The XX Factor

How the Planned Parenthood Video Was Used to Attack Breast Cancer Funding

The scene at a pro-choice protest in 2012 in Washington.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The timing of the latest Planned Parenthood “sting” was awfully fortuitous. The video—which purported to show a Planned Parenthood senior director offering to sell fetal tissue to undercover agents who were pretending to work for a biotech firm—came out the same week that Congress was going to vote on a bill to help raise money for breast cancer research. Even though the lurid accusations in the video were quickly debunked, the furor provided congressional Republicans enough cover to pull the breast cancer bill over “concerns” about some of the money going to the Komen Foundation, which has a program making breast cancer screenings available to Planned Parenthood patients. 

The bill eventually passed, but the furor over the video gave Republicans an opportunity to pander to their anti-choice base by cutting Komen from the list of funding recipients.

Now Roll Call is reporting that at least two high-level Republican congressmen were tipped off about the video some time back. Rep. Tim Murphy, who chairs the energy and commerce subcommittee, says he saw the video weeks ago. Rep. Trent Franks, a Judiciary Committee member, says he saw it about a month ago.

Why the time lag? “The hope was to have as much information as possible so that the authorities could be notified effectively before the media,” Franks told Roll Call. Which authorities were notified and what is being done beyond posturing about the perfectly legal behavior on display, however, is an open question. 

While the video exposed no wrongdoing, the goal of cutting Komen out of breast cancer research funding was well-met. Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy of Yahoo Health suggests that the timing was not a coincidence. She points out that, in 2011, Live Action ran a similarly discredited video just as the House “was debating two antiabortion bills headed by Reps. Mike Pence and Chris Smith, one of which, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, would have prevented any federal funding from going to Planned Parenthood for any kind of health services.”

Despite the name of the bill, the funding it was trying to kill was solely devoted to cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, and contraception. None of it, by federal law, went to abortion. But the 2011 furor over Planned Parenthood gave the House cover to pass this anti-contraception bill. (It died in the Senate.) 

There’s a pattern here: Raise some (false) alarm about abortion, which becomes a front for attacking funding of other kinds of women’s health care. It’s a savvy move—get everyone talking about a nonexistent black market in fetal body parts, and you’ll have all the cover you need.