The Republican Party of Maricopa County is calling on four Democratic Arizona politicians to “return every penny” of the cumulative $45,000 in campaign contributions they received from Planned Parenthood in the last few years, and to “publicly rebuke fellow Democrats” for asking the Department of Justice to investigate the Center for Medical Progress — the company created by anti-abortion activists posing as fetal tissue buyers that was behind two recent undercover videos purportedly detailing how Planned Parenthood “sells” fetal tissue.
“The voters of Arizona demand a higher ethical standard from their elected officials,” states a press release from the county GOP. “Democrats have once again shown that they care more about maintaining the steady flow of political donations from Planned Parenthood than they do about truth and justice.”
According to the press release, Planned Parenthood donated $22,500 to Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, $14,999 to Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, $5,000 to Congressman Ruben Gallego, and $3,000 to Congressman Raul Grijalva during the last few election cycles.
Jake Hoffman, spokesman for county Republicans, tells New Times in a written statement that “99.995 percent of the 2014 political contributions from Planned Parenthood . . . went to Democrats nationally [and that] the Republican Party of Maricopa County is proud that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, not a single Arizona Republican in Congress accepted contributions from Planned Parenthood.”
He goes on to call the “Democrats' calls for the DOJ to investigate the Center for Medical Progress [a] monumental abuse of power and clear attempt to use this activist Department of Justice as a tool for political revenge.”
The most recent iteration of the ongoing debate about abortion comes in the wake of a national scandal over whether two recently released undercover videos show top Planned Parenthood officials detailing how the group illegally sells fetal tissue for profit or whether they were edited in a way that distorts the reality of what some affiliate clinics do: i.e., legally donate fetal tissue for scientific research and recoup the expenses.
Critics of the videos, like the Arizona Democratic Party, say they were edited into a misleading amalgamation of clips meant to bend the truth and lead a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood — and that the County GOP party is issuing demands in an attempt to rile up the party base and get publicity.
“This is just absurd. They’re acting like [Planned Parenthood] is funding campaigns like the Koch Brothers,” says Barbara Lubin, communications director for Arizona Democrats. She adds that at the same time, she’s “not at all surprised” by the demands. “[Abortion] is a very volatile issue, and people go to various extremes to push their point.”
Hoffman calls “the ridiculousness and stupidity of critics' feigned attempts to justify the repulsive behavior of Planned Parenthood . . . astounding and out of touch.” He adds that “the Republican Party of Maricopa County is grateful that Governor [Doug] Ducey and other Arizona lawmakers have answered our call for investigations into Planned Parenthood of Arizona, in order to ensure that the type of illicit behavior described in the undercover videos is not taking place in our state.”
Ducey announced the investigation last week and enacted emergency laws to prohibit the already illegal practice of selling fetal tissue, despite the fact that Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, has stated publicly that “Planned Parenthood of Arizona does not have a fetal tissue donation program.”
To be clear, selling any human tissue, whether fetal or not, is illegal under federal and state law. Donating it and getting reimbursed for the extra medial costs, however, is legal. Critics of the videos say the process the Planned Parenthood officials are describing is similar to the widespread practice of donating postmortem organs. They point out that hospitals, like Planned Parenthood affiliates, get reimbursed only for extra costs associated with the procedure and transportation of tissue.
Both sides of the debate believe the other is unfairly bending the facts, and it’s in this vein that Hoffman declares “[state Democrats’] silence and failure to return Planned Parenthood's campaign contributions serves as explicit approval of the destruction of more than a third of million lives each year and alleged profiteering from the sale of infant body parts.”
Lubin sighs when she hears statements like this. “It’s all part of the same long-term plan to undermine Planned Parenthood and attack the right of a woman to control her body,” she says, adding that abortions represent a tiny fraction of what Planned Parenthood does. (According to Planned Parenthood, abortions represent 3 percent of its total activities, and the group receives no public funding for the procedure.)
Hoffman confirms that his group has not heard back from Democrats and says that members “do not expect responses from anyone willing to further their own political career by accepting money from an organization that stands in such stark contrast to the values of Arizonans, like Planned Parenthood.” New Times reached out to all four elected officials and heard back from only Gallego’s office by press time.
Andy Barr, a Gallego political adviser, writes in an e-mail: “Planned Parenthood provides healthcare services to many women in the Congressman’s district that otherwise would not have access to care. Arizona Republicans have jumped at any opportunity to restrict access to not only abortion, but also a wide variety of women’s health services — all while pushing junk science on Arizona’s women. Congressman Gallego is proud to support Planned Parenthood and the important work they do.” (Gallego has not commented publicly on the videos.)
Meanwhile, Arizona Democrats sent a mass e-mail late Sunday night saying the group “got the heads up that Arizona Republicans are planning an all-out assault on Planned Parenthood this week.” When asked what this “all-out assault” would look like, Lubin says “we have heard from our partners that there would be more videos released this week and national rallies [against Planned Parenthood.]”
She’s unaware of specific rallies planned in Arizona but adds that she’s “sure Cathi Herrod,” the staunchly pro-life president of the Center for Arizona Policy “and other politicians are doing something.”
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That’s why Arizona Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, also have encouraged people to take action. The group is circulating an online petition supporting Planned Parenthood, which reportedly had over 10,000 signatures by late Monday.
In a statement to New Times, Hoffman explained his party’s recent activism by writing, “It has been said that, 'Silence in the face of evil is evil itself . . . Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’”
Both sides, it seems, are rallying around this call to action.
*Update 7/30/15: An earlier version of this story referred to the Center for Medical Progress as a "fake company," which is not accurate. It is a registered nonprofit that pretended to be in fetal tissues sales in order to go undercover with Planned Parenthood officials.