By Frederick Clarkson
Sunday, November 10, 2002
A Texas-based anti-choice group secretly recorded calls to Planned Parenthood clinics made ostensibly by a teen-ager pregnant by an older man. The clinics promised the caller confidentiality, and later were accused of covering up sexual abuse.
(WOMENSENEWS)--The anti-choice group Life Dynamics Incorporated has secretly recorded telephone conversations with some 800 receptionists and staff at reproductive health clinics in 49 states and is using the tapes in a nationwide publicity campaign designed to discredit and encourage lawsuits against abortion providers, according documents published on the organization's Web site.
The Denton, Texas-based group claims that thetapes contain "evidence" that Planned Parenthoodaffiliates and other women's reproductive health clinics are complicit in child sex abuse, according to "Child Predators," by Mark Crutcher, founder and president of Life Dynamics. The group has sent out the report and press releases about its claims and had generated sensational news coverage in Long Island's Newsday and cable's Fox News. The report has also drawn the interest of law-enforcement officials in several states.
When government agencies and media outlets have scrutinized the allegations, the charges have proven thin. In addition, pro-choice advocates and attorneys are raising questions about the intentions and the legality of Life Dynamics' tactics.
Life Dynamics' taping campaign is but the latest venture of the organization that calls itself a political marketing agency. In 1992 Life Dynamics' Crutcher declared in his book "Firestorm: A Guerrilla Manual for a Pro-life America," the theme of his organization's work: "Today, we have opportunities before us which, if properly exploited, could result in an America where abortions may indeed be perfectly legal, but no one can get one."
To accomplish this goal, Crutcher has sought to discredit abortion providers and the procedure itself. Its first major campaign in the early 1990s publicized an alleged but never proven "link" between abortion and breast cancer. Lawsuits were filed against abortion providers. None were successful. In the late 1990s the group claimed that Planned Parenthood trafficked in human body parts--a charge that sparked national media coverage and a congressional investigation.
The investigation fell apart when the key witness testified that he had lied about having witnessed trafficking in body parts and that Life Dynamics had paid him $21,000 for time and expenses as their spy. Life Dynamics maintains what it calls a "spies for life program" which "uses truth to shut down abortion clinics and put abortionists out of business."
Life Dynamics claims that it conducted a telephone survey of clinics in February and March of this year. Following a script, a Life Dynamics representative posed as a 13- or 14-year-old girl, and told clinic receptionists who fielded the calls that she thought she might be pregnant by her 22-year-old boyfriend. Pretending to be seeking an appointment for a pregnancy test or an abortion, she obtained from staff at the clinics a promise of confidentiality. Now, Life Dynamics claims in its report that clinics violated state laws requiring "mandatory reporting" of child sexual abuse. These laws vary by state, but typically require professionals who have contact with children--such as teachers, physicians and sometimes clergy--to report any evidence of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.
A Fox News story about the tapes, and a Connecticut Planned Parenthood clinic receptionist's advice to the caller not to say anything about the age of her boyfriend, led to an investigation by the state's attorney's office last spring. Planned Parenthood was advised to train its staff in the area of statutory rape (sex between underage girls and older boys or men, which is illegal, even if the sex is consensual), but no charges were filed. The 13-year-old girl and the 22-year-old boyfriend did not exist; there was no crime, nothing to report.
Roger Evans, director of litigation at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, points out that the reality of both the law and the nature of providing reproductive health care to teens are at odds with Life Dynamics' hoax-based campaign. He says that to begin with, young teens rarely if ever make calls like this, "and that those that do come in for help are accompanied by a parent or close relative."
"No one has an obligation to report or to conduct an inquisition based on a phone call," he states, "because you have no idea who is on the other end, and what the truth is. And in this case," he wryly observes, the "Life Dynamics hoax caller was scrupulously careful not to give a name."
