A Year Ago, Video Fakers Tried to Swift-Boat Planned Parenthood: Instead, They Helped Strengthen It

The Right Wing

A year ago today, working with terrorists of the anti-abortion movement, David Daleiden distributed the first of four “sting” videos to conservative politicians and some media purporting to show that Planned Parenthood offices were profiting from the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. As we learned soon afterward, the videos constituted an unfounded smear against the organization, fabricated by extremists with sleight-of-hand editing.

This caustic fakery was the sole project of an organization founded by Daleiden called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP)—which has zero to do with medicine or progress—and a non-existent organization, Biomax Procurement Services, which was used to set up and secretly tape interviews under false pretenses with Planned Parenthood officials.

Besides Daleiden, CMP’s principals are Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, which ran a long attack campaign on Kansas Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated by an anti-abortion terrorist in 2009, and Operation Rescue’s senior adviser Cheryl Sullenger, who served two years for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in 1988. When Tiller’s assassin, Scott Roeder, was arrested, police found Sullenger’s phone number on the dashboard of his car.

​The outrage that ensued last July over the video among anti-abortion politicians—and, briefly, even among some liberals who should have known better—drew widespread media coverage and kindled investigations and other actions in 24 states and by five congressional committees, including a select committee specifically formed to dig into Planned Parenthood. 

It seemed for a while as if Daleiden and his pals had dealt a crippling blow to Planned Parenthood. The Senate tried to cut off funding to the organization and several states actually did so, directly or indirectly. There was gleeful talk among right-wingers of criminal charges being initiated against Planned Parenthood for selling fetal tissue.

But today, a year after the video was released—and a century after Planned Parenthood began its life under another name—the organization is stronger than before.

It has gained more public favorability, the video has been exposed as a sham extensively edited into a pack of lies, defunding by New Hampshire has been reversed, Planned Parenthood has sued CMP for alleged wire and mail fraud (by allegedly violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in an illegal conspiracy to block women's access to safe and legal abortion), and 15 other lawsuits against states that have cut off Planned Parenthood funding or threatened to do so.

charge, that is, tampering with a government record by forging drivers’ licenses. A conviction could send each of them to jail for from six months to two years and cost them $10,000 apiece in fines.

Meanwhile, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Washington have investigated and cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Virginia, and the aforementioned New Hampshire chose not to investigate at all because they found no evidence indicative of wrongdoing. Kansas and Ohio are reportedly still investigating but likewise have found nothing to implicate Planned Parenthood in anything illegal or unethical.

These positive outcomes for Planned Parenthood don’t mean that physicians, nurses, other clinic staff and volunteer escorts aren’t still risking death by assassins every day to provide women with health needs that the Supreme Court has ruled are their constitutional right—in Griswold v. ConnecticutEisenstadt v. Baird and Roe v. Wade. It doesn’t mean an end to the harassing of patients and escorts. It doesn’t mean politicians like Pat Toomey will stop attacking the organization, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that the forced-birthers will give up their bloody crusade to return us to the days when all but the most affluent women could obtain an abortion only from an unskilled or otherwise unsafe provider.

But while the fight will continue, Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights activists have shown that going on the offensive pays off. This is something the forced-birthers have known and practiced for decades.

Combining an offensive approach with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Texas abortion case—Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt—which knocked the legs out of one avenue of attack the forced-birthers have used for years—means the chances that progress can be made in restoring abortion rights have greatly improved.

In that light, the details of what happened with the videos is important to remember whenever someone makes the argument that Planned Parenthood “sells baby parts.” Any journalist who lets the propagandists spouting this lie get away with it is unworthy of the title. 

An independent forensic analysis showed that Daleiden and crew weren’t just sloppy. They were profoundly malign. It showed that “CMP edited content out of the alleged ‘full footage’ videos, and heavily edited the short videos so as to misrepresent statements made by Planned Parenthood representativea.” They contained “conversations where some spoken words are eliminated and some spoken words are added out of context.” They “also contained intentional edits that removed content from the middle of the videos.” And they were brimful of “cuts, skips, missing tape, and changes in camera angle.” 

The New York Daily News reported:

 Statements were spliced together at least 42 times to appear like seamless conversations, the analysis found. Two of the videos were each missing 30-minute chunks of footage […] CMP's ‘undisclosed edits and cuts distort the meaning of the encounters the videos purport to document,” the analysis said.

Attorney Katie Watson wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times:

As a medical ethicist and lawyer, the headlines concerned me. But after scrutinizing hours of video, it appears Planned Parenthood doctors are complying with federal law allowing ‘reasonable payments’ for collection of fetal tissue. As the organization’s senior director of medical services explains in the unedited version of her videotaped meeting with people posing as members of the research community, abortion clinics “want to offer this service because patients ask about it. … just as much as the patients, the providers absolutely want to help [medical research].”

One hundred years ago, Margaret Sanger founded the clinic pictured at the beginning of this story. The October 22, 1916, issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published the following:

The walk to Pitkin Avenue to Amboy Street reveals a violent contrast to Mrs. Sanders doctrine of limited families for the poor. There are baby carriages without number and each carriage contains at least one and in many instances two babies. There is no exaggeration in the statement that yesterday there were at least five baby carriages to every block of the walk and that estimate includes only one side of the street. ...

When a reporter went to the clinic yesterday there were three baby carriages standing outside the door. The carriages were not the right, well-appointed vehicles of the first-born either. Each one showed usage and very evidently had served as the carriage of state for at least two if not more babies. The mothers, who emerged in that moment, where the worn, dragged-out, weary-faced wives of men whose incomes are small and never assured-the type to whom a new baby is not a blessing but just another mouth to feed when there is scarcely enough to feed those existing already...

It was a convention of mothers yesterday afternoon - poor mothers, worn-out mothers. During a two-hour watch not one was there who carried the fresh bloom of health on her cheeks. Not one had the joy of her life sparkling in her eyes. ...

Planned Parenthood, which adopted that name in 1942, has in all the intervening decades done what needed to be done to change the situation described in that newspaper article, supplying women with health care, birth control information and devices, and, once it became legal, abortion. The good they have done is immeasurable. 

There have always been extremists and liars who have tried to bring the organization down. But these enemies of women’s well-being have repeatedly failed in the past. Activists must continue working to ensure that they keep failing in the future.

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