‘Hotly Disputed,’ Outright Misleading: More on the Journal’s Anti-Planned Parenthood Campaign

March 24th, 2016 · 4 Comments · budget policy, civil rights, Congress, inequality, role of government, social safety net

By Denise Tessier

After nearly a year’s hiatus from writing for ABQJournalWatch, I am compelled to add to the points my colleague Arthur Alpert made Tuesday in his post about the Journal’s anti-Planned Parenthood campaign.

The impetus is Wednesday’s UpFront column – “100 years of fighting for reproductive rights”.

At first, the front-page headline prompted thoughts that the Journal was injecting some months-overdue fairness into its generous coverage of the pro-birth, anti-choice movement and its attacks designed to cripple and even eliminate Planned Parenthood, an organization that for decades has done much to improve women’s health.

That the UpFront had been written by the exceptional Joline Gutierrez Krueger held promise that the article would be fair and enlightening. It was just coincidence that the column appeared the day after Arthur’s post, as it was clear she had been working on it before.

But the column in fact served to obfuscate one critical point – the damning and oft-repeated allegations that the women health’s organization was selling fetal parts.

“Hotly disputed” is the weak description chosen to characterize allegations of fetal tissue sales, keeping Planned Parenthood in the defensive position for purposes of the Journal column.

From the column:

Planned Parenthood . . . has been lashed lately by a host of bad press: allegations – hotly disputed – of selling fetal body parts for profit, defunding threats by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates and the shooting deaths of three people at a Colorado Springs clinic in November by a self-described “warrior for the babies.”

There is no mention of the fact that in January a Texas grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and actually indicted two anti-abortion extremists for allegedly trying to buy fetal body parts. The extremists were also charged with tampering with a governmental record after they made videos edited to mislead viewers into believing a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic was engaged in fetal parts sales.

Those allegations weren’t just “hotly disputed,” they were essentially put to rest by a conservative Texas court.

The Texas Tribune broke that story back in January, saying:

A Harris County grand jury on Monday (Jan. 25) indicted the videographers behind undercover recordings of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston and cleared the women’s health provider of any wrongdoing.

The indictments — part of the county prosecutor’s investigation into allegations that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue — include charges against anti-abortion activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. The grand jury handed down a second charge for Daleiden for “Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs,” according to the Harris County District Attorney’s office. That charge is a class A misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail.

The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston of breaking any laws.

The story also ran that day in the New York Times. Locally, Heath Haussamen’s NMPolitics.net ran the full Texas Tribune story the next day. The Washington Post reported its own story.

And the New York Times weighed in with an editorial headlined: “Vindication for Planned Parenthood:”

One after the other, investigations of Planned Parenthood prompted by hidden-camera videos released last summer have found no evidence of wrongdoing. On Monday, a grand jury in Harris County, Tex., went a step further. Though it was convened to investigate Planned Parenthood, it indicted two members of the group that made the videos instead.

The Harris County prosecutor, Devon Anderson, a Republican who was asked by the lieutenant governor, a strident opponent of Planned Parenthood, to open the criminal investigation, said on Monday that the grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any misconduct.

Did the Journal trumpet this “vindication?”

Quite the opposite. The Journal ran five paragraphs of the Associated Press version of the story, which it buried in the back of the paper, on C7, among the legal ads. Suffice it to say, that brief story failed to make the Journal’s electronic headline list for those who read stories on their computer or phone.

That the Journal could not find room in the A section for the Texas legal action – considering the coverage the Journal had given for months to the fetal-sales charges that had been leveled against Planned Parenthood and the prominence it gave to those stories – is journalistically irresponsible.

It is irresponsible because Journal readers who hadn’t seen coverage by other news outlets still likely believe the video tapes were legitimate, that the anti-abortion activists were simply zealous in their mission, and worst of all, that zealous scrutiny of women’s health clinics is therefore warranted. At the least, Wednesday’s UpFront column could have reminded readers of the Texas legal challenge to the fetal sales claim and therefore, the anti-Planned Parenthood campaign.

The videos, which Planned Parenthood all along said had been doctored, last year gave conservative members of Congress an excuse to open hearings into de-funding of the agency. The Journal gave full and front-page coverage to this movement. “In the Crosshairs: Planned Parenthood faces new questions about funding, services in wake of videos,” ran on the front page in August and continued on A4, where it and a side report, both by the Journal Washington Bureau’s Michael Coleman, filled almost an entire page.

The headlines had already been titillating readers on the Op-Ed page:

Is selling aborted baby livers justice?” (July 17, Jonah Goldberg)
Abortion apologists deny all limits” (Aug. 2, George Will)

To be fair, the Will column ran the same day Ruth Marcus weighed in with “Planned Parenthood services needed,” in which the columnist made the point that even as she cringed at allegations made in the covert videotape, she was compelled to say:

If you are among those who view abortion tantamount to murder, I respect your belief. But consider: Defunding Planned Parenthood would inevitably result in more unplanned pregnancies and therefore more abortions. In fact, if you really want to reduce the number of abortions, you should be lobbying to increase funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide birth control.

