Planned Parenthood had been cleared of mishandling fetal tissue, but Republicans won’t give up their fight to destroy an ethical organization that provide affordable, accessible healthcare to women. One blatant case is the way Florida Governor Rick Scott manipulated evidence that cleared Planned Parenthood, and used his power to send an entirely different, misleading message.
A Florida organization, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), was put in charge of investigating the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics to see if there was any wrong-doing when it came to fetal tissue. When the agency found that Planned Parenthood’s operations were perfectly ethical and legal, Scott’s office decided they couldn’t handle the truth and altered the agency’s statements to make it look like Planned Parenthood was guilty. That’s right: they purposely took out language from the agency’s statements that cleared Planned Parenthood, and instead tweaked it to say the exact opposite. These false, altered statements were then picked up by several media sources who believed that the information was accurate. Lies against Planned Parenthood were spread, and internal emails from Scott’s communications office were the source.
A press release from AHCA, released on August 5, included the sentence: “There is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.” However, that sentence was removed, and another sentence which claimed that would be “possible disciplinary action” was added.
Emails between AHCA and Scott’s communications staff show that Scott’s office was intimately involved in shaping the final message that was released to the public. When WFTV called different agencies to see if press releases were normally overseen by Scott’s office before their release, most agencies said no. So Scott intentionally had his eyes on AHCA’s message, and crafted it himself.
Here are just some headlines from the media, after being thoroughly manipulated by Scott’s false statements:
- Politico reported the investigation, which announced Scott’s request to AHCA to look into the organization despite the fact that none of Florida’s Planned Parenthood clinics were involved in the (false) “sting” videos released by anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress:
“Florida health care regulators will immediately being investigating 16 Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida to ensure they aren’t “selling body parts” and violating state law, Governor Rick Scott said Wednesday. […] In all, there are 66 licensed abortion clinics in Florida. Scott is directing the Agency for Health Care Administration to investigate only the Planned Parenthood facilities that operate in 13 counties.”
- Wall Street Journal reported that AHCA threatened legal action over “unauthorized abortions”:
“Planned Parenthood self-reported that they were performing unauthorized abortions during the second trimester at three of their Florida clinics,” the agency said, adding it “looks forward to litigating this matter.”A state report said Florida law considers the second trimester to begin following the 12th week of pregnancy and last through the 24th week. Clinic administrators said they consider the first trimester to last for 13 weeks and six days after the patient’s last reported menstrual period, according to the state report. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the medical standard is to measure pregnancy from the last menstrual period, which is roughly two weeks before fertilization. Based on that, 12 weeks after fertilization would be equivalent to 14 weeks after the last menstrual period.
- The Hill quoted a Scott-edited AHCA statement about the investigation’s result:
“Planned Parenthood self-reported that they were performing unauthorized abortions during the 2nd trimester at three of their Florida clinics,” AHCA said in a statement responding to the suit. “The Agency looks forward to litigating this matter.” Several other media outlets shared this statement as well.
Scott’s attempt to further smear Planned Parenthood and spread false information is a disgusting Republican tactic – and fortunately the outlets Scott deceived are now blasting him for it:
- Politico reported earlier this month: Emails between the governor’s office and AHCA, obtained by POLITICO Florida through a public records request, show the agency prepared a press release that same day noting that “there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.”Scott’s office revised the release to exclude that sentence, an email sent by Scott’s communications director, Jackie Schutz, shows. Additionally, the revised release noted the AHCA would refer physicians who worked at the clinics to the Board of Medicine for possible disciplinary action.When the revised release was sent back to the AHCA for review, Katherine Riviere, the communications director, sent an email to senior staff, including Secretary Liz Dudek, that said, “I would have thought a line on no evidence of mishandling of fetal remains would be included as that’s what questions will be on.” Dudek, in response to Riviere’s email, said she “agreed with the comment.”
What Scott did is a disgraceful but an eye-opening look at just how desperate the Republican party is to defund Planned Parenthood and bring (unjustified) shame to an organization that does incredible work for the American people.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.