|Ashley B. Coffield|
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Defending women’s rights
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (PPFA) has been in a defensive posture ever since a series of undercover videos surfaced in July that implied the health care provider is harvesting fetal body parts for profit.
PPFA is now fighting back. On Jan. 14, the nation’s leading provider of reproductive health care services for women filed a civil lawsuit in San Francisco against eight defendants PPFA deems responsible for secretly filming the five videos.
One of the defendants is David Daleiden, director of the nonprofit Center for Medical Progress (CMP), reportedly a “biomedicine” or “bioengineering” organization. On Jan. 25, a Houston grand jury indicted Daleiden for making false claims in the videos. He’s now facing a felony charge for tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count in connection with buying human tissue.
The grand jury had initially investigated accusations of criminal misconduct against Planned Parenthood but pivoted to investigate Daleiden and one of his employees, Sandra Merritt, who also was indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.
Ashley B. Coffield, president and CEO of the nonprofit Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR), one of 60 independent affiliates operating nearly 700 health care centers in the United States, said Daleiden and other anti-abortionists spewed lies and misinformation to distract people from their real goal, “which is to end the right to safe and legal abortion in the United States.”
“The videos were an effort on behalf of anti-abortion extremists in our country to tell lies about Planned Parenthood [and] to distort the truth with the purpose of ending a 100-year-old organization in this country that provides compassionate care for women,” Coffield said.
All seven affiliates in California are plaintiffs in the lawsuit – PPGMR is not included – which seeks restitution of actual damages, compensatory and punitive damages, and triple damages for violations under the civil RICO (Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization) act, as well as attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit charges that the “nonprofit” CMP attempted to show PPFA representatives in a criminal act of discussing fetal tissue procurement for stem cell researchers and “that its doctors follow an abortion procedure that violates the so-called ‘partial birth’ abortion ban.”
Coffield is angry that anti-abortionists would have the gall to infiltrate Planned Parenthood, use fake IDs and false business documents and create a “fraudulent” narrative in order “to present information that wasn’t accurate.”
“I’m also sad about the physicians who were in the videos and how their security was placed at risk by filming them without their consent,” she said, “and by editing the things that they said to make them appear to be engaging in something that was wrong.”
Rabbi Micah Greenstein, the Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel – the oldest and largest Jewish congregation in Tennessee – called the videos “dangerous.” They jeopardize the health of millions of women in the United States, he said.
“That fabricated video[s] may have been a political stunt, but it’s not funny when lives are at stake. In this case, it’s the lives of millions of women who depend on Planned Parenthood for their health care.”
The videos ignited a firestorm that permeated mainstream media, which led to several state investigations and four congressional committees investigations that were spearheaded by members of the House and Senate – many of them Republicans – who have since called for Planned Parenthood to be defunded.
If the politicians at both state and federal levels succeed in defunding Planned Parenthood, the affiliates would be ineligible for reimbursement for services they provide to patients enrolled in federal health care programs, such as Medicaid, which is called TennCare in Tennessee.
“It’s a moral outrage that Planned Parenthood is under attack,” said Greenstein. “Not a dime should be cut from funding breast cancer screenings, Pap smears and other [services]. It’s easy to try to stop legal abortion. It’s harder to face the truth that Planned Parenthood is fundamentally about health care for women, women who don’t have what the people who are attacking Planned Parenthood have – basic health care.”
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), representing the 7th District of Tennessee, doesn’t see it that way. In the “Blackburn Report,” for example, she stated that “new documentation of the heinous practice of harvesting the body parts of babies as part of the abortion process have raised serious questions about the possible systematic and repeated violation of state and federal laws.”
“The fact that of the 700 health care centers, only six gave mothers who terminated their pregnancy the choice of using the fetal tissue for research to prevent future diseases and other tragedies,” said Greenstein, referring to the health centers that had actually been involved with fetal tissue research.
“We’re talking less than 1 percent,” he said.
Blackburn, who is vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led a floor debate on H.R. 3134 – the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 – that passed the House 241-187. State Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced the bill, which would impose a one-year moratorium on all federal funding to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates while investigations are being conducted unless the health care provider certifies it will not perform abortions or provide funds to other entities that perform them. Restrictions apply in cases of rape, incest or a woman’s health concerns.
There have been at least 11 attempts in the House to defund Planned Parenthood. Ninth District Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, and Blackburn’s counterpart in the House, voted “no” each time.
During a hearing in September, for example, Cohen used the bully pulpit to speak out against dogged efforts by anti-abortion extremists to defund Planned Parenthood in response to “several heavily edited and discredited videos....”
“Today’s hearing is another effort in a long-running and sustained campaign to restrict women’s constitutional rights,” Cohen sounded off. “It’s showboating for a political base that won’t be happy until Planned Parenthood is shut down.”
Cohen noted with enthusiasm the services that Planned Parenthood provides when he helped the affiliate here to secure federal funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2012 ($395,000) and 2013 ($265,000). He vowed to stand with women to make sure their right to reproductive choice is protected.
On the Senate side, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) jumped into the fray and co-sponsored S.1881, a bill that Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced that would redirect federal dollars currently allocated to Planned Parenthood centers in Tennessee to other health care centers providing services for women. The legislation failed to garner the necessary votes (47-52) to advance.
The videos and subsequent investigations prompted intense scrutiny against Planned Parenthood and generated persistent media attention. But there is no evidence of the onslaught having a negative effect on the health care provider.
However, in spite of ongoing investigations, some talking heads on TV and in print media have reported that the videos contradict the allegations against Planned Parenthood based on results from forensic analysis.
Even after the indictment of Daleiden, Planned Parenthood is fighting back to restore its reputation and validity as a bona fide health care provider for women. PPGMR is doing its part too on the local level all the while anti-abortionists parade outside PPGMR’s facility on Poplar Avenue with picket signs.
The debate continues to rage – whether Planned Parenthood should continue to operate as usual or be stripped of federal funds. And anger is seething as well. For example, a disturbed gunman in November attacked Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs and left three dead and others wounded.
Coffield is keenly aware of the hostility and the potential for violence against Planned Parenthood and its patients. But that hasn’t stopped her from carrying out PPGMR’s mission: “to improve health and well-being by providing high-quality, non-judgmental sexual health care, honest and accurate sexuality education, and reproductive health and rights advocacy.”
“For our community to lose a health care provider that focuses on contraception and well-woman care, and cancer screening and STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) testing, and treatment and access to abortion would be a tragedy,” she said.
AT A GLANCE:
Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR) supplied the following information and data to justify the need for its myriad services:
• Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. serves 2.7 million patients annually. Cecile Richards is the president.
• The number of patients served at PPGMR is 9,000 of 13,000 visits annually.
• PPGMR is nearly 75 years old and serves patients in West Tennessee, North Mississippi and East Arkansas. At least 65 percent of those served are from the Memphis area.
• Planned Parenthood’s education and outreach programs reach 1.5 million people each year – 1,500 of them in Memphis alone.
• PPGMR utilizes dozens of “sex-perts” on college campuses and a comprehensive sexual education program (JustUs) for middle school and high school students.
• PPGMR issued 650,000 condoms, and other safer-sex products were distributed through its “Free Condom Memphis” program last year.
• Six million people visit Planned Parenthood websites each month for health care information.
• PPGMR accepts commercial insurance and TennCare for its services. A 40 percent discount is offered to patients without insurance. Teens 18 and under are free for some services.
• 50 percent of PPGMR’s revenue comes from patient fees, 25 percent from donors, 22 percent from insurance, and about 3 percent from government grants.