Family Planners Stand Up To Right-Wing Boycott

When Planned Parenthood of Waco-Central Texas held its 16th annual "Nobody's Fool" earlier this week, John Pisciotta was there.

In a press conference Pisciotta told reporters that the voluntary sex-education program open to area youth and endorsed by dozens of local businesses and churches was immoral, because it teaches about contraception, sexual issues and sexually transmitted diseases instead of abstinence-only lessons.

"The theme is to expose Planned Parenthood for their agenda of 'anything goes' sexuality, which is quite well-revealed on their Teen Wire Web site," said Pisciotta, co-director of Pro-Life Waco.

Waco's Pisciotta -- who last year instigated a boycott of Girl Scout cookies to force the girls' organization to drop its endorsement of the Planned Parenthood teen-education program -- is part of a concerted push to derail Planned Parenthood, a federation of 122 local and state affiliates that operate over 800 clinics nationwide, providing contraception, gynecological care, and, at some locations, abortion services.

Dating to the 1980s -- when it began with anti-abortion protests at women's health care clinics -- the campaign against Planned Parenthood is now waged on many other fronts as well: legislative attacks on government funding, organized boycotts of sponsors, challenges to corporate supporters and vocal opposition to sex-education programs. While dozens of groups spread and magnify opposition to the 84-year-old Planned Parenthood, two national organizations -- Life Decisions International, and STOPP International -- provide full-time leadership.

Boycott List of Corporate Donors

With an annual budget of approximately $110,000, Douglas R. Scott, Life Decisions' president, and his staff of three, research and publish "The Boycott List" of companies -- usually about 50 or 60 in number -- that donate to Planned Parenthood. Approximately 10,000 copies of the $15.75 list are distributed twice a year, including to 33 anti-abortion organizations that endorse it, ranging from Human Life International to Concerned Women for America, Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, American Family Association and Traditional Values Coalition.

"We're educating people about what companies give to Planned Parenthood so that people who are on our side may choose not to support those companies," said Scott in an interview.

According to a March press release, current boycott targets include Adobe Systems, Bank of America, Johnson and Johnson, Kenneth Cole, Levi Strauss, Nationwide Insurance, Prudential, Unilever, Wachovia, Whole Foods and Walt Disney. Walt Disney is listed because its theme park gave a donation to Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando to prevent teen pregnancy, according to a Life Decisions newsletter.

Life Decisions -- which Scott describes as being based in northern Virginia -- also introduces resolutions at annual meetings of corporate shareholders designed to end corporate donations to Planned Parenthood. Thomas Strohbar, Life Decisions board chair and the head of Pro Vita Advisors, an anti-choice investment firm in Dayton, Ohio, spearheads this effort, which he claims is going well.

"Quite a few are no longer giving," said Strohbar, citing an American Express decision to stop giving donations to Planned Parenthood, which he said followed closely on the heels of his shareowner proposal in 1999. In a January 2004 press release, Life Decisions claimed similar victories at A.T. and T., General Mills and Target.

The release made special mention of the 2003 decision by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment firm in Omaha made famous by founder Warren Buffet, to end corporate donations to the Buffet Foundation, a generous funder to pro-choice organizations. Scott claims that 116 companies have withdrawn Planned Parenthood support, pulling $35 million in funds away from the organization.

Privately Scott says it's more about rallying anti-abortion forces than the money. "Planned Parenthood has nearly $300 million dollars in savings in reserve, so they're not lacking in money; they just don't like a public black eye," said Scott.

Bucking the Boycott

Some companies, instead of bowing to Life Decisions, buck the pressure. The March-April issue of Life Decisions' bimonthly newsletter, "The Caleb Report," contains the text of a phone message attributed to a Richmond, Va., businessman who apparently didn't appreciate being warned that his company's name will go on the boycott list. "I will not be threatened by scumbags like you. I will not stop supporting Planned Parenthood," the message said.

Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York, confirms that some companies are resisting the Life Decisions pressure. "One corporation heard about another corporation turning us down and was so outraged that they, in turn, donated what we had asked the other corporation for," Pearl said.

Nationally, Pearl says, Planned Parenthood retains a high level of public support. She said that a phone survey conducted in February 2004 by Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates of 800 homes found a favorability response of 70 percent by women and 61 percent by men. "That's higher than Congress, higher than the president," said Pearl.

STOPP, the other thorn in Planned Parenthood's side, is a division of the anti-abortion, anti-contraception American Life League in Stafford, Va., which has a $7 million annual budget. STOPP -- short for Stop Planned Parenthood -- organizes actions to "defeat" Planned Parenthood.

David Bereit, STOPP's new national director, plans to train local community members to oppose Planned Parenthood, as he did in Bryan-College Station, Texas, where, he says, he coordinated 60 churches and 3,000 people to remove Planned Parenthood's education program from schools and reduce abortions at a local clinic by more than 15 percent.

"We laid down a challenge to Planned Parenthood. 'If you cease doing surgical abortions, if you get out of our schools, and if you cease taking tax money, we will stop opposing you,'" he said. "Now, Planned Parenthood isn't going to do that, is it?" he said.

The group publishes a chart of Planned Parenthood clinics where abortions are performed, as well as "The Ryan Report," a monthly newsletter detailing Planned Parenthood activities and local opposition.

Looking for Financial Weakness

Bereirt researches IRS documents of local Planned Parenthood affiliates, hoping to identify those that are weak financially. "If there are active efforts in those towns, those are places where we could have an impact," he said.

STOPP also pushes state legislation to stop any governmental funds from reaching Planned Parenthood affiliates. Nationally, approximately one-third of Planned Parenthood's services are supported by government funding, usually for contraception or health care services for low-income women (abortion is not covered).

"We're trying to get states to deny funds to organizations that refer for or provide abortions, or, other approaches, such as in Ohio, by passing a law that first funds state agencies (for family planning services) and, as a result, eats up all the funds," said Bereit.

In some cases, they've succeeded. Pearl says it all depends on where they try it. "Our history is one of fighting the opposition," she says. "They keep changing their tactics, but we must remain resolute in what we do."

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.