Planned Parenthood clinics in at least 11 states have noted suspiciously similar walk-ins in recent weeks by young women asking remarkably similar questions, and suggesting they want an abortion only if they are pregnant with a girl. The apparently coordinated series of "hoax visits" has Planned Parenthood bracing for another "propaganda campaign" by anti-abortion activists who selectively edit secretly videotaped visits to "promote misinformation about Planned Parenthood and our services," spokeswoman Chloe Cooney tells The Huffington Post. Are we about to see a new series of "sting" videos? Here's what you should know:
What happens in these "hoax visits"?
"Patient privacy laws prohibit Planned Parenthood from offering specific details about the visits and where they occurred," says Laura Bassett at The Huffington Post, but the script is always the same: A woman walks into the clinic, says she's pregnant, then asks a series of provocative questions, including how soon she can find out the baby's sex, how it could be done, and whether she can schedule an abortion if she's carrying a girl.
Why are women asking about aborting girls?
"Spotlighting the issue of sex-selective abortions is an increasingly common tactic that the anti-abortion community has been using lately to turn the 'war on women' around on Planned Parenthood," says The Huffington Post's Bassett. Several states have outlawed abortion motivated solely by gender or race, over objections that such measures force doctors to read a woman's mind to determine her motivations.
Is sex-selective abortion common in the U.S.?
It does happen, but it isn't nearly as common as in parts of Asia, Miriam Yeung at the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum tells The Huffington Post. And the best way to combat the abhorrent practice is to "address the social and economic root causes of gender preference," not attack Planned Parenthood, Yeung adds. And remember, says Laura Clawson at the Daily Kos, that "the vast, overwhelming majority of abortions are performed long before sex can be determined."
Does Planned Parenthood perform sex-selective abortions?
Almost certainly. Planned Parenthood says the "deeply unsettling practice" runs "contrary to everything our organization works for," and notes that it doesn't even offer "sex determination services" at its clinics. But at the same time, Planned Parenthood is "pro–minding their own damn business about why a woman is choosing to have an abortion," says Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel, so they won't turn a patient down unless the abortion violates state law.
Whom does Planned Parenthood suspect in this case?
Cooney says the most likely culprit is Live Action, a James O'Keefe–inspired anti-abortion group that sent actors dressed as pimps and prostitutes to Planned Parenthood clinics to covertly videotape interviews with staff, then heavily edited the videos to make it look as if Planned Parenthood were complicit in sex trafficking. Planned Parenthood has no proof that Live Action is behind this, but the recent string of odd visits "follows their pattern exactly," Cooney tells The Huffington Post. Live Action spokeswoman Kate Bryan says her group "does not comment on any investigations until after public release."
Has Planned Parenthood preemptively neutered any "sting"?
Proponents and opponents of abortion rights agree that last year's Live Action video was effective in turning the legislative tide against Planned Parenthood, and helping strip it of its longstanding "political Teflon" in Congress. Not this time, though, says Jezebel's Ryan. "The gig's up." But if "Planned Parenthood is indeed arranging sex-selection abortions for women and couples," says Steven Ertelt at LifeNews, no amount of preemptive spin will help. "The further public damage to its tenuous reputation may be hard to calculate."