Debunking GOP debate claims about Planned Parenthood is an outrageously easy thing to do


It took all of five minutes for the Republicans in the “undercard debate” to bring up Planned Parenthood. After a quick round of introductions, Bobby Jindal used the first question of the night—CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked him about his recent digs against Donald Trump—as an opportunity to go in on the reproductive health provider. After calling Trump a fake conservative, Jindal pivoted:

Here is the reality, the idea of America is slipping away. Eighteen trillion dollars of debt, Planned Parenthood selling baby parts across our country. Our government is creating a new entitlement program, when we can’t afford the government we’ve got today.

In comparison to the earlier debate, Planned Parenthood didn’t come up until at least mid-way into the main event, but the claims were equally divorced from reality. Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and John Kasich each took a turn against Planned Parenthood without troubling themselves with the basic facts about the video—secretly recorded and edited by the anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress—or the role the organization plays in offering comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion, sometimes as the only provider in town.

So let’s fact check the claims put on the table last night because it’s really, really easy to do.

Fetal tissue donation is not “selling baby parts.”

Jindal, Fiorina, and Cruz each claimed that the Center for Medical Progress’ videos show Planned Parenthood employees negotiating ghoulish transactions for profit. In reality, what’s captured in the video is a frank discussion of what’s involved in fetal tissue donation, from patient consent to explicit details about medical procedure and what costs Planned Parenthood has to recoup for staff time and incidentals related to obtaining, preserving, and transporting the tissue.

“The language tends to sound jarring, but it is commonplace—not only in [organ and tissue donation] but in all areas of medicine,” Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics and the University of Wisconsin, recently told me.

There is no profit involved in fetal tissue donation. In fact, selling the tissue for profit is illegal under the laws governing fetal tissue donation, which were enacted with bipartisan backing. (Fetal tissue research has also historically received bipartisan support because fetal tissue research might hold the key to medically transformative treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s.)

If Planned Parenthood were selling fetal tissue for profit, violating medical best practice, or coercing patients, they would have been charged for breaking the law. But they haven’t, which is the next big fact-check.

Multiple investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

Jindal, Fiorina, Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Cruz each called to defund Planned Parenthood, ostensibly because of what was revealed in the video. But multiple investigations into the organization’s operations and a Congressional investigation into the videos concluded that there was no evidence that Planned Parenthood did anything wrong.

So far, five states and a Congressional committee closed their Planned Parenthood investigations without finding any wrongdoing. Last week, the Committee on Energy and Commerce released the findings of its investigation into the videos, concluding that “there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood or its affiliates have violated any federal or state laws.”

The committee announced its findings on the same day that House Republicans held a hearing on defunding Planned Parenthood, the first of what’s expected to be a series of show trials. The hearing was ostensibly about the videos, but because the videos don’t actually show anything illegal, Republicans on the House Judiciary committee invited three anti-abortion activists—two self-described “abortion survivors” and the legal counsel for National Right to Life—to speak in general terms about why they wanted to see abortion banned.

The “Every human life is sacred and should be protected from the atrocities allegedly undertaken by Planned Parenthood” hearing (yes, it was really called that) featured exchanges like this: James Bopp Jr., general counsel at National Right to Life, was called as an expert witness on the videos and the law regarding fetal tissue donation. As I wrote last week, Bopp testified that it was “clear” that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue and had violated federal law.

Then he was asked if he had seen the full, unedited videos:

“You’ve not seen the unedited videos, is that correct?” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) asked Bopp.

His response? “That’s correct.”

No, other providers can’t absorb all of Planned Parenthood’s patients.

Last night, Kasich and Christie both bragged about defunding Planned Parenthood in their home states, insisting that other medical providers offer the same services. Jindal, in his own push to do the same in Louisiana, has made identical claims. In fact, his administration was recently caught trying to pass off ear doctors and dermatologists as family planning providers in its claim that Louisiana had 2,000 clinics in place to offer similar services if Planned Parenthood was closed down.

“It strikes me as extremely odd that you have a dermatologist, an audiologist, a dentist who are billing for family planning services,” Judge John deGravelles said of the state’s claim about doctors. “But that is what you’re representing to the court? You’re telling me that they can provide family planning and related services?”

Louisiana had to revise its estimate and found that there were only 29 clinics that could offer family planning services throughout the state. That’s quite a difference.

A shortage of providers could be a national trend. A report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 630,000 people could “face reduced access to care” if Planned Parenthood loses its funding. “The people most likely to experience reduced access to care would probably reside in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations,” according to the report.

A majority of Americans say they support federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

“I agree that we should defund Planned Parenthood. I don’t know many people in America who don’t think that we should.” This was Kasich’s take last night on public opinion when it comes to Planned Parenthood.

Here’s what public opinion actually shows: 54% of Americans say they want to see the family planning provider keep its federal funds, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

And here’s what the public thinks about Cruz’s threat to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, according to a CNN poll released this month:

And, for reference, here’s what they thought two years ago when the government was shut down over healthcare:

It took Bobby Jindal about five minutes to launch into his bogus claims about Planned Parenthood. Turns out that it takes basically the same amount of time to debunk them.

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