Five videos that show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue from abortions for medical research have unleashed a storm of controversy nationwide and in South Carolina.
Shortly after the videos went public in mid-July, protests erupted outside the agency’s offices around the country. Religious leaders denounced how heartless the officials’ remarks were, and politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for defunding of the agency.
An estimated 90 people turned out at Washington Square next to Charleston City Hall recently for a Women Betrayed protest July 28, sponsored by representatives of Students for Life and Pro-Life Future, according to organizers of the event. The interdenominational rally included speeches by state Sen. Larry Grooms of Charleston and Rep. Donna Hicks of Spartanburg.
The videos were filmed secretly and released by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group funded in 2013. The center sent workers posing as buyers of fetal tissue to secretly record discussions with Planned Parenthood officials.
Spokespeople, meanwhile, have claimed that the videos were selectively edited and declare that the organization is not involved in any illegal actions. Federal law prohibits the sale of fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood provides a variety of women’s healthcare services at its 700 clinics nationwide, but also offers abortion services.
Pro-life activists have long called for defunding of the agency and speak out against the organization because it performs abortions, but these videos take the discussion to a new level, according to Kathy Schmugge, director of the Office of Family Life at the Diocese of Charleston.
“These videos are pretty condemning, because there’s no other way to look at the things that were said,” Schmugge said. “I was shocked at the callousness of the videos. I’ve always been for defunding Planned Parenthood — that’s not a new thing for any pro-lifer. The issue is how callous the people on the videos are. This has been a shocker for a lot of people. Even pro-choicers can’t stomach what they see.”
Cheryle Freiberger, who attends the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, was one of the local organizers of the Charleston rally. She said the videos reinforce many objections that dedicated pro-lifers have always had, but also have opened the eyes of people who previously supported the organization.
“Abortion itself is always an atrocity, but many people have become desensitized to it,” Freiberger said. “They’ve bought the lie of Planned Parenthood, treating the unborn child like it’s just a blob of tissue. These videos prove otherwise and show how indefensible abortion is.”
Some Catholic leaders have joined a growing call to withdraw federal funding from Planned Parenthood.
According to a Catholic News Service report, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston addressed the issue in a letter to the U.S. Senate. He is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“The most recent revelations about Planned Parenthood’s willingness to traffic in fetal tissue from abortion, and to alter abortion methods not for any reason related to women’s health but to obtain more ‘intact’ organs, is the latest demonstration of a callousness toward women and their unborn children that is shocking to many Americans,” he wrote.
Three states — Alabama, Louisiana, and New Hampshire — have already defunded the agency, and arguments on federal defunding have begun in Congress. South Carolina is one of 12 states that has launched an investigation into the organization’s activities.
The push to bar federal and state funding of Planned Parenthood comes because it receives an estimated $528 million from taxpayers, according to the Associated Press, including state funds that go toward Medicaid.
On Aug. 3, a vote for defunding failed, 53 for and 46 against, in the Senate. The measure needed 60 votes to pass. The vote came just before Congress started its August recess. According to Associated Press reports, the House is expected to take up a similar measure when it returns from recess.
Nationwide, organizers for Students for Life and Pro-Life Future are encouraging those concerned about the issue to take part in “Women Betrayed Speak Out Day” on Aug. 18. The organization asks people to visit their legislators’ offices to encourage them to push for defunding, or to write and call their legislators.
Schmugge said she is concerned that the graphic nature of the videos might cause trauma to women who have had abortions in the past, and encourages people to reach out for help and counseling from pro-life groups and ministries such as Rachel’s Vineyard.
While the videos may be difficult to watch, she said the positive side of these revelations is that more people will become aware of the atrocity of abortion and the services that the agency really provides.
“People in the past may have given an OK to Planned Parenthood out of the goodness of their hearts because they provide women’s health services,” she said. “If any good comes out of this, it is that people are now aware that Planned Parenthood does abortions. They’re not as ‘woman friendly’ as they portrayed themselves to be in the past.”
A coalition of pro-life groups, including 40 Days for Life, is organizing a nationwide protest at Planned Parenthood facilities from 9-11 a.m. on Aug. 22. For more information, visit www.protestpp.com.
Miscellany photos/Doug Deas