The XX Factor

Rick Scott’s Office Caught Manipulating Reports on Planned Parenthood Investigations

Gov. Rick Scott’s office has been fiddling with Planned Parenthood investigations to make findings look worse than they are.

Photo by Erik Kellar/Getty Images

After the now-discredited videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue came out, Republican politicians rushed in, demanding investigations and defunding efforts with an eye toward marginalizing or even destroying the women’s health care provider. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida was particularly eager, sending a team of investigators into Planned Parenthood clinics in a fishing expedition to find malfeasance.

That effort may end up backfiring. Politico Florida reported on Wednesday that Rick Scott’s office suppressed the findings of the investigators, who found no evidence whatsoever of the alleged fetal tissue sales. The initial press release drafted by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration indicated that “there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.” Emails obtained by Politico through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the governor’s office struck that language from the press release. 

At least one official at the AHCA was not happy about the manipulation of the press release:

When the revised release was sent back to the AHCA for review, Katherine Riviere, the communications director, sent an email to senior staff, including Secretary Liz Dudek, that said, “I would have thought a line on no evidence of mishandling of fetal remains would be included as that’s what questions will be on.”

But the final press release has no information whatsoever about what the investigators were sent to find. 

This is not the only fishy aspect of these investigations. The final press release, sent out on Aug. 5, accused Planned Parenthood doctors of providing second-trimester abortions in clinics that weren’t licensed for the procedures. Sounds bad, right? But Planned Parenthood argued that the accusation was based on a misreading of how Florida law defines the second trimester of pregnancy. As the Hill reports:

The AHCA said that the clinics were performing second-trimester abortions despite only being licensed for the first trimester. The abortions were performed around 13 weeks of pregnancy, which the agency said was after the 12-week cutoff for the first trimester. 

Planned Parenthood countered that it was using a definition of the first trimester as within 14 weeks of the woman’s last menstrual period, which, it pointed out, was a definition endorsed by the AHCA in a 2006 letter.

In other words, AHCA officials appeared to be massaging the definition of “second trimester” to make the accusations stick. After Planned Parenthood pointed this out, the AHCA conceded that they were misreading the law, but continued to make accusations that illegal second-trimester abortions were being performed. Meanwhile, the accusation that started all this—that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue illegally—was conveniently forgotten. 

Even though the accusations of illegal second-trimester abortions are clearly on shaky ground, the governor’s office also applied political pressure on the AHCA in this arena. The Scott administration revised the press release to include sentences indicating that the AHCA “would refer physicians who worked at the clinics to the Board of Medicine for possible disciplinary action,” according to Politico

It’s clear that Rick Scott wanted investigators to find something to hold against Planned Parenthood. However, all that’s come of this is an order against Planned Parenthood to stop performing abortions on women at 13 weeks or more after their last menstrual period—an order that was almost immediately rescinded, once officials were reminded that the second trimester starts at 14 weeks. There’s otherwise been a lot of threats and posturing, but nothing substantive.

Planned Parenthood has been subjected for two months now to an avalanche of baseless accusations of corruption. The more this drags out, the clearer it is that the corruption lies with those who are using these videos as a pretext to harass Planned Parenthood.