Screenshot via Fox News
One year after the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress released deceptively edited videos in an attempt to malign Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health organization is stronger than ever.
Exactly one year ago, I received an embargoed press release from an organization called the Center for Medical Progress. I remember where I was when I opened it, which is what I suppose always happens with seemingly banal occurrences that go to take on huge significance.
"New undercover footage shows Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, describing how Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted fetuses," the press release opened, going on to gravely note that the sale of fetal issue is a federal felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.
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The actual undercover footage, which has been viewed more than three million times on YouTube at this point, is titled "Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts." The clip purports to show that Planned Parenthood is engaged in a "criminal conspiracy" centered on selling "baby parts," or tissue from fetuses, for profit.
Dr. Nucatola was not actually selling baby parts—she was discussing the organization's fetal tissue donation program, in which women can elect to donate tissue to scientific research. Planned Parenthood used to accept reimbursement for costs associated with transporting the tissue, but they vehemently deny making a profit. Indeed, in the unedited footage, Dr. Nucatola explicitly says, "Affiliates are not looking to make money by doing this."
According to an independent analysis commissioned by Planned Parenthood, the footage released by the Center for Medical Progress was heavily and misleadingly edited. Still, the "undercover video"—and several similar ones released in the subsequent two months—set off an immediate media firestorm, resulting in a sustained onslaught of political attacks against Planned Parenthood, with every Republican presidential candidate proudly calling for the organization to be defunded.
But one year after the first video's release, Planned Parenthood has been cleared of all wrongdoing in numerous state and congressional investigations. The Center for Medical Progress, conversely, has been accused of participating in a criminal conspiracy in two separate federal lawsuits. The group's leader, David Daleiden, has also been indicted on felony charges.
Support for Planned Parenthood, for abortion access, and for protecting Roe v. Wade is up.
"It really ended up having the opposite impact of what I think [the Center for Medical Progress] had intended, which was to destroy Planned Parenthood and access to safe, legal abortion in this country," Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Broadly over the phone. "In fact, what we see is that support for Planned Parenthood, for abortion access, and for protecting Roe v. Wade is up."
The claims made in the Center for Medical Progress videos have been thoroughly debunked, though Daleiden is still pushing his initial narrative. "A year later, a year after the initial release of the videos, all of the best evidence available shows that not only is Planned Parenthood guilty of harvesting and selling baby body parts for profit, that they're even more guilty than any of us ever really imagined starting this out," he told conservative website The Blaze today.
Officials in 13 states have investigated the Center for Medical Progress's claims and cleared Planned Parenthood of all wrongdoing; officials in eight other states declined to even investigate the reproductive health organization, citing a lack of evidence. In addition, Planned Parenthood no longer accepts reimbursement for its fetal tissue donation program, in order to dispel "the ludicrous idea that Planned Parenthood has any financial interest in fetal tissue donation," according to an October statement from Cecile Richards, the group's president.
While Planned Parenthood has been cleared, the Center for Medical Progress remains under heavy legal scrutiny: In surreptitiously recording abortion providers as part of their "sting operation," the group is accused of fraud and trespassing, among other charges, as well as engaging in a "complex criminal enterprise."
If anything, according to Laguens, the Center for Medical Progress's tactics have backfired. "Over the last year, millions of people have taken action and have made known their use of and their support of Planned Parenthood," she said. "There's been an outpouring of appreciation for what Planned Parenthood has meant for the country and what Planned Parenthood has meant to individual people's lives."
She pointed to the recent Supreme Court decision, which struck down Texas's onerous clinic restrictions, as further proof that disingenuous, political attacks on women's bodily autonomy are failing.
"The real criminals have been exposed and are now facing lawsuits and criminal charges," Laguens added. "I think it couldn't be more different than on the day that they launched. While there's certainly a long way to go and a lot to do, it's a very hopeful time."
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