The job of a clinic's telephone receptionist, Evans adds, is to ensure that someone who is in trouble will get to the right person, to a professional who can help her with her circumstances. "And to do that, it's important not to sound like the police and scare people away."
Life Dynamics, which did not respond to a request for comment, says in the report that it has tapes of many clinic employees around the country advising their callers to evade the law, and that they will continue to release them, one state at a time. Recently, Life Dynamics provided copies of some tapes to a conservative online magazine, which posted 21 transcripts of covert calls to Planned Parenthood clinics in Illinois, and is broadcasting the tapes over the Internet.
Some media outlets are treating the tapes as explosive: "The tape that could bring down Planned Parenthood," blared the cover of a recent issue of Citizen, the political magazine published by James Dobson's Focus on the Family. "The Demise of Planned Parenthood" is the predictive title of an Internet essay by Massachusetts attorney Greg Hession, who outlines a strategy for "pro-life attorneys" to achieve it. This essay is featured on the Christian Gallery News section of the controversial Nuremberg Files Web site, published by Neal Horsley.
Life Dynamics' campaign seeks at once to link abortion providers with the national scandal of child abuse that has wracked the Roman Catholic Church, while casting a spotlight elsewhere. Its darkly provocative Web site is called ChildPredator.com. The publicity is designed in part to generate interest in possible lawsuits against health-care providers, clinic workers, public school districts and family-planning agencies for "for failing to report statutory rape and other sexual abuse." Abortion providers are "doing exactly the same things for which huge awards are being levied against Catholic dioceses," according to Life Dynamics. "Our duty is to see that the legal standard now being rigorously and quite justifiably enforced against the Catholic Church is also enforced against Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation."
Evans thinks this is unlikely. "We scrupulously comply with state reporting requirements," he says, "and there is no question that if a 13-year-old came in pregnant, let alone pregnant by a 22-year-old, we would certainly report it to child welfare services." State officials who have looked into Life Dynamics' charges, Evans says, "have been satisfied that people are conscientiously complying with the law as it's written, and that people are reporting when kids are in danger."
For example, Judith Rossi, executive assistant states attorney in Connecticut, told Salon.com that its investigation found no basis for bringing charges. "There was no child, there was no victim, there was no mandated reporter identified," she said. And in California, when the group Monrovians Against Planned Parenthood raised questions based on Life Dynamics' information, the office of the Los Angeles County chief medical officer Thomas Garthwaite responded that a routine inspection of Planned Parenthood of Pasadena "determined that the clinic was in compliance with the mandatory child abuse reporting requirements . . . [and] that the clinic's mandatory reporters were trained upon hire on the child abuse reporting requirements."
The situation in Connecticut did, however, lead state attorney general Richard Blumenthal to carefully review the laws governing mandatory reporting. Blumenthal wrote on Sept. 30 that the law requires a report when there is a "reasonable suspicion . . . that a child has been abused or neglected," but that mandated reporters must "use their professional judgment to assess all situations involving minors, including those involving consensual sexual relations between minors 13 or older with individuals under 21." There is no "automatic obligation," he concluded, "to report such behavior in every situation."
Meanwhile, legal scrutiny is beginning to turn to Life Dynamics' tactics. The hoax calls may have violated the wiretapping laws of at least 13 states. These laws require the consent of both parties to tape a conversation. But since these calls originated from Texas, where single-party consent is legal, experts say this is largely uncharted legal territory.
While it remains to be seen if abortion providers will fight Life Dynamics' smear campaign in the courts, Evans says that Planned Parenthood is pointing out to government officials and the media that it would be a public heath disaster in terms of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases if, as Life Dynamics wants, "every medical provider had to report every instance of teen-age sexual activity."
"The system would be deluged," Evans says, and, in the absence of confidentiality, he predicts "teen-agers would stop coming in."
Frederick Clarkson is the author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy," and of the forthcoming Profiles in Terrorism: Twenty Years of Antiabortion Violence.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
National Abortion Federation:
Life Dynamics Incorporated: