Gazette's Wayne Laugesen on why he thinks Planned Parenthood covers up statutory rape

Update: This weekend, Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen published a scathing piece in which he argued that Planned Parenthood was likely worse than Penn State when it came to covering up sexual assaults on children; our previous coverage is below. Laugesen explains the timing of the item as well as the inspiration of a case involving the daughter of someone he knew that took place over a decade ago.

"We'd been sort of following the whole thing with President Obama's comment that 'rape is rape,' and pondering what that statement really meant," says Laugesen in regard to the Gazette's editorial board. "And we'd written and published an editorial a few days earlier that said we understand the sentiment, but is all rape really equal? And we explained that it's not, if we want to be truthful about it. Every state has very unique statutory rape laws that vary greatly. In Arizona, I think, an eighteen year old who sleeps with her seventeen-year-old boyfriend could technically be charged with rape -- but in Colorado, it's very different, and there are very pragmatic statutory rape laws."

By the way, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan recently used the same "rape is rape" language as Obama, despite having previously sponsored legislation that used the phrase "forcible rape" -- which critics on the left see as an attempt to blame some sexual assaults on victims who presumably "wanted it." Laugesen says he was unaware of Ryan's statement.

After the "rape is rape" editorial, Laugesen continues, "it sort of dawned on me that we as a country rightly have zero tolerance for those suspected of looking the other way regarding sexual exploitation or abuse of children." Meanwhile, "the Penn State thing was still in the news, and the subject of rape kept coming up because of the asinine comments" made by Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, a Missouri senatorial candidate. "And it got me thinking about the manner in which this country responds to sexual abuse and exploitation of children and those who should stop it but don't."

The topic also spurred Laugesen to reflect again about his "personal knowledge of someone's child getting an abortion at Planned Parenthood and feeling that the institution mishandled the situation.

"It was a deal where I knew of a young person through that person's relatives, and they had found out later that this person had gotten an abortion, and that this person had been violated by an older person. And they were upset, because they felt they should have known about it and felt that Planned Parenthood should have been suspicious at the time."

Continue reading for more of our interview with the Gazette's Wayne Laugesen. In 2002, some time after this incident, an organization called Life Dynamics conducted a sting operation in which, according to Laugesen, 91 percent of 813 calls made to Planned Parenthood featured operators agreeing to cover up reports of a thirteen year old being impregnated by a 22-year-old man. Laugesen followed these developments closely, as he did the work of Lila Rose, a former UCLA student who's staged similar stings over the years. In his editorial, he mentions both of these campaigns, as well as a more recent court case in Ohio, to support his view that Planned Parenthood "probably covers up more sexual abuse of children than any other institution in the United States" and should be investigated by President Barack Obama's Justice Department.

Laugesen admits that he "can't say as an absolute fact" that this is true -- and neither can he know whether or not past abuses documented by Life Dynamics and Rose have been addressed and no longer take place with frequency, if at all.

Nonetheless, he says, "it seems logical that Planned Parenthood would see more victims of statutory rape than almost any other institution one could think of. Obviously, teachers and school counselors are in a position to learn about these kinds of things, but not in as good a position as Planned Parenthood. So we should be seeing a number of reports coming from Planned Parenthood to law enforcement or Social Services, and I don't think that's the case.

"If I'm wrong, I'd love to see Planned Parenthood document, without any names or identifying information, the number of reports they make to law enforcement or Social Services. If they can provide that, I think it would be wonderful. I'd love to see that it's fairly routine that they alert the proper authorities to suspicion or evidence of statutory rape."

In an earlier interview seen below, Monica McCafferty, speaking for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, stressed that the organization takes reporting about such potential crimes seriously and will fire any employee found not to have done so. She added her view that the various sting operations are tactics by pro-life organizations dedicated to ending legal abortions. Laugesen didn't mention abortion in the editorial in part, he says, because the name "Life Dynamics" makes it clear the organization is [correction] pro-life -- and he says that during past conversations with Rose, they've never directly addressed the topic of abortion.

For what it's worth, the bio on the website for Rose's organization, Live Action, begins with this sentence: "Lila Rose, a recent UCLA graduate, has dedicated herself to building a culture of life and ending abortion."

Laugesen emphasizes that he'd like nothing better than to be wrong about Planned Parenthood -- but he's not willing to take the outfit's word for it. "I hope they've reformed," he says. "And If they have, I'd like to see evidence of it."

Continue reading for our previous coverage, including Planned Parenthood's response to the comparison with Penn State. Update, 5:57 a.m. August 28: Yesterday, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains reacted to a Colorado Springs Gazette editorial declaring that the organization is probably worse than Penn State when it comes to covering up child sexual abuse; see our previous coverage below. Since then, Planned Parenthood has sent more info intended to dispel "myths" attacks like the editorial tend to perpetuate.

The editorial, written by onetime Westword profile subject Wayne Laugesen, argued that Planned Parenthood operators routinely fail to report evidence of sexual abuse against minors who call the outfit for services, using sting operations and anecdotal reports dating back to 2002 to bolster its claims. Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Monica McCafferty told us that local policy calls for the termination of any employee who doesn't inform authorities about possible crimes, adding that no such incidents have taken place to her knowledge. Late yesterday, she reinforced the assertion with this statement:

While federal and state privacy laws prohibit us from discussing information related to any patient, we can state unequivocally that we maintain and enforce a zero-tolerance policy with respect to any failure to report child abuse and neglect as required by the Colorado Children's Code. We regularly train our employees on their reporting obligations and we actively audit our own practices and procedures to make certain they are followed.

