On May 30, a worker at a recycling center near Storm Lake, Iowa, found the body of a newborn baby boy. His body had been run through a shredder. Investigators are calling the death a murder, and want medical facilities in the area to release pregnancy test records that might reveal the identity of the baby's mother.
Most are cooperating, but Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa (PPGI) is refusing to turn over its records, even though a judge has ordered the group to do so. PPGI executive director Jill June told reporters on July 3, "We will exhaust all legal remedies available to us and we will not surrender these records."
This seems to be a pattern for PPGI. Another PPGI employee vowed silence in February when an apparent 13-year-old girl telephoned the group's Iowa City clinic saying she thought she was pregnant by a 22-year-old man. When the girl asked the employee whether the clinic would "tell anybody" if she came in for a pregnancy test, the employee replied: "Oh, absolutely not. We don't tell anybody about anything."
That's a problem for parents and the public, since the situation the girl described is child sexual abuse-specifically, statutory rape-and personnel at medical clinics such as Planned Parenthood are required by law to report it. It's also a problem for Planned Parenthood, since undercover pro-life activists captured the conversation on tape.
And this problem isn't just in Iowa. From February through April 2002, Life Dynamics, a pro-life investigative group in Denton, Texas, employed a 23-year-old woman with a little-girl voice. Her job: to telephone family-planning clinics across the nation, including all 875 Planned Parenthood facilities, and tell the same story. That she was almost, but not quite, 14 years old, that she thought she was pregnant by her 22-year-old boyfriend, and that she didn't want her parents-or anyone-to know. In each case, the "girl" asked clinic personnel repeatedly if anyone or anybody would have to know about the age of her "boyfriend." The intent of the calls: to learn whether abortion and family-planning clinics would comply with laws requiring medical staffers to report suspected child sexual abuse.
Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher said his group taped a total of 614 conversations between his caller and Planned Parenthood clinic workers. (Texas law allows recording of telephone calls without the consent or knowledge of the other party.) WORLD obtained 20 of those tapes. All reveal clinic employees agreeing to conceal or willfully ignore the felony sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl by a 22-year-old man-even as many of the workers acknowledged on tape the criminal nature of the relationship. Mr. Crutcher said 516, or about eight in 10, Planned Parenthood workers across the nation responded in similar fashion.
Now clinic-licensing officials and attorneys in at least two states-Nebraska and Alaska-are reviewing Life Dynamics' tapes in preparation for possible action against Planned Parenthood. Connecticut Chief State's Attorney John Bailey, who reviewed tapes of clinics in his state in May, said the nation's largest aborter of unborn babies is "in violation of the law."
"Mandated reporter" laws in every state require medical personnel to report to child protective services (CPS) or law-enforcement officials any suspected child abuse. The job of investigating each incident lies not with the mandated reporter but with the state agency to which the report is made. State laws allowing minor girls to have abortions or obtain birth control without parental knowledge do not supercede or negate mandatory reporting laws.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, men older than 20 father two-thirds of all babies born to teenage mothers. Also, the younger the mother, the larger the age gap is likely to be between her and her partner. In setting up the telephone scenario for its investigation, Life Dynamics chose a sexual-partner age spread-13 and 22-that constitutes statutory rape in all 50 states.
The 20 tapes WORLD obtained included Life Dynamics' calls to Planned Parenthood clinics in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New Jersey, Utah, and Kentucky, as well as six different clinics in Nebraska. WTIC-TV, a Fox affiliate in Hartford, Conn., obtained 19 tapes that Mr. Crutcher said were recordings of calls to Connecticut clinics; 17 of the WTIC tapes were different than those WORLD obtained.
To verify the tapes' authenticity, WORLD performed a two-step process. Each tape contained a call to a single clinic, and began with a series of telephone touch-tones Life Dynamics said were produced when its operative dialed that facility. Using a speaker-phone and a tape player, WORLD first played the touch-tones on each tape aloud while dialing the number to the clinic Life Dynamics claimed was recorded on a particular tape. All the tones matched.
