Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of health care to low-income women, has asked the FBI to investigate an apparent video scam operation targeting several of its clinics, including one in Tucson, Ariz., site of last month's shootings that gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Planned Parenthood notified U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month about a possible multi-state sex trafficking ring. Over a five-day period in January, the organization said, men appeared at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states claiming they were seeking services for themselves, but then quickly turned the conversation to inquiring about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls in a sex trafficking ring the men said they were running.
In each case, according to Planned Parenthood, the man who visited the clinic initially presented himself as a patient seeking treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. The man asked to speak privately with a clinic employee and then requested information about health services for sex workers, including some who he said were minors and in the U.S. illegally.
After notifying the Justice Department of the possible sex-traffic ring, Planned Parenthood learned that at least one of the men is linked to a right-wing anti-abortion group, Live Aid. The federation says it believes these visits are likely a hoax seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood, which delivers preventive health care and abortion services to 3 million women each year.
Lila Rose, Live Action's founder and president, declined to confirm or deny that the clinic visits were part of a Live Action operation, AP's David Crary reported last week, but she "did indicate in a telephone interview that an undercover videotape project of some sort was in the works."
On Tuesday, an edited video using footage from the visit to a New Jersey clinic, was published on "Big Journalism," the website run by the notorious Andrew Breitbart. The video was edited to accuse Planned Parenthood of helping sex trafficking. Breitbart gained notoriety last year when he released a deceptively edited video of a speech by U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod that led to her firing.
Live Action is also associated with James O'Keefe, the far-right scammer who was arrested for attempting to wiretap the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, last year. O'Keefe was a key player in the video scam that led to the collapse of ACORN, an organization that helped register and turn out voters in low-income and African American communities. O'Keefe's ACORN hoax videos were also launched on Breitbart's site.
Live Action has conducted previous undercover projects targeting Planned Parenthood clinics. "Once inside, these people have recorded ‘undercover' videos of their conversations with our clinic staff and then selectively and maliciously edited the videos," Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards wrote in a letter to Attorney General Holder.
The January incidents are the first time that such visitors have used the sex trafficking ploy, the federation says.
The visits were made between Jan. 11 and Jan. 15 to health centers in Virginia, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Arizona. Among them was a clinic in Tucson, which Planned Parenthood said was visited on the 15th, a week after the shooting rampage in that city.
Planned Parenthood's vice president for communications, Stuart Schear, told AP there had been some preliminary contacts with the FBI, which was asking for information from the clinics that were visited.
Schear said he and his colleagues found it striking that the clinic in Tucson was among those visited, so soon after the shooting rampage. "It shows how far some people will go," he said.
Lila Rose began infiltrating abortion clinics in 2006, according to the AP report. One of her early collaborators was O'Keefe.
Rose gained prominence with a series of undercover videos in which she posed as a girl in her early teens who'd been impregnated by an older man. The aim was to portray Planned Parenthood staff as willing to ignore laws that required the reporting of cases of suspected statutory rape.
In Indiana, one clinic employee was fired and another resigned after Live Action videos were released.
In December, Live Action announced that it was preparing to launch several major new "investigations" during 2011 and said it had received a $125,000 gift to finance the operations. It did not identify the source of that gift.
Rose has said her goal is to unnerve Planned Parenthood employees and eventually put them out of business.
"We will work to de-fund them in every state wherever it is possible, to de-license them and to expose them," she told the conservative Value Voters Summit in October.
"The other part of it, too, is to create controversy within the organization, keep them on their toes," she said. "We need to help them feel that fear."
It seems hardly coincidental that House Republicans have just introduced HR 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." The bill, among other things, would essentially mean the end of private insurance coverage for abortion. It also would restrict federally assisted abortion coverage only to victims of what the law defines as "forcible rape."
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., called the introduction of this bill "a violent act against women."
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