Dick Polman, 8/20/2015 [Archive]

Planned Parenthood and the Queen of Hearts

By Dick Polman

Everyone has a beef about "the media," and here's mine: We typically highlight accusations of wrongdoing, but we typically bury the news when it turns out that the doer did no wrong.

It's a habit best articulated by the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland: "Sentence first, verdict afterwards."

That's the deal right now with Planned Parenthood. According to last month's headlined accusation, PP sells aborted body parts for profit, in violation of the law. Anti-abortion activists, and their credulous Republican servant have coined selling aborted body parts as rote shorthand, figuring that if they say it often enough, it will ring true. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee spun it a step further at the Fox News debate, claiming that PP's policy is to "rip up body parts and sell them like they're parts to a Buick."

But just for the heck of it, let's follow up. In the four weeks since the lurid accusation was first floated, what actual evidence have we seen - I'm talking about chains of empirical, forensic, documented evidence - that Planned Parenthood illegally sells aborted body parts for profit? How many bills of sale have been unearthed? How much proof has surfaced thus far?

Zero, zip, nada.

It's indeed illegal to sell aborted body parts for profit, but not a shred of evidence has turned up that PP does any such thing. However, it's perfectly legal under federal law to donate fetal tissue for the purposes of medical research (into the causes and treatment of Parkinson's, heart defects, hepatitis, HIV, diabetes, cancer, eyesight loss, and more), and it's legal for PP to recoup the transportation expenses. PP hews to those laws - donating in the states that permit it, and only with the women's consent.

But the dearth of illegality evidence hasn't been highlighted on newspaper front pages, or on news site home pages. It has not been Twitter-bombed, and it hasn't trended on Facebook. So as a public service, and in the spirit of fairness, I've pieced together the news from various underplayed stories. Here's where things stand:

The feds have already investigated PP's relations with federal research agencies and told the Republican Senate sleuths, in a letter, that there have been "no violations of (fetal tissue) laws in connection with research done at our agencies."

The state of Massachusetts had investigated PP. It found no wrongdoing.

The state of Georgia has investigated. It found no wrongdoing.

The state of Indiana has investigated. It found no wrongdoing.

The state of South Dakota has investigated. It found no wrongdoing.

The state of Idaho has simply said, via a gubernatorial statement, "Since there is no evidence that a crime has been committed, there are no grounds for a legal investigation."

Other states are still hot on PP's trail - among them, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, and Tennessee, and Ohio - but health experts say they're unlikely to find wrongdoing, for a variety of reasons: (a) their PP facilities don't perform abortions, (b) their PP facilities don't do tissue donations, (c) their state laws prohibit such donations, or (d) their PP facilities perform abortions and donate fetal tissue - but they do so legally, without selling body parts for profit.

And just to further balance the scales, here's an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine:

"Planned Parenthood, its physicians, and the researchers who do this (fetal tissue) work should be praised, not damned....It is shameful that a radical antichoice group whose goal is the destruction of Planned Parenthood continues to twist the facts to achieve its ends. We thank the women who made the choice to help improve the human condition through their tissue donation; we applaud the people who make this work possible and those who use these materials to advance human health. We are outraged by those who debase these women, this work, and Planned Parenthood by distorting the facts for political ends."

That should trump the Queen of Hearts headlines. But probably not in this media climate.


Copyright 2015 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

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