A guest post from Katie Stack, one of the brave women who spoke out on MTV’s No Easy Decision.
As we get closer to the Senate’s vote on the Pence Amendment, anti-choice organizations have chosen to “unleash the hounds” as it were. Yesterday, Lila Rose made two stops in my home state of Iowa as part of her “Women Speak Out” anti-Planned Parenthood campaign. As I watch this GOP public relations stunt play out I’m deeply saddened by their choice of their target. By pandering to the fundamentalist anti-choice crowd, Republican politicians are both threatening women’s health and also creating a new media monster, one that may be difficult to put back in its cage.
In July 2009 I had my first interaction with the women’s health chain, Planned Parenthood. I was 9 weeks pregnant at the time, and desperate to terminate the pregnancy. My interaction with Planned Parenthood was one that was respectful, honest and healing. I was provided with safe and legal abortion services for $500. The clinic counselor and I had concluded that the oral contraceptives that I had been taking, which had been prescribed to me through a hospital-affiliated health center, were not effective for me. That same day Planned Parenthood provided me with long-term birth control, free of charge. Since then, I have been an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood and often utilize their services.
Today, this valuable and necessary organization is under attack. Lila Rose’s anti-choice organization, Live Action, claims that is has proof of various Planned Parenthood employees aiding and abetting a sex trafficking and child abuse. In response, they are urging Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. Even if the allegations waged against Planned Parenthood were shown to be true, I would not support defunding the organization as a whole. Con-artists preyed on a few irresponsible employees. The demand to cripple Planned Parenthood is extreme in any case, but especially considering the fact that Live Action’s proof is questionable a best.
First, none of Live Action’s videos provide any real context for the discussion that actors posing as a “pimp” and “prostitute” have with employees. Never once do the Live Action actors explicitly state that the girls that they are seeking services for are being trafficked. They state that some are sex workers, but the definition of a sex worker can range from a prostitute to an erotic dancer. That phrase does not explicitly denote vaginal intercourse, as Live Action claims. In watching the videos, it is unclear what these young girls are being brought into the United States for. While some of the counselors do react in unprofessional and irresponsible ways, they ultimately do not provide these actors with any information that would differ from the information that they would find through a quick search on Google.
Second, there is no follow up in any of these investigations. What would Live Action have had the Planned Parenthood employees do? Call the police to make allegations for whom they have no contact information or evidence? Planned Parenthood clinics to do not have undercover recording devices hidden around their offices. There would have been absolutely no way for them to prove that this “pimp” had said any of what is heard on Live Action’s recording. Live Action never returns to see what would actually have happened had they brought a 14 year old victim of sex-trafficking to Planned Parenthood to receive reproductive health care. These films require to viewers to jump to conclusions about what Planned Parenthood employees would have done. Assumption is not enough to defund the organization.
Finally, Lila Rose and Live Action have made it clear through interviews and the rhetoric on their website that their goal is not to investigate sex-trafficking and abuse in the women’s health industry. Their goal is not to make sure that all health centers follow mandatory reporting guidelines. Their goal, explicitly stated, is to bring down Planned Parenthood. If they were genuinely interested in investigating the aiding and abetting of sex-trafficking in the women’s health industry, their investigations would not focus solely on Planned Parenthood. In fact, in order for their investigations to be taken seriously at all, it is imperative that they provide a control. We have no basis through which to compare the footage shot at Planned Parenthood clinics to what would happen in other clinics under the same circumstances. If Live Action wants their investigation to
have any true credibility, then it is necessary that they play out these same scenarios at various women’s health clinics, hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers.
By giving lip-service to these “investigations,” members of Congress are setting a dangerous precedent. They are saying that evidence need not be factual, that it need not be professional. They are saying that radical propaganda, blatantly created for political gain, is more compelling than the stories and testimonies of Planned Parenthood patients. They are saying that they would rather learn about Planned Parenthood from individuals who openly vilify them, than from the women who depend on their services. By consistently referencing the claims made by Live Action in their arguments, House members made it clear that they believed propaganda to be compelling enough to be potentially legitimate. Let us hope that Senate members have more sense.
Women’s health centers nationwide often find themselves in difficult situations. They are bound both by mandatory reporting laws and by confidentiality agreements. Daily, they must face the reality that women’s sexuality and reproductive lives are nuanced and complicated. Grey areas abound and personal circumstance and perceptions must always be respected. In many cases, the best that these centers and clinics can do is to hope to empower women to make the right decisions for themselves by providing access to resources and information. In producing and promoting these videos, both Live Action and their supporters in Congress have exploited and abused the fundamental trust that must exist between women and their health care providers. This has not been done, as is claimed, to protect women. It has been done to steal information, resources, and services away from us. It’s time that we stop assuming what is best for women and start trusting them to make decisions for themselves