The Magazine

Planned Parenthood's Unseemly Empire

The billion-dollar "non-profit."

Oct 22, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 06 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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In mid-July the top three Democratic presidential contenders paid their respects at an important shrine on the pilgrimage circuit of party fundraising: the Washington-based political arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. With its unceasing and aggressive advocacy of what it calls "women's reproductive health," Planned Parenthood has come to function as a gatekeeper to the treasuries of the progressive-minded Hollywood and Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires who (along with their family foundations) increasingly control the purse-strings of the Democratic party during national elections, and for whom the right to unrestricted abortion for females of all ages is the sacred cynosure of the Constitution. And so they came to Planned Parenthood, clearly coveting the endorsement that would open the fundraising spigot and declaring that they were on board with the Planned Parenthood agenda 200 percent: Barack Obama, John Edwards (who, campaigning that day in Pittsburgh, sent his wife Elizabeth), and Hillary Clinton.

It was Clinton, endorsed by Planned Parenthood for her 2000 and 2006 Senate races, who most deferentially touched all the organization's advocacy bases as she denounced a range of Bush administration policies: the "global gag rule" that prevents U.S. funds from going to entities that advocate abortion overseas (read: Planned Parenthood's international arm), programs that promote abstinence-only sex education (not the programs of Planned Parenthood), the Supreme Court's upholding of the federal ban on partial-birth abortion (thanks in part to the Bush-appointed justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito), and the supposed flat-lining of funding during the Bush years (actually the amounts appropriated by Congress generally increased) for Title X, a federal program that dispenses free birth control to high-school girls without their parents' knowledge (Planned Parenthood is heavily involved). Clinton promised to reverse all those Bush-era developments, and also threw in some extra goodies: a bill she had introduced that would make the "morning-after" pill (heavily promoted at Planned Parenthood clinics) easier to obtain at military bases. According to the New York Times's political blog, Clinton declared, "When I'm president, I will devote my very first day in office to reversing these ideological, anti-science, anti-prevention policies that this administration has put into place."

Hard on the heels of the Planned Parenthood schmoozefest came the sort of news story that would send most high-profile nonprofits into a PR tailspin. On August 1 in West Hartford, Connecticut, charges of criminal abduction were filed against a 41-year-old dog trainer named Adam Gault. For nearly a year, Gault had allegedly hidden a runaway girl, now 15, in the house he shared, Hugh Hefner-style, with two other girlfriends (ages 26 and 40 and also charged with crimes arising from the incident). He had gotten the teenager pregnant and procured an abortion for her on May 1 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in West Hartford. About a month later, police discovered the 15-year-old, whose mother had been searching frantically for her since her disappearance from home in June 2006, locked in a storage space under a staircase at the residence of Gault, a onetime workplace acquaintance of the girl's stepfather. A DNA test on the corpse of the fetus indicated that Gault was its father. It is not known what sort of identification the girl, too young for a driver's license, presented the clinic's administrators. She apparently wouldn't name the father, and it is all but certain that no one at Planned Parenthood went out of their way to inquire into the circumstances that led to her pregnancy.

These allegations of egregious statutory rape involving a girl of 15 and a polyamorous middle-aged ne'er-do-well are of a piece with any number of incidents at Planned Parenthood clinics in which personnel have either looked the other way or stated their willingness to look the other way in the face of state laws requiring the reporting of suspected sexual abuse of minors under the age of 16. In one of those cases, the abuser, now serving a five-year prison sentence, was the victim's own father, who had forced his daughter to share his bed and have sex with him starting at age 13; another, involving the same Planned Parenthood branch in Cincinnati, Ohio, also featured a 13-year-old, this one impregnated by her school soccer coach who accompanied her to the clinic and paid for the abortion with his credit card, while she showed the staff her junior high school ID card. Spokesmen for Planned Parenthood have insisted that such cases are flukes (or that the victims lied, relieving the clinics of responsibility), and that clinic staff are carefully trained to report all instances of suspected abuse.