By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Education & Research
Many health care workers have acted heroic during the pandemic, bravely putting their own welfare and safety on the line to save the lives of others. Planned Parenthood bills itself as one of those noble “health care providers,” but while others were focused on saving lives during the pandemic, the nation’s top abortion chain continued to be fixated on taking them.
An advisor to former President Bill Clinton once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” These are words Planned Parenthood has clearly heeded.
What did it do while the virus raged?
Planned Parenthood did everything in their considerable power to keep abortion clinics open.
Planned Parenthood used the pandemic as an opportunity to expand the abortion empire with telemedicine.
Planned Parenthood tried to take advantage of the circumstances to grab emergency COVID relief funds.
And of course, Planned Parenthood continued to try and get political supporters of theirs elected to office, to keep government funds flowing.
Open for “essential” business
Granted, everyone was on unsure footing when the virus first hit, not really sure what was safe or how best to react. A lot of businesses shut down, some of their own initiative, others by government mandate.
Many smaller, Independent abortion clinics suddenly faced increased expenses on cleaning and personal protective equipment, new social distancing mandates that reduced the number of patients that could be seen, to say nothing of individual health concerns of staffers. Those clinics struggled to survive. Some limped by, barely staying open, some closed, unlikely to reopen again (TIME, 12/2/20).
But not so for the nation’s largest abortion provider. Planned Parenthood affiliates all over the country took the occasion to send out messages reminding women they were still open and ready for business.
When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an order in March that all “non-essential” businesses were to shut down, Meera Shah, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood’s Long Island, West Chester, and Rockland (suburbs of New York City, hit hard by the virus) made a statement to Buzz Feed. She said that “Our doors will stay open because sexual and reproductive health care is extremely important, and we have to ensure access to it.”
Did that include abortion? Absolutely, laying down a marker against any who assumed abortions to be elective and thus non-essential. Shah continued, “Pregnancy-related care, especially abortion care, is essential … especially now when there is so much insecurity around jobs and food an paychecks and childcare” (refinery29.com, 3/23/20).
While several of its large abortion clinics did continue to see clients, other of Planned Parenthood’s New York centers did, in fact, close temporarily. They said they were laying off staff because of the pandemic’s strain on resources. The (Albany) Times Union reported that these included clinics in the Bronx, Glen Cove, Goshen, Hornell, Kingston, Massapequa, Monticello, Oneida, Rome, Staten Island, and Watkins Glen.
However, note that just one of those clinics (the Bronx) had clearly been a full-service abortion clinic, offering both surgical and chemical abortion. Even in that case there were two other Planned Parenthood clinics within ten miles also offering both abortion methods that did stay open.
A spokesperson told the Times Union the centers would reopen once the pandemic and risk of infection receded (Times Union, 4/8/20).
Some of those had still yet to re-open as late as mid-December.
Planned Parenthood’s Pennsylvania affiliate, PP Keystone, issued a similar statement to the one put out by the New York affiliate – “our doors remain open… we are committed to meeting all the needs of our current and new patients” (PP Keystone, COVID-19 Information, 3/6/20).
At the same time, it declared that it wanted to “serve as many patients as possible over the phone or over a secure videoconference.” Patients would be seen in person “when necessary,” but were not to bring partners or children into the office with them. They suggested that those with any flu like symptoms stay home, reschedule, and contact their local health department.
Abortion? According to WHTM’s ABC 27 News, Keystone announced that its abortion performing facilities would remain open “for abortion services only.” ABC 27 also heard from Planned Parenthood’s Southeastern Pennsylvania affiliate, who said they had temporarily closed their centers but wanted to make sure people understood the closure “does NOT include their abortion services” (ABC 27, 3/25/20)
Thus two other PPFA affiliates kept the doors open for abortion patients but discouraged others patients from visiting.
The prioritizing of abortion was made clear by Planned Parenthood’s Washington, DC affiliate. The Washingtonian magazine’s Marisa M. Kashino wrote that, in the capital region, abortion had been deemed “essential” and noted that Planned Parenthood “clinics here are taking extra steps, including scaling back other services, to ensure that women can continue to safely access the procedure” (The Washingtonian, 4/1/20).