Second, when a Planned Parenthood worker gave her name on tape, WORLD asked to speak with her, or asked if a person by that name worked at the clinic, and in what capacity. Employees' names included uncommon ones. In every case, when a name was heard on a tape, it matched the name of an employee working at the Planned Parenthood clinic Life Dynamics said was recorded on that tape. When an occupational title, such as "nurse practitioner," was mentioned on tape, that matched, too. WTIC-TV verified the 19 tapes it acquired in a similar way.
On tapes WORLD obtained, Planned Parenthood employees can be heard coaching a caller they believe is 13 to conceal her 22-year-old boyfriend's age from a judge when seeking exemption from parental-consent laws. One clinic worker suggested the caller could have the boyfriend keep "a year's worth" of Planned Parenthood?supplied birth-control pills in his possession so that the sexual relationship could continue in secret. Another clinic worker asked why the girl didn't "go out of state or something" and marry her abuser.
Here's a snippet of a taped conversation that took place when Life Dynamics' operative spoke with a nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood in Soldotna, Alaska:
CALLER: ... well I'm going to be 14 next month, and my friend told me that they would have to tell my parents I'm getting an abortion. But my boyfriend's 22. Is that...is he old enough to take care of it and they wouldn't have to tell anybody? ...
CLINIC: ... it's kind of an illegal thing for a boy who's over 21 to have sex with a girl.
CALLER: Why is it illegal? I don't understand.
CLINIC: It's called statutory rape ...
CALLER: Are you going to tell on him?
CLINIC: No, I won't. But maybe when you go to the doctor you shouldn't tell them how old your boyfriend is.... I think that would be better. Just, you know, maybe have a girlfriend come with you and tell them your boyfriend is 16 or something because he could get in a lot of trouble.
In Iowa City, Iowa, a Planned Parenthood "pre-op educator" acknowledged the illegality of the caller's sexual relationship, then agreed to conceal it:
CLINIC: My problem is, is that if I were you-and this is just strictly off the record-if I were you I would not say anything about your boyfriend being 22 years old.... Like they would say, you know, it's against the law for 22-year-olds to have intercourse with 13, 14-year-olds ...
CALLER: Well, like do you guys do pregnancy tests there?
CLINIC: We do.
CALLER: OK. Would you have to tell anybody about that?
CLINIC: ... Absolutely no one at all, and you will pay cash for this if you have this abortion, and there is no paper trail.
In St. Peters, Mo., a clinic worker tried to undo the caller's disclosure of child abuse:
CALLER: ... I'll be 14 in March.... My boyfriend's 22.... My friend said that you guys would have to tell on my boyfriend if he came in.
CLINIC: Would have to what?
CALLER: Would have to tell on my boyfriend if he came in. Would he get in trouble if he was there with me?
CLINIC: (Pause) He's 22?
CLINIC: You know what? I would not bring him in.... Forget that you told me that.
Not every clinic responded improperly. About two in 10 Planned Parenthood employees, Mr. Crutcher said, "legitimately tried to do the right thing." Others initially showed compassion, then blew it: A clinic worker in Memphis told Life Dynamics' caller, "The best thing for you to do, although you may be a little afraid to do it, is to talk to your parents." But when the caller asked whether the clinic worker was going to "say anything about it," he replied, "I don't know your name yet.... So at the moment let's keep it that way."
