The Center for Medical Progress, a right-wing group engaged in a long-term video strategy to discredit the national women’s health organization, released its seventh video on Wednesday. Like several videos before it, the newest footage relies heavily on an interview with Holly O’Donnell, a procurement technician who briefly worked for a biological company that partners with some abortion clinics to collect fetal tissue donations.
At several points, O’Donnell discusses the process of procuring fetal organs — which can be used to help advance scientific research, if abortion patients choose to donate the material after their procedure — before the camera cuts to photographs of fetuses. Although the video insinuates those fetuses are connected to the collection process that O’Donnell is describing, they’re actually recycled photographs from other sources, as RH Reality Check reports.
The woman who took that photo, Alexis (or “Lexi”) Fretz, initially published it on her blog — where she also shared the story of grieving her stillborn son, whom she named Walter Joshua. In a Facebook post, Fretz said that she did not give permission for the Center for Medical Progress to use Walter’s photo, though she does not plan to take legal action against the group.
By Thursday morning, the description for the Center for Medical Progress’ YouTube video included a note at the top clarifying that the “image of Walter Fretz at 19 weeks” comes from a 2014 Daily Mail article about Lexi Fretz’s photographs of her stillborn child.
RH Reality Check notes that another photo featured in the new video is sourced to the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion group that specializes in graphic images of fetuses. The group has become infamous for its “Genocide Awareness Project,” an exhibit typically installed on college campuses that “juxtaposes images of aborted embryos and fetuses with images of victims of historical and contemporary genocides and other injustice.”
For years, abortion opponents have relied on graphic descriptions and bloody imagery to make their case against legal abortion. The Center for Medical Progress appears to be leaning in hard to this particular strategy, hoping that Americans will be compelled by photos of fetuses and disturbed by headlines proclaiming that “Planned Parenthood clinic cut through dead baby’s face to get his intact brain.”
It’s certainly true that the videos targeting Planned Parenthood are giving anti-abortion lawmakers more ammunition. States are rushing to cut funding for the national women’s health organization, even as investigations into the group have been unable to turn up any evidence of wrongdoing.
However, it’s not clear that the activists behind the footage are successfully changing hearts and minds on the topic of abortion itself — a medical procedure that Americans have nuanced opinions about. Planned Parenthood remains popular, while the Center for Medical Progress has gotten plenty of negative press thanks to its misleading editing tactics.
Plus, as illustrated by the fuzzy line between an aborted fetus and a miscarried fetus, these issues aren’t nearly as straightforward as abortion opponents make them out to be. It’s possible to be grossed out by the details of an abortion procedure yet believe it should remain legal. It’s possible to grieve for the end of a pregnancy yet choose to donate fetal tissue to science. It’s possible to believe you are carrying an unborn child yet decide to have an abortion anyway.
“The campaign, masterminded by 26-year-old anti-abortion crusader and ‘proud millennial’ David Daleiden, is meant to let us in on the fact that abortion is disgusting,” writer Rebecca Traister argued in New York Magazine earlier this month, pointing out that women hardly need to be educated about the complex nature of life in reproductive bodies. “Planned Parenthood didn’t invent abortions, and David Daleiden isn’t going to explain them in terms so grisly as to reverse thousands of years’ of women’s needs, desires, and lived experiences.”