The Attack On Planned Parenthood (or, Why Margaret Sanger Is Turning Over In Her Grave)

I’m sure you all know that the Republicans of the House of Representatives are making it their mission to wipe away nearly a century of progress of fighting for women’s reproductive freedom and accessibility to nationwide family planning centers. And that it’s all under the guise of, ahem, “fiscal restraint.” But what’s been really unnerving are the secretly recorded videotapes, by an organization called Live Action, of Planned Parenthood employees’ reactions to “pimp” and “prostitute” actors asking about STD and abortion information for underage sex workers. And it’s not because they’re really exposing anything new or scandalous. They’re just sensationalizing to make it seem like they are. Ever since the tapes were released, and heavily publicized, everyone has been all up in arms — either because they’ve fallen for Live Action’s misleading and heavily edited videos that claim to reveal that Planned Parenthood is actually a nefarious organization (because they disclosed young persons’ legal rights), or because they are sick and tired of the right wing media’s sheer disregard for reality.

But these videos aren’t anything new, Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check points out. Lila Rose, the President of Live Action, “has been doing this for roughly forever, and it tends to go nowhere, because she uses deceptive editing and blatant lying, and there was no reason for [pro-choice activists] to believe it would be different this time.” Except it was different this time, because these videos ran alongside the most powerful governmental assault on Planned Parenthood that we’ve seen in years.

As I mentioned in a previous post, federal money was used for an infinitesimal number (191) of abortions in 2006, and only in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother was at risk. So abortion is really not the problem; it’s costing taxpayers a mere fraction of a penny each. And if the removal of Planned Parenthood proves successful, what will they do about the 1.85 million low-income women who depend on those clinics? “It just doesn’t come up. There’s not even a vague contingency plan,” Gail Collins writes. “There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they’re attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.”

This is what will happen if the right-wing runs Planned Parenthood out of business: low-income American women will have to fall back on Medicaid. But, as KJ Dell’Antonia outlines, this is counter-productive — because every dollar of public funding that is spent on family planning services saves Medicaid $4.02 the next year. So why would Indiana Rep. Mike Pence (and the 154 colleagues that are backing him) endorse “an action that would effectively cost taxpayers some $1.2 billion?”

The thing is, it’s not about fiscal concerns. It’s about radical social and, what is considered to some, “moral”, views. It’s about a certain type of man who still, even today, deep down, needs to know that he has some control over women. And about women, who I wish I could say I understood, like Lila Rose. Who for some reason either don’t want the rights to their own body, or have never and will never need to go to a Planned Parenthood — and don’t want any other American woman to have the right to go either. Writes Collins:

“‘Planned Parenthood aids and abets the sexual abuse and prostitution of minors,’ announced Lila Rose, the beautiful anti-abortion activist who led the project. The right wing is currently chock-full of stunning women who want to end their gender’s right to control their own bodies. Homely middle-aged men are just going to have to find another sex to push around.”

If you just watch a Live Action video (preferably one that is unedited, like those that Media Matters have fortunately unearthed), you’ll know that Rose’s statement is radical and untrue. Thus, the question is not “is Planned Parenthood really promoting underage prostitution?” it’s, “What the hell are we gaining from making people think that they are?”

Money, politics, religion, and the “sanctity of the family” might be the facade that radical anti-women’s rights (because this is beyond abortion now) people hide behind, or naively believe in — but really, it’s about the same old things. Control. Power. Subjugation. Gloria Steinem wrote about Margaret Sanger in a 1998 Time’s 100 Most Important People Of The Century article. What she wrote 13 years ago holds just as much weight in the political sphere today.

“One can imagine Sanger’s response to the current anti-choice lobby and congressional leadership that opposes abortion, sex education in schools, and federally funded contraceptive programs that would make abortion less necessary…As in her day, the question seems to be less about what gets decided than who has the power to make the decision.”

And since the decisionmakers simply reply: “What is more fiscally responsible than denying any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America?” (Rep. Mike Pence), then, as Irin Carmon puts it, “How can you debate someone who exists in an alternate version of reality?”

Steinem wrote about Sanger, “She taught us, first, to look at the world as if women mattered.”

It seems so simple. So decades later, why can’t we?


Author: Maura Hehir

Maura Hehir is a writer and student studying creative nonfiction writing at New York University. She volunteer-teaches a creative writing class to kids in Harlem and works in the marketing and design department at a bookstore.


  1. Joe says:

    > Steinem wrote about Sanger, “She taught us, first, to look at the world as if women mattered.”

    Which women matter? Certainly not the 14 and 15 year old girls imprisoned in the sex trafficking industry. Certainly not the young girls being raped by old men? Planned Parenthood is the only one standing up for the rights of these girls to be abused over and over again.

    • With all due respect, Joe, Planned Parenthood isn’t trafficking underage sex workers — it was simply one case of one worker gone bad and entrapped. And none of this changes the fact that PP is *the* organization fighting for women’s reproductive rights across the board.

  2. Julia says:

    If these vile girls working for Planned Parenthood who were caught on video giving tips or advice on how to get abortions for underage sex workers did nothing wrong as you claim THEN WHY THE FUCK DID PLANNED PARENTHOOD FIRE THEM AFTER THE VIDEOS WERE RELEASED????????

    I’ve watched ALL of the full unedited videos and Planned Parenthood has no defense for what’s in them, which is WHY Planned Parenthood is “re-training” all of their employees. Did you miss that?

    • I don’t think we claim they did nothing wrong — Planned Parenthood acted quickly to handle the one small problem. I think we’re saying this one small problem should not serve as a way to scandalize important funding away from an important organization.


  1. [...] written about the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood — from both conservative Congress members and sneaky undercover video-tapers. Now you can [...]

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