Laura Meyers, CEO for the DC affiliate, told the Washingtonian that her three local health centers were, for the time being, only allowing patients with “time-sensitive needs” to make in-person appointments. That meant, Meyers said, such things as “treating IUDs that are problematic, symptomatic visits [such as treating STDs], and abortion care” (italics added).
Making staff and facilities available for other services was problematic, given that Planned Parenthood, like many other legitimate health care providers, was experiencing a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment).
Another affiliate, Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPIL), likewise made its agenda specific, closing eleven of its clinics but keeping six of those offering abortions open. They called this a temporary “consolidation” of services, directing patients to the open centers across the state.
“Planned Parenthood of Illinois is taking all necessary precautions to keep our staff and patients healthy and well. This temporary consolidation of services is just one part of that,” Dr. Amy Whitaker, Chief Medical Officer at PPIL, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Patients will still need family planning services and abortion care during this time, and we are committed to providing it.”
Anyone seeking “non-essential services” should reschedule, PPIL, said, while those seeking birth control, dealing with urinary tract infections, could call or do an online visit and get their prescriptions without ever having to come in (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/19/20).
If that didn’t make PPIL’s priorities clear, even with eleven of its centers still closed for COVID, PPIL proudly announced the opening of another large abortion-performing clinic in Waukegan. That abortion clinic, PPIL admitted, was strategically situated to draw overflow from North Chicago and any patients who might cross the state line from Wisconsin. PPIL described Wisconsin as “a state that poses stringent legal barriers to abortion.”
The new Waukegan clinic is geared towards high volume. It has two what it calls “procedure rooms” five exam rooms and a parking lot with more than 100 spaces, though it is also accessible by public transportation (Lake County News-Sun, 5/12/20).
Where things stand today
Even as the virus resurges, “Many Planned Parenthood health centers are open and able to provide services, with precautions in place to protect the health and safety of patients and staff,” the national organization’s website declared. “Some Planned Parenthood health centers have had to reduce hours or suspend walk-in appointments. And some Planned Parenthood health centers have made the difficult decision to close during this time and refer patients to other locations or health care providers.”
But they still want to make sure that women know that abortion is still available at Planned Parenthood clinics in most of the country.
“Abortion is still legal in all 50 states in the U.S.,” their website relates. “Abortion care is time-sensitive and essential, and nurses and doctors are doing the best they can to continue to provide abortions. If you’re trying to schedule an abortion, our Abortion Care Finder can help you find your closest provider — give them a call to make an appointment or for more information.” (Planned Parenthood website, 12/17/20)
Is the turn to telehealth a prelude to at home abortion?
The regular mention of consulting patients by phone and seeing others by videconference by Planned Parenthood spokespeople above is not coincidental. And though one might assume that telehealth applies only to non-abortion patients, that would be wrong.
In April, early on in the pandemic, Planned Parenthood’s national office announced that affiliates in all fifty states would be offering services by “telehealth” by the month’s end (Washington Times, 4/14/20). That in and of itself was not unusual. Many in the health care industry were turning to telemedicine as a way to continue seeing patients during the pandemic. But Planned Parenthood treated this as a way not only to connect to patients old and new, but also to promote its signature product – abortion.
Though services varied from center to center, PPFA said telehealth services would include birth control, hormone therapy, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and, in some cases, help in getting pills for an at-home abortion.
“You may be able to get a medical abortion — the abortion pill — through telehealth,” the Planned Parenthood website advised. “If so, during your telehealth visit, your nurse or doctor will give you all of the information you need to use the abortion pill at home. Then you’ll go to your local health center to pick up the medicines you’ll need. And — depending on the state you live in — you can usually get a medication abortion up to 11 weeks after the first day of your last period” (Washington Times, 4/14/20).