What is important here, however, is that all of these writers were operating under the belief that the “evidence” of sales presented by the covert videotape appeared valid.

More than two-thirds of the August 20 Op-Ed page was devoted to columns for and against Planned Parenthood in light of the videos and ensuing defund PP movement. “Save It or Scrap It?” was the headline, but the Journal’s editors chose to place the anti-Planned Parenthood column, written by an “Albuquerque resident,” at the top of the page; the column in support, co-written by former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, ran at the page bottom.

A month later, the Journal reported that the House had approved a bill to block funds for Planned Parenthood . New Mexico Democrats Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan voted against the measure, but Rep. Steve Pearce, Republican, voted to defund PP.

One month after that, in October, Pearce was voting in favor of establishing a House committee to pursue allegations that Planned Parenthood engaged in misconduct or illegal acts with regard to abortion and fetal tissue. (Lujan Grisham and Lujan voted against creation of the committee.)

Editorially, the Journal lauded Pearce and expressed its disgust at the PP videos. There has been no comment from the editorial board since the grand jury cast doubt on the sales claims made in the edited videos.

Meanwhile, Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico have been the target of the U.S. House panel Steve Pearce (and the Journal) helped create, searching for some evidence of fetal tissue sales.

Back on Dec. 20, the Journal reported that the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center had stopped sending its fellows or residents to train at Southwestern Women’s Options, where it had, in the past decade, used fetal tissue from abortions for stem cell research aimed at improving the fate of extremely premature infants.

The decision by UNMH was allegedly based on “new scrutiny” of the “relationship” between the clinic and UNMH.

In her thorough report, investigative reporter Colleen Heild wrote that scientific use of tissue from abortions had become a national controversy last summer “with the release of a videotape in which it appeared that Planned Parenthood was making a profit by selling fetal tissue from abortions.”

To her credit, she wrote:

The secretly recorded tape, released by a California anti-abortion group, put Planned Parenthood officials on the defensive, but to date there has been no proof that the organization violated federal law by accepting such compensation. (emphasis added). . .

No monetary compensation goes to Boyd or his Southwestern Women’s Options for fetal tissue or for helping train fellows or residents. . .

Boyd is one of only four abortion providers in the country to perform late-term abortions. Both UNM’s Center for Reproductive Health and Planned Parenthood of New Mexico perform abortions, but only up to 18 weeks.

Less than a month after her report, the Texas grand jury had come up with its indictments challenging the validity of the video-based allegations about fetal tissue sales.

Less than a week after those indictments, the Journal prominently profiled two anti-abortion extremists who had moved to Albuquerque from Kansas with the sole purpose of shutting down clinics and limiting New Mexicans’ access to women’s health services – a profile whose placement was commendably characterized as over-the-top by my colleague Arthur in this week’s post. Again, the profile made no mention of the indictments that had come out of Texas just a few days earlier.

Here’s something to keep in mind as all this energy is focused on closing abortion clinics: Between 2010 and 2013, the number of abortions in New Mexico had already fallen by 23.9 percent. And, as of January of this year, New Mexico was no longer the state with the highest teen birthrate; a 45 percent drop over 15 years is credited to birth control access – the kind of access provided by women’s clinics like Planned Parenthood.

It is highly unlikely that the Journal will come to the defense of Planned Parenthood, Southwest Women’s Options or UNM in terms of this topic, even though the head of UNM’s medical program has said complying with the congressional panel’s federal subpoena asking for names of students, staff and faculty at the university could endanger their safety.

And keep in mind that while all this effort is being put forth by anti-abortion activists, congressional legislators and other politicos to defund Planned Parenthood, no federal money is used to provide abortions. Shutting down clinics will only further shrink women’s access to contraception, cancer screening and other tests.

It should be no surprise that increased numbers of women are coming to New Mexico for abortions because of fewer restrictions here – fewer restrictions for now, anyway.

It should also be no surprise that desperate women without options are turning to doing abortions on themselves. Google research data indicates that “in some parts of the United States, demand for self-induced abortion has risen to a disturbing level,” according to economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz .

The Journal is complicit is helping shrink women’s access to health services (and putting roadblocks in front of life-saving stem cell research) and appears to be doing so purposefully by putting on appearances of thoroughly covering an issue, while withholding critical information.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Diane Denish

    Thank you for this analysis of the recent coverage. As a Board member of the PPRM the biased coverage in the Journal is disturbing. I immediately picked up on the “hotly disputed” language you single out. Thank you again.

  • Arthur Alpert

    Wow! Welcome back, Denise. This extraordinary piece demonstrates why ABQJournalWatch needs you.

  • Larry Rucker

    Welcome back and with with an ax to boot. Great piece!

  • Jim Dawson

    Good column, Denise. Sorry to hear about the Journal’s unsupported editorial stance and weak news judgment.

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