Honestly Speaking

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

We’re used to the world becoming pawns in the game of American presidential politics. But when the chess moves result in direct and substantial damage to critical institutions, and particularly health and human services groups, it’s not so much fun to watch the game anymore.

This has been happening with regularity with regard to Planned Parenthood. A litany of politicians have been making blistering statements about the family planning and women’s health organization, with a great many of them untrue.

Take, for instance, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s statement from late August that Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be funded by the federal government because “they’re not actually doing women’s health issues.”

Both the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog and the Tampa Bay Times’ Politifact website gave Bush abysmal ratings for this statement. Why? Well, because, as Politifact says, “Planned Parenthood offered more than 10 million services in 2013. Those services included contraception, breast exams, pregnancy tests, pap tests and STI testing and treatment.”

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Those indeed seem to be women’s health matters to us.

After Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (a presidential candidate as well) attempted to block $730,000 in funding to two Planned Parenthood clinics, the nonprofit sought an injunction to prevent the defunding.

Louisiana’s attorneys claimed to the judge that a vast array of medical providers would fill the void. When the list was provided, according to Mother Jones, it included such “family planning” experts as “ophthalmologists; nursing home caregivers; dentists; ear, nose, and throat doctors; and even cosmetic surgeons.”

The judge was apparently not convinced (or amused), for he asked for a more realistic list. There were 29 providers on the new submission.

And guess what? These Planned Parenthood clinics don’t even offer abortions; rather, per the same article, “the (Louisiana) clinics provide thousands of annual cancer and STI screenings, overwhelmingly to low-income women on Medicaid. In Louisiana alone, the group last year performed 2,100 well-woman exams, 1,200 pap smears, and 11,000 STI tests, and it administered long-lasting contraceptives 4,100 times, to 5,200 patients, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast said.”

Then last week, during the Republican primary debate, candidate Carly Fiorina, according to most fact-checking websites, mischaracterized a scene in a video from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, purporting to ascribe unethical practices to Planned Parenthood regarding the treatment of fetuses. Fiorina indicated the video presented “a fully formed fetus on the table…while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

What’s true is that the video exists. What is also most likely true is that there was visual information that has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood edited into the video.

And what also appears to be true, according to virtually all credible sources, is that what Fiorina represented as being in the video didn’t exist; rather, there was someone talking on the video that purported to see the images. Yet Fiorina has refused to acknowledge her error under repeated questioning.

With the U.S. House of Representatives voting to defund Planned Parenthood last week, there’s a multi-pronged assault on the organization. At the federal legislative level, state legislative and executive levels, and in national political campaigns.

It’s ugly and it’s wrong. It is one thing for anti-abortion forces to continue their misguided efforts to restrict reproductive rights, both at federal and state levels. We disagree with those efforts but that’s a separate issue. It is quite another to aggressively malign an organization that provides affordable and subsidized women’s health care to many millions across the country.

What is true is that there is a large swath of the American population that doesn’t agree that medically safe abortion services should be legal in this country. But laws already preclude any federal funding from going to abortion services (other than in the exceptions of rape, incest or life safety of the expectant mother). And many states have emulated such an approach as well.

What’s really happening right now is an attempt to demonize Planned Parenthood as an organization because it provides abortions. While free speech protects even distortions and lies, those statements must be met by pronounced and emphatic speech setting the record straight. It’s essential to women’s rights and health that we do so.