Editorials

The sad pandering on Planned Parenthood videos

Andrew Ward, left, and Bill Pauls discuss their positions on abortion Tuesday during a rally across the street from a Planned Parenthood in Columbia, Mo. Congress is expected to vote this summer on whether to defund the women’s health clinics after a hidden camera video campaign against the group.
Andrew Ward, left, and Bill Pauls discuss their positions on abortion Tuesday during a rally across the street from a Planned Parenthood in Columbia, Mo. Congress is expected to vote this summer on whether to defund the women’s health clinics after a hidden camera video campaign against the group. The Associated Press

Shortly before the latest crusade to wreck Planned Parenthood in this country, a Gallup Poll found that half of Americans – and a majority of U.S. women – now view themselves as pro-choice.

Though the vast majority in the May poll rightly regarded abortion with mixed feelings, pro-lifers were in the minority, representing just 44 percent of adults; only about one American in five supported an absolute ban in all cases.

As abortion rates have dropped to a 30-year low, entrenched opinions are gradually settling around a middle that’s more compassionate and complex. But no evolution comes without backlash. Maybe that’s why anti-abortion hard-liners and the Republican-controlled Congress are coming after Planned Parenthood, a longtime lightning rod on abortion, with everything but the kitchen sink.

The current hidden-camera campaign – the third video in a series was posted Tuesday – is upsetting. It dwells with sick, sad fascination on fetal remains legally donated by abortion patients for scientific research.

The unwitting Planned Parenthood executives onscreen sound at times cavalier as they discuss procedures and terms. So far, though, they don’t appear to be doing anything illegal.

Though it is a felony to profit from the sale of human fetal tissue, donations are within bounds, and the law explicitly allows unspecified compensation to cover the costs of preserving and processing fetal tissues for research. That’s what Planned Parenthood executives are shown discussing, over lunch in two of the videos, and in a lab in the third over a dissected fetal cadaver.

Planned Parenthood does important work, but, boy, were its executives stupid. The 26-year-old spokesman for the campaign, David Daleiden, is an alumnus of Live Action, a radical anti-abortion youth group whose specialty is playing gotcha with Planned Parenthood on hidden camera. Its founder, Lila Rose, famously made her bones posing as a 15-year-old girl who wanted an abortion but didn’t want the counselor to report that her fictional boyfriend was an adult, and thus a statutory rape suspect.

As a student, Daleiden was temporarily banned from the Pomona College campus for trying to stage a hidden-camera confrontation with a Planned Parenthood speaker. He has told interviewers that he was radicalized as a teen by Rose, whom he met at a Junior State meeting, and that he was the product of a “crisis pregnancy” when his mom was a college student.

Now a Fox News celebrity – he was reportedly mobbed last weekend at a conference of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council – Daleiden has demonstrated that if it serves his cause, he’ll put his parents’ privacy on the table. His mother, Gina Daleiden, isn’t some anonymous figure; she’s a former Davis school trustee and a deputy to Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza, a Democrat.

The politicians in this mess aren’t much nobler. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, leaving no wingnut in his caucus behind, has proposed defunding Planned Parenthood even before an investigation. Meanwhile, U.S. Senate candidate and Attorney General Kamala Harris has bowed to pressure from Democrats to “review” Daleiden’s actions.

Like handling costs for fetal research tissue, sting videos generally fall into a gray area of the law, so this is less about criminals than true believers and the politicians who need them. This will just punish the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for contraception and hurt the scientists who rely on fetal tissue to research diseases such as muscular dystrophy and diabetes.

Oh, and disappoint those of us who hoped the culture wars might eventually end.

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