Planned Parenthood's 128 affiliates operate 875 clinics in 48 states and the District of Columbia. As individual crimes, failure to comply with a state's mandatory reporting law is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $750 and, in some states, up to six months in jail. Former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese III told WORLD it is unclear whether Life Dynamics' tapes reveal a criminal pattern prosecutable under federal law. He also said that failure to gather details about suspected abuse over the phone may or may not violate mandatory reporting laws, depending on the state. Also, though receptionists and administrative personnel who answered the phone on some Life Dynamics tapes clearly knew the law, they may not be considered mandatory reporters in some states. But Mr. Meese said the tapes do show both "knowledge of the law and a willingness to violate the law. Planned Parenthood clinics are counseling people they believe to be minors in inappropriate ways in order to thwart the purpose of the law." Planned Parenthood's bullet-dodging is well underway. When Life Dynamics first released some tape transcripts in May, regional offices and affiliate clinics of the family-planning group issued a flurry of statements proclaiming the organization's strict adherence to mandated-reporter laws. Some statements suggested strongly that Life Dynamics had faked its tapes, while Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Gloria Feldt resorted to accusing the accuser: "Their attacks are trying to damage Planned Parenthood, and also eliminate reproductive health services in this country. They'll use any tactics they can."
A more temperate response came from former Planned Parenthood vice president Lynn Fredericks, who managed clinics in Kansas and Missouri during the 1990s. She told WORLD she would have "fired anyone I caught giving that kind of counseling to young girls because there is so much at stake and so much of what we did was under constant scrutiny. Our primary mission was to help young girls make good decisions."
But Ms. Fredericks said it's also possible that clinic workers, even well-paid clinicians such as nurse practitioners, could agree to conceal abuse without the knowledge of clinic managers. "There are zealots on both sides of this issue. Some clinic employees could be saying, 'I'm going to keep this confidential no matter what.'"
WORLD contacted Planned Parenthood regional offices in Alaska, Iowa, and Missouri for comment on Life Dynamics' findings. In return, WORLD received a prepared statement from Missouri (essential message: We always report child abuse and the tapes are fake) and silence from Planned Parenthood in the other two states. The major media have been mostly silent too, though Mr. Crutcher said his group has sent tapes and press releases to The New York Times, ABC News, USA Today, and other news organizations.
That may be because of the fetal tissue debacle. In 1999, Life Dynamics exposed a secret trade in the body parts of aborted babies. The story appeared on ABC's 20/20, in WORLD, and in several major daily newspapers. But congressional hearings on the issue fell apart when Dean Alberty, a "tissue technician" who had worked undercover in abortion clinics gathering evidence for Life Dynamics, testified. Although the group had gathered extensive documentary evidence proving the illegal sale of fetal tissue, Democrats shredded Mr. Alberty's credibility under questioning, and the baby-body parts issue was stillborn.
This time, Life Dynamics is relying solely on hard-copy evidence-evidence some state officials are taking seriously. Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Marla Augustine said her agency had received some tapes and is reviewing them to see whether some action against Planned Parenthood clinics in Bellevue, Lincoln, and Omaha might be warranted. And Alaska attorney Kevin Clarkson is reviewing Life Dynamics' tapes on behalf of pro-life state legislators interested in overturning a Planned Parenthood?backed court injunction that renders parental consent laws in that state impotent. Connecticut Chief State's Attorney John Bailey met on June 12 with Planned Parenthood officials to remind them of their statutory duty to report suspected cases of child sexual abuse.
Life Dynamics intends to file lawsuits against regional and local Planned Parenthood locations, charging failure to report. But even if those complaints fall flat, Planned Parenthood's apparently systematic willingness to conceal child sexual abuse could call into question the group's eligibility for Title X funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Title X provides millions in tax dollars to 10 federal family-planning regions across the country. Individual Planned Parenthood regions and clinics apply for Title X funding through state and county agencies. In fiscal year 2000, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the group's national organization, received more than $54 million under Title X, according to the Government Accounting Office.
But Section 211 of the Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act, 2002, declares that no provider of services under Title X shall be exempt from any state law requiring notification or the reporting of child abuse, child molestation, or sexual abuse.
An employee at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Okolona, Ky., may need to review that regulation. When Life Dynamics' undercover caller asked whether the clinic would report her 22-year-old boyfriend, an employee replied: "Well, I'll be honest with you. By law because you are 13 years old, we should. Now we've never reported anybody, OK?"