With some members of Congress seeking to strip Planned Parenthood of half a billion dollars in federal funding — and hard-core Republican conservatives threatening to shut down the government entirely unless this happens — the County Board of Supervisors and Santa Barbara City Council both passed resolutions praising the organization for providing low-cost reproductive health services to thousands of city and county residents who otherwise might go without. Putting Planned Parenthood on the hot seat is the antiabortion group Center for Medical Progress, which has just released its 10th video showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissues, obtained via abortion, to biomedical research labs. The video makers — posing as representatives of a fictitious biomedical lab seeking to buy such samples — contend they’ve exposed Planned Parenthood officials figuring out how to maximize revenues off the sale of fetal body parts while chatting with the bogus buyers over lunch at a Pasadena bistro.
The videos have become the stuff of news headlines, multiple lawsuits, and violently contradictory interpretations in the past two months. Planned Parenthood and its supporters have insisted the videos have been edited to distort the facts. Under federal law, they are allowed to recoup only the costs of freezing, packaging, and shipping such samples from tissue donors to the recipient lab, and no profiteering is allowed. Thus far five states have concluded there’s no evidence substantiating the filmmakers’ claims, but many other states are still looking into the matter.
Passions ran fast and furious at the County Board of Supervisors, where no fewer than 37 antiabortion activists — describing in vivid detail the multiple mutilations visited upon aborted fetuses — urged the supervisors not to pass the resolution. One speaker described fetal tissue extraction — used over the decades in researching cures for polio, Alzheimer’s, and cancer — as akin to “cannibalism.” Several speakers accused Supervisor Salud Carbajal — now running for the 24th Congressional District — of electioneering from the dais in putting, along with Supervisor Janet Wolf, the resolution on the agenda in the first place. Carbajal responded by proudly touting his military service, adding, “This is about giving a choice to women over their bodies.”
After hours of one-sided, heated testimony — Planned Parenthood dispatched squads of supporters dressed in pink T-shirts, but they did not speak — the supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of the resolution. Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam went so far as to insist their names not be included as signatories to the measure. Lavagnino took exception to the resolution language — which he termed “inflammatory” — that described makers of the surreptitiously shot Planned Parenthood videos as “anti-abortion extremists” who “intentionally misrepresent the facts in order to deceive the public.” That heated verbiage was conspicuous by its absence in the City of Santa Barbara’s resolution, introduced by Mayor Helene Schneider — a former Planned Parenthood administrator and Carbajal’s main Democratic rival in his bid for Congress — and Councilmember Cathy Murillo.
City Hall’s resolution of support highlighted the 9,000 patients the local Planned Parenthood sees every year,, noting the organization has received $355,000 in Human Services Commission grants since 1990. The bulk of those funds was spent providing sex education to area high school students. As with the supervisors, the testimony before the City Council was gory, gruesome, and intensely heartfelt. Several speakers noted that the Delta smelt — an obscure but endangered fish in the Bay Delta — got more governmental concern than aborted fetuses. One woman expressed regret at having had an abortion 40 years ago, and another expressed relief that she walked away from her appointment with a Planned Parenthood abortionist in time for her son — now 9 years old — to be born. Many expressed outrage and indignation the council would take such an action before the allegations contained in the videos could be thoroughly investigated.
Councilmember Dale Francisco — so impassioned as to be teetering on the brink of tears — read passages from the latest video and the entire bill that would gut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The bill states that any money taken away from Planned Parenthood would remain earmarked for women’s health programs. “The idea that this is an attack on women’s health care is totally false,” he said. In a hallway interview after the meeting, Planned Parenthood director Jenna Tosh responded that in many parts of the country, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of health services for poor women, terming Francisco’s argument “misguided.”
Mayor Schneider acknowledged the resolution was “unusual” but added it was “also unusual” that radical antiabortionists in Congress would threaten to oppose the spending bill that keeps the federal government operating unless funding for Planned Parenthood were excised. Councilmember Gregg Hart commented, “A lot of noise on this issue is misguided,” and argued that local governments need to stand up against threats of a federal shutdown by stating — if only by ceremonial resolutions — “Enough is enough.”