As of mid-December of 2020, the FDA had not authorized online prescription and at-home use of mifepristone, except in limited testing. But Planned Parenthood had exploited that loophole to allow affiliates in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington state to offer “telabortions” as part of a “study” abortion pill promoter Gynuity was conducting in several states.
According to its website “PPFA joined the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and other leading health care organizations in signing on to an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit” to force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to roll back Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) regulations that required patients to meet a health care provider in person and pick up abortion pills at the clinic in order to help ensure their safety.
The suit argued that such regulations were “unnecessary” and “burdensome” during the national COVID-19 emergency, but their clear aim was to get rid of the requirements entirely so that mifepristone could be readily prescribed online and delivered by mail even after the virus is vanquished.
Staying Viable with Government Assistance
Researchers looking at phone tracking data have theorized that abortion clinic traffic fell off considerably during the initial phases of the pandemic (www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/2020/11/study-says-coronavirus-reduced-clinic-traffic-and-abortions/). That may ultimately prove to be the case.
However, we know that Planned Parenthood was reserving a lot of its in-person slots for abortion patients (meaning that the patients still visiting the clinics were more likely to be abortion patients). Moreover, there was at least one affiliate (Colorado clinics with the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains affiliate) reporting an increase in abortions due to women coming in from out of state (KDVR, 5/5/20).
Planned Parenthood’s deep pockets ($1.6 billion in revenues in its 2018-19 Annual Report) and its aggressive efforts to keep its profitable abortion business open did not prevent the group from seeking special government assistance for businesses devastated by the coronavirus. At least 38 of Planned Parenthood’s affiliates shared $80 million in forgivable loans from the government’s Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program designed to help avert layoffs during the pandemic (CBS News, 5/22/20).
PPFA Vice President Jacqueline Ayers told Politico that the loans ensured that health centers could retain staff and continue to provide patients with “essential, time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health care” during this crisis. (Politico. 7/6/20)
Despite unwelcome publicity and government efforts to have Planned Parenthood return the money, saying the abortion giant did not really meet the program requirements, some affiliates outright refused to return the funds (Reform Austin, 8/4/20). There was no indication that any had returned some or all of the money by early December (Washington Post 12/2/20),
Of course, Planned Parenthood was not so poor as to give up its usual political advocacy. As early as May, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund was launching a $5 million ad campaign in battleground states like Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin highlighting moves made in those states to either advance or impede “reproductive healthcare” during the pandemic (NBC News, 5/14/20).
Astute observers will recognize many of those states where the presidential election results turned out to be the closest.
Just two months later, the PP Action Fund used the debate over coronavirus relief funds to launch a [unspecified] “Six-Figure Paid Ad Campaign” targeting Republican Senators in tough races: Sens. Mitch McConnell (KY), Steve Daines (MT), John Cornyn (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), Susan Collins (ME), Cory Gardner (CO), Thom Tillis (NC) and Martha McSally (AZ). (Josh Hawley of Missouri was also targeted, but his seat was not up for election in 2020).
Fortunately, pro-life Republicans were able to retain all but two of those seats (Colorado and Arizona), but Planned Parenthood was clearly invested in using the COVID crisis to win votes for their side.
Whose side are they on?
As of this last weekend, some 318,000 people in the U.S. had lost their lives to COVID. Planned Parenthood has taken at least that many lives every year since 2008!
While other clinics and other industries were shutting down, scrambling to figure out how they would stay in business, Planned Parenthood was boldly declaring they were still open. They claimed their abortion business was “essential” to a country dealing with a frightening and devastating health crisis.
They used the occasion to adapt, to publicize and advocate for telemedical chemical abortions where patients could meet with Planned Parenthood online for screening and counseling, and have their abortion pills shipped to their home address by mail.
Despite being the biggest, richest provider in the abortion industry, Planned Parenthood affiliates sought coronavirus relief funds to help keep their affiliates financially afloat. And then they spent millions to try to sway the election in favor of pro-abortion Democrats who would back their deadly agenda.
You’d think people that had suffered through one of the most deadly pandemics in history would have a new appreciation for the preciousness of human life.
But that’s never been the top priority at Planned Parenthood.