In June of 2008, a girl walked into Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and told the employee she was 14 years old, pregnant with the child of her 31-year-old boyfriend, and seeking an abortion. Her boyfriend said, "Take care of it," she told the employee. "And if I go back and I didn't take care of it, he'll be really upset."
That sounds like sexual abuse, defined in Wisconsin as sex between an adult and a person younger than 16. Health professionals are required to report abuse to law enforcement immediately. Planned Parenthood didn't report it and the girl-Lila Rose, actually a 21-year-old undercover pro-life investigator-released a video of the whole encounter on Feb. 23.
This video is the latest in a litany of undercover videos from Live Action, the pro-life advocacy group Rose leads. The videos always attract a burst of media attention when they're released, but attention wanes when it's time for state and county prosecutors to investigate Planned Parenthood's possible misconduct.
Kent Lovern, chief deputy district attorney for Milwaukee County, said that his office is not launching an investigation until it sees an uncut video to determine if anything criminal occurred. He wouldn't call it an investigation: "I think I would call it fact-finding." Live Action released more of the video publicly after Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin claimed that it did not file a report of sexual abuse because Rose refused to give her name; another section of the video shows Rose giving her name.
As Wisconsin officials gather facts, an investigation in Birmingham, Ala., has produced results. The Alabama Department of Public Health investigated the Birmingham Planned Parenthood after a Live Action report and has now put the center on probation after finding nine legal violations. Investigators found that a legitimately pregnant 13-year-old girl came for two abortions in four months, reporting that she had sex as a 12-year-old with multiple partners. Although, as the investigative report states, "a reasonable person would suspect abuse or neglect" in such a case, there is no record of Planned Parenthood exploring the possibility of abuse or neglect. The center also failed to follow Alabama's parental consent laws, the report says.
In other states, investigations have stopped before they've begun. Live Action released three videos in Arizona: one in Tucson (located in Pima County) and one in Phoenix (Maricopa County). A call to the Arizona attorney general's office got the reply that the case was out of its jurisdiction. Maricopa County did not return a call for comment. David Berkman, chief criminal deputy at the Pima County Attorney's office, had never heard of the videos and wasn't aware of an investigation. However, he said, the attorney general has authority to prosecute if he wanted to.
In Tennessee, the Live Action investigation helped push through a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. State Sen. Jack Johnson, who co-sponsored the legislation, said the bill didn't get past committee hearings in 2008. After the Live Action video broke in 2009, "That obviously helped and fanned the flames," he said. He believes there is evidence to warrant further investigation but says the General Assembly has made more effort than prosecutors.
No one has ever successfully convicted Planned Parenthood of a crime. Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline came the closest when as a district attorney he subpoenaed 29 medical records from Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. He found 107 criminal counts against them, included making false information, failing to report, and performing illegal late-term abortions. Kline paid a political price though, losing his office and getting slapped with ethical complaints this January.
Kline, when I asked him if he would prosecute the Planned Parenthood centers if he were attorney general, said, "I was, I did, and the investigation was legitimate."