The XX Factor

Former Planned Parenthood Director Telling Fishy Story

I’m sorry, Rachael , but this story you linked about Abby Johnson’s sudden conversion from a Planned Parenthood director to an anti-choice fanatic has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese after being used for target practice. Johnson’s story fits way too neatly into a bunch of easily disproven anti-choice myths, the main one being that all it takes is one glance at an ultrasound to cause someone to “realize” that hey! abortion removes a fetus from your uterus. Pro-choicers already know that. Johnson seems to be selling a story that’s a tad too pat, too close to what anti-choicers want to hear.

After all, your average person in the United States has seen probably hundreds of sonograms in their lives, and most of them show a fetus at gestational age well beyond the point that most women get elective abortions. If you compare the ultrasound taken prior to an elective abortion, the feeling is actually one of being underwhelmed, because there’s not much there compared to the ones we’re used to seeing. The anti-choice sentimental devices rely therefore on ignorance more than illumination-their own mistaken understanding of what goes on in an abortion clinic.

But as Amie Newman points out , there are even more holes than that in this story. Johnson worked at a clinic that provides abortion, amongst other things. Therefore, she’s probably seen a whole lot of ultrasound-enabled abortions. Providing ultrasound is standard part of an abortion, because gestational age determines the exact procedure, and whether or not the clinic can even do it. Anyone who has worked in or even spoken to someone about working in a clinic knows that there’s not a lot of mystery around the procedure, and so Johnson’s story of a sudden revelation about the nature of abortion simply doesn’t seem possible. Indeed, I should remind you that 99.9 percent of clinic workers who see ultrasounds and provide abortions don’t have sudden, suspicious religious conversions. Most of them feel pretty damn good about giving women the freedom to choose.

Your speculation that Planned Parenthood is trying to silence Johnson doesn’t fit the evidence, either. Considering the sheer amount of violence and harassment aimed at women’s clinics ( not just ones that perform abortion, either ), the likeliest explanation is that they have a reason to fear for their safety or the safety of their patients. But Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon did the work of reading the restraining order, and it turns out that they have their reasons; namely, they saw Johnson copying and possibly stealing private patient files from their offices after she was put under performance-review watch. She is also alleged to have passed along information to the Coalition for Life that would make it easier for them to target the doctor (always alarming so soon after a doctor has been shot), and that she told a clinic employee that “something big” was going to happen.

The term “business model” you use mischaracterizes the nature of Planned Parenthood, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing affordable reproductive health care. Johnson’s accusation-that her branch was trying to discourage contraception to up the number of abortions-fits into a long-standing, demonstrably false anti-choice myth about Planned Parenthood, which is that they are a profit-making business that makes most of its money off abortion. Many anti-choicers also accuse them of doing this through contraception distribution, which they see as an attempt to create more abortion by encouraging sex (with an accompanying claim that contraception doesn’t work). For the organized anti-choice movement, it always comes back to the evils of sex.

As you allowed, Planned Parenthood probably does more to prevent abortion than any anti-choice organization on the planet. There’s no reason to think that Planned Parenthood’s small increase (5 percent) in the number of abortion performed is any evidence against this. Planned Parenthood has always come through when women couldn’t find necessary services elsewhere, or at the right price. The growing number of women without health insurance every year alone would account for this, since Planned Parenthood specializes in helping the uninsured. But also, the growing number of threats-and of course, the actual murder-against doctors means it’s that much harder for women to find a provider in the area, and Planned Parenthood is picking up the overflow. Instead of seeing this as ominous, I see it as further evidence that they are a brave group of people who deserve support, not weird speculation over motives.

By the way, since Planned Parenthood makes most of its money providing low-cost health care to women without insurance, you’d think if they were a “business” in this for profit, they would oppose universal health care. After all, at a bare minimum, it means they would have to remake their organization completely. But instead, you see the president of the organization out there working for universal health care, which is the exact opposite of the behavior you see in those who think health care is a for-profit business.