The secretly taped and heavily doctored videos that misrepresented Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue and organ donation program were designed to get the anti-abortion movement boiling.
Mission accomplished. The dishonest videos unleashed torrents of anger and opportunism that have worked their way into the presidential race and, closer to home, drawn the University of Missouri into a messy fight and caused mid-Missouri to be at least temporarily without an abortion provider.
And while the circumstances of a shooting last week at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., which left three persons dead and nine wounded, are still murky, the gunman’s motives may trace back to anti-abortion sentiments that were inflamed by the videos and recent developments.
Abortion is and always will be a topic worthy of debate and activism by both opponents and supporters. But public officials, especially, have a responsibility to conduct that debate within a framework of accuracy.
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Members of the U.S. Congress who falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of “trafficking in baby parts” risk enraging people with anti-abortion views and a tendency toward violence. So do candidates who claim, as Republican hopeful Carly Fiorina did, to have seen gruesome videotaped scenes that don’t exist.
The National Abortion Federation, which tracks threats and acts of violence directed at abortion providers, reports “an unprecedented increase in hate speech and threats” since an activist group released the doctored videos in July. The group has also documented four arson attempts at clinics.
The videos also set off a barrage of legislative actions against Planned Parenthood that shows no signs of abating.
In Missouri, Republicans in the House and Senate formed committees to look into Planned Parenthood’s activities in the state. A separate investigation by the office of state Attorney General Chris Koster found that Planned Parenthood was following federal and state law with regard to handling fetal tissue.
But a Senate committee, led by Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer, zeroed in on Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri’s Columbia clinic, which began performing nonsurgical abortions in August after a hiatus dating to 2012.
Schaefer, who aspires to be elected state attorney general in 2016, harshly interrogated officials from state agencies and the University of Missouri. He accused the university of “being in the abortion business” because its hospital had granted low-level admitting privileges to Colleen McNicholas, the physician who was performing abortions at the Columbia clinic.
The hostile hearings were enough to persuade former MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to cancel the category of privileges granted to McNicholas without giving her sufficient time to apply for more standard admitting privileges.
Backlash over that move from inside and outside of the university was a factor in Loftin having to resign last month. Unfortunately, interim Chancellor Hank Foley declined this week to reverse Loftin’s decision. He noted that the executive committee of the hospital’s medical staff had recommended eliminating the category of privileges.
State law requires a physician who performs abortions to have privileges at a hospital within 30 miles from where abortions take place. With McNicholas’ privileges revoked, abortions are no longer occurring at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic.
The Planned Parenthood chapter has sued to stop Missouri’s Department of Health and Human Services from revoking its license to perform abortions in Columbia. A hearing in U.S. District Court is scheduled for Wednesday.
But even if Planned Parenthood keeps its license, it will need to find a physician with the proper admitting privileges. The health provider said in its court filing that two doctors who considered taking the job backed out. One said she was “not willing to subject herself or her family to the scrutiny and potential harassment that come with providing abortions.”
The University of Missouri’s cave-in to legislative bullying means women in mid-Missouri must travel either to St. Louis or Kansas to receive abortion services. Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period makes the process more onerous.
For abortion opponents, that is the point. But shutting down services at a clinic doesn’t mean women won’t still find themselves in circumstances, like poverty and violence, that will cause them to terminate pregnancies.
Helping to change those circumstances would be a more productive front than continued attacks on a provider that performs abortions safely and legally.