The Real War on Women?

Live Action says 'gendercide' is growing in U.S.

The Real War on Women?
Illustration by Jason Stout

To Lila Rose, the founder and president of the anti-abortion group Live Action, the real war on women is not the constriction of resources for basic women's health care. It's the rise in the U.S. of so-called "gendercide," sex-selective abortion, a practice she says is "encouraged" by Planned Parenthood.

To back up her claim, Rose cites an undercover video released Tuesday that depicts a staffer at the South Austin Planned Parenthood clinic discussing abortion options with a Live Action undercover "investigator" posing as a pregnant woman, who says she only wants to abort if the unborn child is female. In the video, a PP clinic staffer identified as "Rebecca" seemingly condones the investigator's desire to birth a baby boy and to abort any female fetus. The edited video shows the staffer explaining to the investigator that she should probably not explain to her doctor the reason she wants to know the sex of her fetus.

The video is the first in a series titled "Gendercide: Sex-Selection in America," which Rose insists is a growing problem – one aided and abetted by Planned Parenthood and the rest of the "abortion industry." She says ample evidence exists to support her contention that sex-selective abortion favoring males over females is a "growing pandemic spreading to the U.S." According to Rose, Planned Parenthood is apparently ground zero for the growing trend; she says that the film version of Rebecca's interaction with the Live Action investigator accurately reflects PP's desire to encourage abortion at any time for any reason. It demonstrates "how Planned Parenthood really views this issue and what's really happening in their clinics," Rose says.

That is not at all the case, counters Sarah Wheat, co-interim CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region. The staffer involved in the incident was terminated two days after the Live Action investigator came into the clinic on April 11. In a violation of clinic policy, the staffer, a recent hire, did not report the interaction with the alleged client to the clinic manager (instead, she reported it to another staff member who in turn reported it as required). Clinic staff is trained in how to handle "unusual" client interactions, and in the wake of the April incident the entire staff was retrained to ensure compliance with policy. Wheat said clinic staff suspected this was a "fake client visit" that might be part of a Live Action project – one of a handful the group has conducted that targets PP as an evil entity posing as a women's health advocate. The interaction with Rebecca had all the hallmarks of a Live Action investigation – including that the "issue" being raised was so "highly unusual," says Wheat.

Rose says PP clinics across the country were among the women's health providers targeted for Live Action's current project – and it seems that workers at the South Austin clinic weren't the only women's health providers suspicious of the alleged client's request. On April 23, Leslie Kantor, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's vice president for education, and Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, PPFA's senior medical advisor, penned a post for RH Reality Check, detailing what appeared to be a "secret, nationwide hoax campaign" aimed at undermining "women's access" to reproductive services. "Gender bias is contrary to everything our organization works for daily in communities across the country," the women wrote. "Planned Parenthood opposes racism and sexism in all forms, and we work to advance equity and human rights in the delivery of health care. Planned Parenthood condemns sex selection motivated by gender bias, and urges leaders to challenge the underlying conditions that lead to these beliefs and practices" in countries where it does occur, they continued. "Recent attempts to restrict or deny access to safe abortion under the guise of preventing gender bias is harmful to women's health, counter to a human rights agenda, and primarily a political tactic of groups who work to make abortion illegal."

The Live Action video was released on the eve of an expected vote tomorrow, May 31, in the U.S. House on the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act of 2012, a bill that its author, Arizona GOP Rep. Trent Franks, writes in the bill is intended to affirm that women are a "vital part" of society who possess the "same fundamental human rights and civil rights as men." As such, the bill would impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly performs an abortion that is based on "sex, gender, color or race" considerations, or who coerces a woman into aborting for any of these reasons. (Anyone who solicits money for abortion services under the conditions or transports a woman into the U.S. or across state lines in order to obtain a sex- or race-selective abortion would also face federal criminal penalty.) The bill, originally filed in 2008, picked up 98 cosponsors after being re-filed in late 2011 – all but a handful of them men, including a large contingent from Texas (Reps. Kevin Brady, John Carter, Michael Conaway, John Culberson, Blake Farenthold, Louie Gohmert, Ralph Hall, Sam Johnson, Kenny Marchant, Michael McCaul, Randy Neugebauer, Pete Olson, Ted Poe, and Lamar Smith). Beyond subjecting medical providers to up to five years in prison, the bill would also require doctors and nurses to report women they believe are seeking selective abortion so that those women also might face sanction.

According to PP, the latest Live Action project is nothing more than an attempt to create a controversy out of nothing – a move designed to curtail reproductive choice cloaked as a "human rights" measure that would protect women. At the end of the day, says Wheat, the problem that both Live Action and the federal legislation are trying to expose and remedy is not an issue in the U.S. "There is no data to support this is an issue," she says. Rose disagrees, arguing that any number of reputable sources support her position that sex-selection – which has been problematic internationally, especially in China and in India – is a growing problem here. Moreover, she says that she has plenty of anecdotal information to back her contention, to wit: the California county where she is from, she says, has an imbalanced male-to-female ratio; a women's clinic staffer recently told her that an Indian woman came into her clinic in distress because she was being coerced into following a family desire that she abort a female fetus; one ultrasound provider in California told her that after finding out that their unborn children were female, four different women immediately asked to schedule an abortion. The problem, Rose says, is "not coming, it's here."

That view isn’t exactly reflected in U.S. statistics. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control the male-to-female sex ratio at birth has remained nearly constant in the U.S. from 1940-2002; in 2005, the most recent year available, the sex ratio was 105 boys to 100 girls.

"This is a new, media-friendly way to attack Planned Parenthood," says Wheat, but that doesn't make the alleged problem real. "It just doesn't exist out there. Dramatic editing aside, it just doesn't exist.”

Live Action's April 11 video from South Austin's Planned Parenthood clinic:

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Planned Parenthood, abortion, women's health, war on women, Live Action, Lila Rose, Sarah Wheat, PRENDA, sex selection, reproductive rights

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