The theatrically public “raids” on several Planned Parenthood clinics around Texas last Thursday, October 22nd, were an escalation in Gov. Greg Abbott’s misguided crusade to shut down the nonprofit healthcare provider that has operated in the state for over 75 years.
They were not only a repeat of a tactic that has worked for him once before, but part of a sordid and shameful nationwide strategy of letting lies, drama, and innuendo stand in for due process when it comes to effective, but politically charged, nonprofit organizations.
In 2010, Abbott’s Office of the Attorney General ordered needlessly hostile raids on two offices of a voter registration project, Houston Votes, being operated by the nonprofit Texans Together. Needlessly hostile because, had a subpoena merely been served, the organization would have immediately turned over records; instead, teams of agents swooped into offices, hauling off boxes of files and computers, intimidating staff members.
Voter registration is a legally permissible activity for nonprofits, but Abbott, acting on “tips” from the highly partisan Tea Party activists, King Street Patriots, went after the organization by assigning one of his least experienced attorneys to question senior staff from Houston Votes. One of those “tips” was the assertion that Houston Votes was worse then ACORN.
ACORN, a community organizing powerhouse, was gutted after undercover sting videos—which were in reality highly-edited and deceptive recordings—triggered government hearings that lead to funding cuts, which in turn spurred a loss in private donations that ultimately shut down the organization. ACORN was eventually proven to have committed none of the crimes alleged when Congress voted down its funding, but it was too late.
Texans Together was ultimately vindicated, but, like ACORN before it, could not recover from the initial onslaught of hype and bad publicity prompted by the dramatic record seizures at their offices. As a result of the bad publicity, Houston Votes, its grassroots voter registration campaign, shut down. It operates a different set of community engagement programs now.
Fast forward to this summer.
- A young activist, David Daleiden, with links to the same people and organizations behind the ACORN videos, released heavily edited, wildly misleading undercover videos, recorded illegally, of several clinics around the country, including Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston.
- The Republican-dominated House of Representatives immediately held hearings. And found nothing. Several state attorneys general initiated investigations … and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
- Within hours of the videos being released, at least one Texas Planned Parenthood clinic opened its doors to the first of over a dozen unannounced inspections (which, by the way, they are used to, as Planned Parenthood clinics around the state are regularly submitted to unannounced and surprised audits of many of their programs).
- The tapes are very publicly proven to be faked; Daleiden is shown to have procured fake ID and registered a fake company using the fake ID to help perpetrate the fraud.
- The people using the videos to advance their political vendettas against Planned Parenthood ignore the actual facts and keep flogging the faked tapes.
On Monday, October 19th, Gov. Abbott announces:
— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) October 19, 2015
That same day, reports reveal:
The Texas Office of the Inspector General announced Monday that it has taken steps to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates from the state’s Medicaid program, citing violations observed in recently released undercover videos.
Three days later, the OIG decides maybe it should get the facts from the source, instead of from a tweet from the governor. Uniformed employees of the OIG show up at Planned Parenthood clinics.
At at least one location, they are photographed entering the clinic, meaning someone knew they would be arriving before they got there.
Meaning, perhaps, someone was cranky that all of the prior episodes of inspectors arriving at clinics that have been taking place in the past few months had gone unnoticed by the media?
Generally, in the rest of the world, an investigation happens before the decision is announced. Texas, in an effort to retain its status as part of the rest of the world, by Saturday had begun to backpedal:
In an interview Saturday with The Texas Tribune, Stuart Bowen Jr., head of the Office of Inspector General at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the “notice of termination” sent to Planned Parenthood last week is the start of a civil enforcement process — and not a final determination of the organization’s status as a Medicaid provider in Texas.
“We did not terminate them,” he said. “We began a process … inclusive of the development of evidence.”
The legal defense has been launched. Planned Parenthood clinics are having to assure patients that they are, in fact, still open and still able to provide care using Medicaid funds, which have not been stopped, because they legally cannot be at this point.
Meanwhile, patients who donated tissue after abortions—abortions which were legal, and tissue donation, which was legal—are left wondering what the state OIG’s office is doing with their medical records. Planned Parenthood staff as well why the OIG order covered their home addresses and salaries.
Abbott’s very public and dramatic raids are about one thing, and one thing only—intimidation. That’s a pretty poor governance technique. If Abbott had the law on his side, he wouldn’t need to resort to theatrics.
Meanwhile, healthcare providers around the state plead desperately for the expansion of Medicaid to help them cope with the heavy burden of care foisted upon them. Waits for appointments stretch for weeks. And Planned Parenthood, a respected and long-time provider of high-quality, low-cost care, is having to divert resources into defending against trumped up allegations.
2018, you can’t come soon enough.