On Wednesday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus published an editorial lambasting the mainstream media for “covering up” Planned Parenthood’s “support for infanticide.” According to Priebus, the national women’s health organization — in addition to providing contraceptive services, STD testing, cancer screenings, and reproductive care for millions of women across the country — is also in the business of murdering live babies. He claims that a recent committee hearing in Florida proves that Planned Parenthood officials support “the right to post-birth abortion.”
What’s “post-birth abortion”? What exactly happened in Florida? And how did this controversy explode in the right-wing media?
To understand the root of the current smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, it’s important to understand the context of the committee hearing that Priebus is referencing. That hearing was a debate over HB 1129, a politically-motivated piece of legislation seeking to ensure that any infant born alive “during or immediately after an attempted abortion” is entitled to all of the same rights “as any other child born alive in course of natural birth.” The “Infant Born Alive” measure rests upon the fundamentally flawed assumption that this type of situation is a real risk for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. In fact, Florida does not perform abortions after the fetus has reached viability, so the situation that HB 1129 intends to address is incredibly unlikely.
And the original version of the legislation went even further. In this hypothetical medical situation, where an infant is “born alive” after an incredibly late-term induced abortion, the woman would have also been stripped of all parental rights. The Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates opposed HB 1129 because of this particular provision, which they believe is simply intended to intimidate and shame women. Planned Parenthood officials pointed out that the implicit assumption is that women who choose abortion can’t possibly be fit to care for a child — and that’s not something that should be codified into state law.
Last week, a lobbyist representing Planned Parenthood, Alisa LaPolt Snow, testified about the organization’s opposition to that aspect of HB 1129. During the hearing, she was questioned by a panel of anti-abortion state lawmakers who demanded that she respond to questions about this highly unlikely hypothetical situation. According to sources from the organization, the Republican lawmaker who sponsored HB 1129 repeatedly insinuated that women who choose abortions cannot be trusted, defending the provision revoking parental rights because “there is at least suspicion that that biological mother may not have the best interest of that born infant in mind.” When posed with a hypothetical scenario in which “a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion,” Snow attempted to make the point that legislators don’t need to get in the middle of medical situations. “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” Snow said.
That was enough for the right-wing media to proclaim that Planned Parenthood endorses “infanticide.” After the Weekly Standard posted a video of that portion of the exchange, it spread throughout conservative outlets — eventually inspiring Priebus’ breathless editorial suggesting that any politician who supports Planned Parenthood may also support infanticide.
Aside from the fact that Planned Parenthood was essentially backed into a corner by Florida Republicans — forced to testify against an unnecessary provision within a misleading piece of legislation, and then forced to respond to an imaginary “botched abortion” procedure that’s already against the law in the state — the organization’s position on caring for infants is already quite clear. Planned Parenthood has a long history of providing professional medical care to women and their children. Abortion opponents often attempt to misconstrue Planned Parenthood as an irresponsible organization that doesn’t adhere to medical standards, but its clinics already provide high-quality primary care and preventative services to millions of people across the country.
The organization responded to the manufactured controversy to clarify this point. “As a trusted health care provider, Planned Parenthood strongly condemns any physician who does not follow the law or endangers a woman’s or child’s health,” a Planned Parenthood representative testified before the Florida House Health & Human Services Committee on Thursday. “And while HB 1129 addresses a situation that is extremely unlikely and highly unusual, if the scenario presented by the legislation should happen, of course a Planned Parenthood doctor would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant.”
Perhaps the ultimate irony of the right-wing’s imagined controversy is that — even in states where it’s not against the law to perform late-term induced abortions — Planned Parenthood clinics don’t provide that type of service. Many Planned Parenthood affiliates only perform abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, when women can either take a pill or have a less-invasive surgical procedure. It’s actually the women who don’t have access to Planned Parenthood clinics, which are under attack across the country as GOP-controlled legislatures do their best to shut them down, who are forced to resort to dangerous, illegal, late-term abortion services like the ones described at the Florida hearing.