Death by a Thousand Cuts, a Thousand Lies
This is yet another blog about Planned Parenthood.
Full disclosure: When faced with my own need to make a decision about an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 19, I did not choose the option of abortion. And I doubt if I ever would have elected termination.
But that did not prevent me from (another full disclosure) going to work for a Planned Parenthood affiliate in California, one that offered a range of counseling and medical services, including abortion.
During my 12-year tenure, they added prenatal care and a case management program for pregnant and parenting teens, both of which I played a role in creating. My position required me to frequently respond to threats to our clinics from anti-choice picketers — which escalated at times into screaming harassment of the women coming to us at an already difficult time — as well as actual invasions and trespasses into waiting rooms. For years I wore a pager, ready most weekends to get in the car and help handle the situation, including media relations.
My own children witnessed some of this. My car was set ablaze, perhaps by these protesters, perhaps not. But at the time it happened, I was convinced that it was so.
I have not worked for Planned Parenthood for almost 25 years, moving on to head up a couple of child and family advocacy organizations, and then going into Unitarian Universalist ministry. But the organization has stayed in my head. It was so well and progressively run, with many opportunities for women’s leadership in communities across the country, and with such a clarity of mission over its nearly 100 years. When I was acting as an advocate, we spoke about every child being a wanted child; we were pro-family and pro-choice. This is still true, and the mission statement has been expanded to empowering individuals and families to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
Planned Parenthood has stayed in my heart as the place I witnessed so many women and girls — and men — finding their way to our clinics in cities, suburbs and rural areas, with stories of economic and emotional distress, and then hope. I got to know the clinic workers, the nurse practitioners, the physician’s assistants, the doctors who were faithful in their work despite public and private derision and constant, legitimate fears.
It was a world of relentless gotcha. There were constant accusations of misuse of funds, of profit-making, of blasphemy, of racially motivated genocide. We heard these allegations, saw the blown up pictures of bloody fetuses, were subject to megaphoned prayers about our sins. Even while we knew, and in the absolute observance of confidentiality never disclosed, that among those who condemned us were women who made their own choice to have abortions or family members who had decided that these particular situations were to be exempted from condemnation.
A quarter of a century ago — and further back to the beginnings of Planned Parenthood — there were dogged efforts to defund programs and shut the doors in the name of “pro-life.” To take away the federal and state dollars that helped pay for contraception and sexually transmitted disease services and other essential medical care and education. This, despite the fact that using these funds for abortion in most cases was barred early on.
No matter how many audits and studies, the gotcha went on and goes on.
The latest one is the release this summer of heavily edited video (analyzed as such by an intelligence company) by a group that calls itself the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice organization. These videos, recorded by two activists posing as representatives of a bogus biotechnology firm seeking (legally allowed) fetal tissue for researchers and universities, allegedly document that Planned Parenthood affiliates have profited cynically and illegally.
The videos — and the accusations of baby killing that go along with them — fail to acknowledge that these fetal donation programs, which assist those who wish to donate fetal tissue for research, have led to important advances in health treatment, such as vaccines for rubella and possible breakthroughs in the treatment of many other diseases.
In July, a letter was sent to Congress signed by 92 organizations who stand with Planned Parenthood as efforts are now being made — based on the inflammatory and distorted video content — to ban all federal funds going to these clinics, notably the loss of Title X family planning money. One of the arguments in the letter was that this targeting of Planned Parenthood, as I well know, is not new. There is a history of other “heavily edited videos, attempts at both the federal and state levels to undermine if not destroy this provider of reproductive health care, including many uninsured and under-insured people for whom Planned Parenthood is the only source they have for services.” A successful outcome of the attack, resulting in the destruction of this large family planning provider, would impact millions of people, most especially young people and people of color.
This gotcha needs to be exposed for what it is, just one more concerted campaign in a politically-motivated pattern of attempts on women’s personal decision making. It is a “death by a thousand cuts,” accomplished by the shameless perpetuation of a thousand falsehoods.
As UU women, we must stand up on the side of love and for reproductive choice and justice. In this climate that means standing up for Planned Parenthood.