The XX Factor

South Dakota Legislator Calls Planned Parenthood  “Worse Than ISIS” Over a Procedure They Don’t Do

“Worse than ISIS.”

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

South Dakota state representative Isaac Latterell grabbed headlines Wednesday by writing a blog post accusing Planned Parenthood of being “worse than ISIS.” He elaborated: “Planned Parenthood abortionists in Sioux Falls are similarly beheading unborn children during dismemberment abortions.” The post is illustrated with the traditional photo of a cute baby that is many months old, to falsely imply that women are wheeling strollers up to their local Planned Parenthood clinic and dumping infants off for their beheadings. 

Latterell’s post was a defense of a bill he’s sponsoring called the “Preborn Infant Beheading Ban.” The bill is actually a ban on a procedure called the D&E, used primarily in 2nd trimester abortions, which are more invasive than in the first trimester. It’s not a pleasant procedure, but it’s also not particularly common, as 89 percent of abortions are performed earlier, when a pill or a simple vacuum aspiration abortion works just fine. It’s also not putting a kidnapped human in an orange jumpsuit and cutting his head off on camera.

But—and here’s where things get bizarre—while Latterell singles out Planned Parenthood for his abortion-is-terrorism message, the Planned Parenthood in South Dakota that offers abortion does not offer the D&E. When patients need that procedure, they are referred out of state. To get around this, Latterell simply accuses Planned Parenthood of lying: 

But South Dakota’s Department of Health’s website shows at least 7 such extreme and dangerous abortions have been done since 2008. There are probably many more where the method used was unstated or stated incorrectly. Considering Planned Parenthood is the only clinic that does abortions, it is clear that they are lying either to the media or to the department of health.

The link he provides does not actually go to a listing of the seven abortions in question. But South Dakota does create a PDF summarizing the abortions performed in the state every year. And Latterell is right that there are occasional examples of someone getting this more invasive procedure listed. However, there’s no indication that Planned Parenthood was involved in these. While the stat sheet doesn’t say which abortions were performed where, the likeliest explanation is not that Planned Parenthood is lying but that a handful of doctors had to terminate pregnancies in hospitals, using the D&E, due to pregnancy complications. This immediate result of this law, then, would be to force women having traumatic medical problems to travel out of state. 

So why is Latterell, in an effort to ban a procedure that is used sparingly, likely by private doctors in his state, comparing Planned Parenthood to ISIS? Because, while Planned Parenthood might have nothing to do with the D&E ban, scapegoating Planned Parenthood serves the long term goal of undermining the organization and making it harder for women to get not just first trimester abortions, but affordable contraception and reproductive health care overall.