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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Phony, vile accusations hurt real women in need

For Planned Parenthood, the silver lining may wind up overshadowing the clouds. But that doesn’t mean those clouds aren’t ugly.

The news broke this week that Susan G. Komen for the Cure was buckling to political pressure and halting donations to Planned Parenthood for the very thing Susan G. Komen for the Cure is theoretically all about: breast cancer prevention. Anti-abortion warriors have apparently persuaded “the world’s leader in breast-cancer awareness” that “ending breast cancer forever” is not in any way contradictory with eliminating funding for, oh, merely tens of thousands of breast- cancer screenings for women who might not otherwise get screened at all.

Or, as I like to think of it: 787 of my neighbors here in the Inland Northwest.

Komen money has paid for 787 breast screenings through Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho since 2008. Nearly $80,000 has come from Komen into the regional Planned Parenthood office, and it’s been vital support for the work the organization does.

Since the news about Komen emerged, Planned Parenthood supporters have created a loud, infuriated tempest – and they’re backing that up with donations. In just days, fundraising nationwide surpassed the loss of Komen funding. Officials at the local office report the same – calls and messages of support, and lots of donations.

“We’re just seeing an enormous outpouring of support,” said Karl Eastlund, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.

All that’s to the good. But the mechanism behind what happened is frightening, because of its slippery intellectual dishonesty. Abortion foes cannot simply object to the fact that a very small percentage of Planned Parenthood activities involve abortion. That argument ends quickly: Abortion is legal; no government money pays for them. So they turn toward ginning up outrageous, vile accusations, which are compiled into official-looking reports, which are used as the basis for congressional investigations, which are used as the basis to prevent a poor woman in Spokane from getting checked for a life-threatening illness.

Komen insists it didn’t make the change because of long-standing pressure from anti-abortion forces. It says it barred any grants to organizations under any investigation. Planned Parenthood is under congressional inquiry from an abortion opponent in Congress.

This is a funny kind of calculation for Komen to make. By far, the majority of Planned Parenthood services are basic health care. A fifth of American women have visited one of the organization’s clinics. Each year, they provide 750,000 breast exams, 770,000 pap tests and millions of treatments for STDs, according to a letter of support for the organization signed by congressional Democrats.

But the fight against Planned Parenthood comes from the most committed warriors in the anti-abortion camp. Their passion for their ends leads them to sordid means. They allege a whole nefarious world of activities at Planned Parenthood that would shock Keith Richards’ most depraved roadie – partnering with pimps and sex traffickers, protecting sexual predators, putting women’s lives at risk in substandard clinics, and, of course, widespread fraud and abuse.

These claims are made in a report from Americans United for Life, urging congressional investigation. A congressional investigation followed. The investigation is the technical reason Komen has given for rejecting Planned Parenthood funding.

The AUL report is full of footnotes. Sprinkling footnotes, after all, is the way you pretend your report is not baseless. These footnotes are revealing. The prostitution and sex-trafficking charges – the sexy, eye-catching stuff – is based on transcripts of elaborate, preposterous “sting” operations in which abortion warriors dressed up as pimps and put a couple of clinic workers in outrageous situations. A few times, the clinic workers said some disappointing things. Most of the time, they sound baffled.

Elsewhere in the report, there is a glaring failure to understand the difference between causation and correlation, and everywhere there is a strong disconnect between the visceral, sensational characterizations and the thin support for them. “A pattern of Medicaid fraud,” for example, is based on a few cases like a 2009 one with our local office. In that case, “sloppy billing practices” that the state Medicaid chief termed “not egregious” led the Planned Parenthood office to reimburse Medicaid several hundred thousand dollars.

This is the thin gruel upon which the congressional investigation rests, upon which the denial of the Komen Foundation funding rests. It is elaborately empty.

It’s hard to see how Komen won’t come to regret this, if only because its purported goal cannot be served by the divisions that come with the abortion debate. Who knows – it may even take a look at its priorities and reverse course. The organization says it intends to make sure there aren’t gaps in care, but as Komen itself has previously argued, a great value of Planned Parenthood clinics is they provide health care services to women who would not otherwise have them.

“We fill a really unique niche in the health care world,” Eastlund said. “We’ve unfortunately found that when Planned Parenthood isn’t available, needs go unmet.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.
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