Sally Kohn used her CNN platform Tuesday to argue that the political right is “morally implicated” in Robert Dear’s shooting of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic. Her argument is both superficial and poorly reasoned.
Kohn begins with something shooter Robert Dear reportedly said after he was arrested: “No more baby parts.” Kohn takes that as a reference to what she calls “heavily edited videos” released by The Center for Medical Progress earlier this year.
This is not a minor point. The claim that the videos were “heavily edited,” while very common in media reports, is itself a falsehood. As Kohn surely knows, it is based on an analysis of the material paid for by Planned Parenthood. That report found evidence of a handful of gaps in the videos but could not determine whether those gaps made any difference in the nature of the content because the analysts did not have the missing bits.
However, the story did not end with that one report. The Alliance Defending Freedom commissioned a third party, Coalfire Systems, to examine the raw videos and associated audio recordings to look specifically at those gaps. After putting everything in sequence, Coalfire concluded, “Edits made to these videos were applied to eliminate non-pertinent footage, including ‘commuting,’ ‘waiting,’ ‘adjusting recording equipment,’ ‘meals,’ or ‘restroom breaks,’ lacking pertinent conversation.”
So when Kohn claims the videos were “heavily edited,” she wants readers to assume they were edited with intent to deceive. In fact, all that is missing from the tapes are scenes of the undercover videographer eating and using the toilet. Kohn does not explain all this because it does not help her case.
Moving on to the content, Kohn claims the video provides no evidence that Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts for profit. She links to a piece at FactCheck.org that has been linked by every progressive website eager to discount the videos. But there are several problems with this, starting with the fact that FactCheck only examined the first video. And even then, the authors did a sloppy job of conveying what was said and why.
As explained in detail here, the first video shows Dr. Deborah Nucatola expressing concern that Planned Parenthood could get caught breaking the law by profiting from fetal organs sales. And so, early in the video, she says the clinics “want to come to a number that doesn’t look like they’re making money.” Later she adds, “It’s really just about if anyone were ever to ask them, well what do you do for this $60, how can you justify that?” She also describes the “guidance” from Planned Parenthood that tissue sales are “not something you should be making an exorbitant amount of money on.” Of course, there is a difference between exorbitant profit and no profit.
Despite her evident concern at getting caught doing something illegal, Dr. Nucatola admits that if clinics “can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.” That is, by definition, a profit.
A close read of the full video transcripts suggests the only cost PP is really covering is the fixed cost of space. They are charging a fee for the tiny amount of space taken up by the outside technicians who come to their clinic to collect and transport the fetal organs. Of course, PP would have to pay for that space whether the technician is there or not, so how exactly are they covering a cost by charging these fees? Again, that is a level of detail Kohn would rather skip over as she labels the claim “a lie.”
Having misstated the pertinent details, Kohn introduces a confused thought experiment:
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine if I used this essay and powerful public platform to repeat a lie about a Christian church that I heard is plotting to kill gay people. And then someone burnt that church to the ground. Of course, I would be morally guilty of helping to incite that crime — because I would be spreading intentionally provocative smears.
There are so many problems with this example it’s hard to know where to begin. In her thought experiment again there is a plot to murder people which did not happen. There is no plot against gay people, no threat at all, and certainly no dead bodies. And since it was all a fabrication, there cannot be video of people at this church saying such things. All of it is false from beginning to end.
Now, consider the Planned Parenthood videos. Did those doctors really discuss harvesting fetal tissue for money? Well, yes, they did really say those things. Did anyone actually die? Well, the fetuses were actually aborted and their living tissue was actually transported to a stem cell supply company. Unlike the thought experiment, there was an actual body count which, as seen in the videos, is quite gruesome when viewed up close.
So the example Kohn gives is irresponsible precisely because there is no underlying truth to the false story being spread. But there is no tempering the repulsive spectacle of a PP medical director haggling over prices and joking that she wants a Lamborghini. There is no erasing the image of tiny human bodies being picked through in a specimen plate. There is no forgetting the tale of a former procurement technician who describes cutting through the face of a well-developed fetus to harvest its brain. These aren’t lies. These are things that actually happened and PP has not even tried to deny they happened.
As for the specific question of whether PP profited from organ sales, that is still not settled. Kohn points to a number of state investigations that found no evidence PP had profited from such sales, but that’s because PP had not been “donating” tissue in those states; hence, there was literally nothing to investigate.
PP apparently only accepted reimbursement for tissue in California, a state dominated by Democrats and, therefore, very unlikely to look deeply into the matter. California’s attorney general has only publicly considered one target of investigation based on the videos thus far: The Center for Medical Progress, the group which produced the undercover videos. So don’t hold your breath waiting for a real investigation of wrongdoing in the one place it seems to have occurred.
Furthermore, the legal issues raised by the videos do not stop with the question of whether or not PP profited from tissue sales. The videos also raise questions about whether PP alters its procedures to preserve specimens. That is also illegal under current law and, strangely, Sally Kohn never mentions it. Perhaps she couldn’t think up a positive spin on a doctor who suggests there might be a “less crunchy technique” for securing specimens.
The Planned Parenthood videos were not heavily edited, and they are not a lie. They suggest Planned Parenthood has been careful to avoid blatant violations of the law but are willing to condone such violations as long as it does not “look like they’re making money.” Taken as a whole, the videos paint a picture of a corporation with a callous approach to human life. Indeed, the heartless tone of its own doctors was the very first thing for which CEO Cecile Richards apologized.
Of course, none of this justifies an attack on a Planned Parenthood facility by a disturbed individual; however, blaming that attack on “the right” or all pro-life Americans is an absurd overreach, the kind of thing Kohn would dismiss if the blame were directed at her side of the aisle.