Even in an administration as skilled in manipulating the media as that of Barack Obama, there are still some things that are more greatly valued than a finely crafted piece of political spin. One of those is the need to pay back supporters for their efforts in the president’s re-election campaign. That’s why President Obama will be addressing Planned Parenthood in Washington on Friday. Given the prominent role that PP President Cecile Richards played last year as surrogate speaker for the president, and the organization’s central part in promoting the idea that Republicans were waging a “war on women,” Obama’s decision to speak at the event seems only natural. But the timing of his appearance at a Planned Parenthood conference couldn’t be worse.
The problem stems from the admission on the part of an official of the group’s Southeastern Pennsylvania affiliate reported last week by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Speaking with Gloria Steinem at the group’s annual Spring Gathering at Philadelphia’s Constitution Center, Dayle Steinberg said Planned Parenthood was aware of problems at the infamous abortion clinic operated by Kermit Gosnell:
Steinberg said that when Gosnell was in practice, women would sometimes come to Planned Parenthood for services after first visiting Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, and would complain to staff about the conditions there.
“We would always encourage them to report it to the Department of Health,” Steinberg said as she sat with Steinem before Tuesday’s events.
While this doesn’t make the group responsible for the atrocities that were allegedly committed by Gosnell, it does raise questions as to why an organization avowedly dedicated to protecting the health of women chose not to take any action on its own or to investigate what was going on. As Wesley J. Smith noted at National Review yesterday, it does remind one of the old saying, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Coming as it does, in the aftermath of a damaging comment by a Florida Planned Parenthood official who thought whether clinic personnel should render medical assistance to a baby born as a result of a botched abortion was an open question, the comments about the ongoing Gosnell trial might have made the group politically toxic. But President Obama owes Planned Parenthood too much to pass on a chance to embrace them.
The increased coverage given the Gosnell trial as a result of criticism of the major media blackout of the story should have put Planned Parenthood in the cross hairs of the controversy after Steinberg’s statement. But the same outlets that were doing their best to ignore Gosnell are not saying much, if anything, about Steinberg’s admission. The reason for this is obvious, even for those who support abortion rights. While groups like Planned Parenthood assert that Gosnell’s crimes make the need for quality health care, such as the services they provide, even more important, the trial’s revelations about the cavalier way late-term abortions are carried out seems to make many people in the “pro-choice” community—a term that includes much of the media—uncomfortable.
Planned Parenthood retracted their Florida representative’s statement about babies born after attempted abortions and now they need to answer some questions about Gosnell. But none of this is likely to affect an Obama White House that sees the group as integral to their struggle to depict their opponents as hostile to women’s health care.
Whatever one may think about the charge that Republicans were waging a war on women (a canard that was boosted by the stupid comments of former Representative Todd Akin about abortion and rape), Steinberg’s statements give the impression that Planned Parenthood was indifferent to the war Kermit Gosnell was waging on women and babies at his West Philadelphia clinic. That might have caused a president less beholden to them to stay away from them. But the debt the president owes the group is far greater than any questions that might be asked about his presence at their event.