Sex-Trafficking Hoax Targets Planned Parenthood, Low-Income Women

Sex-Trafficking Hoax Targets Planned Parenthood, Low-Income Women

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Last month, at least 12 Planned Parenthood health centers in five states and the District of Columbia were visited by men claiming to be sex traffickers and seeking information about how Planned Parenthood could provide services to minors who were part of a sex-trafficking ring.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards quickly asked the FBI to open an investigation into the sex-trafficking allegations. In her letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, however, Richards also noted that the visits could be part of a hoax resembling some past actions by anti-abortion activists.

As it turns out, Richards was right to be suspicious. At least one of the men involved appears to be associated with or influenced by Live Action, a radical anti-abortion organization known for using secret videotaping and manipulative editing for its anti-abortion campaigns. Lila Rose, the group’s founder and president, declined to confirm or deny that the clinic visits were part of a Live Action operation, but according to the Associated Press, she "did indicate in a telephone interview that an undercover videotape project of some sort was in the works."

Organizations like Live Action have repeatedly tried to “entrap” Planned Parenthood—to get them in trouble with the law and the public. But Planned Parenthood is a safety-net provider to millions of people who do not have health insurance, many of whom are people of color and immigrants. Government funding allows Planned Parenthood to provide marginalized communities with family planning services, screening for sexually transmitted infections and reproductive cancers, prenatal care, and basic well-woman care. These services account for 97 percent of the care they provide.

One of the goals of Live Action is to get members of Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. It’s no coincidence that this incident comes on the heels of Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-IN) introduction of H.R. 217, the “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.” The bill was introduced with the specific purpose of targeting Planned Parenthood.

So what’s at stake? Planned Parenthood operates 820 health centers around the country and provides sexual and reproductive health care, education, and information to more than 5 million women, men, and adolescents each year. These services would largely disappear without continued funding.

In similar, earlier stunts, Rose visited Planned Parenthood clinics posing as a 15-year-old (when she was an adult) seeking an abortion, accompanied by a man claiming to be her 23-year-old boyfriend. She used concealed video cameras to obtain video to support her claim that Planned Parenthood was underreporting cases of statutory rape.

Rose also worked with conservative activist James O'Keefe  to paint Planned Parenthood as racist. In that project, actors called Planned Parenthood clinics across the country posing as donors asking to donate money solely for aborting black babies.

These tactics are directly related to the “sting” operation launched by James O’Keefe against ACORN, an organization dedicated to organizing low- to moderate-income people on housing and other issues of relevance to their communities. The release of O’Keefe’s video of ACORN employees resulted in the defunding of the organization, leading to its eventual bankruptcy.

Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion care. That means that Live Action and Pence’s attack on Planned Parenthood’s funding is not an attack on abortion, but on the multiple other services that Planned Parenthood provides—and on a trusted community service provider that cares for people who often have nowhere else to go to obtain quality health care.

Jessica Arons is the Director of the Women's Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress and a member of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. Alex Walden is a Policy Analyst with the Women’s Health & Rights Program at CAP.