one named reporter. Everyone else affiliated with the organization has chosen to remain anonymous. The CMP attack video shows someone from Advanced Biomedical Research (ABR), where the University of Minnesota buys fetal tissue from, saying that Minnesota is among the states from which it procured tissue.
Julia Erynn, Alpha News’ chief capitol reporter and the only staffer named on the organization’s site, told the Star Tribune in March that the news outfit would generate ad revenue, but also received funding from “a number of private donors” who remain unknown. Erynn reportedly describes herself as a libertarian and emceed the 2014 Libertarian Party of Minnesota Convention.
The Tribune reported that Alex Kharam, executive director of the Freedom Club, is listed as the registered agent for Alpha News. The Freedom Club’s PAC, per its website, “has spent millions supporting conservative Minnesota candidates for public office.” Almost all of the Freedom Club money given to candidates has gone to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
A Freedom Club representative has denied affiliation with Alpha News.
Whelan wrote that she wants the university to halt research on aborted fetal tissue no matter where the tissue comes from. She declined an interview with Rewire.
“The university receives millions of taxpayer dollars each year,” Whelan wrote. “Given the controversial nature of this research, we believe it is the duty of the Legislature to request that the university prohibit all research on aborted human fetal organs, thereby removing itself from this controversy and respecting the moral stance of thousands of taxpaying Minnesotans.”
Minnesota’s legislative session begins March 1. Ledger says she expects both Republicans and Democrats to propose legislation regarding fetal tissue research.
Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.
“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote theNew York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”
“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”
Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equality; declaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.
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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”
Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.
But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:
Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations
Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:
We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.
Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:
We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.
The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.
Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”
Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:
We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.
The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewireexplained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:
As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”
All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”
Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain
The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:
Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.
Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.
Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.
Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”
In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:
Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.
Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”
There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”
As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.
Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”
Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:
We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.
Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.
Daleiden’s claims about the videos’ impact on Planned Parenthood contrast with a recent poll showing that support for Planned Parenthood has increased in the aftermath of the Center for Medical Progress' anti-choice smear videos.
David Daleiden, a year after he began releasing secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos claiming to show Planned Parenthood officials were illegally profiting from fetal tissue donation, appeared to boast about the videos’ purported impact at a luncheon during the Republican National Convention (RNC).
“I think it’s very clear that one year later, Planned Parenthood is on the brink, they’re on the precipice,” Daleiden said at the event, co-hosted by the Family Research Council Action and the Susan B. Anthony List. “Their client numbers are down by at least 10 percent, their abortion numbers are down, their revenues are down and their clinics are closing.”
The luncheon took place at the Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, near the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Republican National Convention is underway. Also in attendance at Wednesday’s luncheon were a slate of Republican anti-choice politicians, including Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer, and North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx.
Daleiden—who is under felony indictment in Texas and the subject of lawsuits in California for his actions in filming the undercover videos—touted efforts to defund Planned Parenthood by state Republican legislators and governors, who used the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) smear videos as a basis for investigations. Those defunding attempts have been blocked by federal court order in several cases.
He celebrated Planned Parenthood’s announcement that it would close two and consolidate four health centers in Indiana, an effort Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky said would “allow patients to receive affordable, quality health care with extended hours at the newly consolidated locations.” Daleiden made no mention of last month’s Supreme Court decision overturning abortion restrictions in Texas, which dealt the anti-choice movement its worst legal defeat in decades.
“One year ago now, from the release of those videos, I think it’s actually safe to say that Planned Parenthood has never been more on the defensive in their entire 100 years of history, and the pro-life movement has never been stronger,” Daleiden said.
While his tone was victorious, Daleiden appeared to avoid directly claiming credit for the supposed harm done to Planned Parenthood. In a federal racketeering lawsuit brought against Daleiden and his co-defendants, Planned Parenthood has argued that Daleiden should compensate the organization for the harm that his smear campaign caused.
Republican congressional lawmakers have held at least five hearings and as many defunding votes against Planned Parenthood in the year since the videos’ release. Not a single state or federal investigation has produced evidence of wrongdoing.
Daleiden’s claims about the videos’ impact on Planned Parenthood contrast with a recent NBC/Wall Street Journalpoll showing that support for Planned Parenthood has increased in the aftermath of the CMP smear videos.