At Planned Parenthood, we are particularly proud of the commitment our health care providers and educators demonstrate every day to protecting the rights of all women, regardless of age. This includes assuring that every woman who is the victim of abuse has access to law enforcement and other supportive services. And it includes reporting sexual assault against minors as required by state law -- every time.

Mr. Laugesen's allegations should be considered in light of the political undertone he readily conveys.

She also included this collection of common Planned Parenthood myths and facts:

Myth: Planned Parenthood is a huge, profitable business with a $1.1 billion budget and many wealthy supporters. Planned Parenthood doesn't need federal funding.

FACT: Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit charitable organization and an integral part of the public health safety net. Planned Parenthood provides affordable health care to women who need it. Six in ten patients who receive care at a women's health center like Planned Parenthood consider it their main source of health care.

The federal funds that come to Planned Parenthood help low-income women receive lifesaving preventive care, including breast exams, Pap tests, annual exams, HIV testing, birth control, and more. While it only receives a quarter of the funding from the national family planning program, it provides care for more than a third of the five million low-income individuals served by the program.

*In Colorado, Planned Parenthood does not receive federal family planning funds (also known as Title X funds described above). Rather, we provide preventive family planning services to those who need our services with support from private donations and community foundations. As a Medicaid provider, we also are able to provide preventive services to Coloradans most in need of affordable health care.

*PPRM health centers see 3,000 new Medicaid patients each year - "taking our funding away" would mean that we would no longer be able to accept Medicaid patients when fewer private offices are accepting such patients.

Myth: Money is fungible. Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the United States, performing more than 300,000 abortions every year. Planned Parenthood has a one billion dollar annual budget, and one-third of that budget comes from the government. Any taxpayer money that goes to Planned Parenthood helps subsidize the 300,000 abortions they do.

FACT: First, let's be clear. There is no fungibility. Federal funds are strictly accounted for, and no federal funds are used to pay for abortion. For more than three decades, it has been against the law to use federal funds to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest and when the pregnant woman's life is in danger.

*In addition to the decades-old federal provision, Colorado's Constitution also forbids spending state dollars on abortion. So you have "checks and balances" at both the state and federal levels.

Planned Parenthood's health centers are like hospitals that receive payments from public coverage programs like Medicaid for specific medical visits, treatments, and procedures. These payments do not even fully cover the cost of providing care, so there cannot be any fungibility.

Every dollar from the federal government that Planned Parenthood receives pays for cancer screenings, birth control, family planning visits, annual exams, testing for HIV and other STIs, and other kinds of basic care. No federal funds go towards abortion. Like all health care providers, our finances are routinely audited to ensure that public funds are being used in compliance with the law.

Lastly, the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have upheld the principle that public funds can pay for activities of an organization so long as it is used for permitted purposes and for no other.

Poll regarding PP funding

By a 55-22 percent margin, voters have a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood and oppose 60-31 percent cutting federal funding to the group. When respondents who supported cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood are asked if they would support the cut if they knew the money was going only for non-abortion health issues such as breast cancer screening, only 12 percent of all registered voters support cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Quinnipiac Poll, released February 23, 2012

Quinnipiac Poll, released February 23, 2012

PPRM poll conducted in Colorado

Data from a new poll conducted by Lake Research Partners* showing that 64 percent of likely Colorado voters have a favorable view of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

*May 2012 survey of 801 likely 2012 Colorado voters.

Continue reading for our original coverage of the Gazette comparing Planned Parenthood to Penn State when it comes to covering up sexual abuse of children. Original post, 12:45 a.m. August 27: Planned Parenthood has been a political football throughout the 2012 presidential campaign -- but the kicking it got from the Colorado Springs Gazette this weekend is still surprising. A Gazette editorial likens the organization to Penn State when it comes to protecting sexual abusers -- an assertion a local Planned Parenthood spokeswoman characterizes as "reprehensible."

"Planned Parenthood, worse than Penn State," penned by past Westword profile subject Wayne Laugesen, claims that "we take sexual abuse of children quite seriously in the United States, but only selectively."

For instance, Laugesen notes that Americans were up in arms after learning about evidence that Penn State ignored evidence that assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was having sex with children -- crimes for which he was recently convicted on 45 counts. Likewise, public opinion was inflamed "when society learned that several Catholic bishops had covered up for child molesters, mostly decades prior," leading to lawsuits totaling more than $3 billion.

Yet, in contrast, Laugesen writes, "our federal government pays more than $1 million a day to Planned Parenthood, which probably covers up more sexual abuse of children than any other institution in the United States."

The "probably" in the previous sentence will leap out to many readers. But Laugesen maintains that "evidence is overwhelming," even though much of what he cites is a bit long in the tooth. For instance, he notes a sting operation conducted in 2002 by an organization called Life Dynamics in which 91 percent of 813 calls conducted (and recorded) were said to have featured operators agreeing to cover up news of a thirteen year old being impregnated by a 22-year-old man.

Also noted are similar stings conducted by Lila Rose, who "has made a full-time career of catching and recording Planned Parenthood workers willing to actively cover up statutory rape;" a court case from 2010 in which parents sued and won when a Planned Parenthood in Ohio didn't report that a thirteen year old had been raped by her adult soccer coach; and an ongoing case involving incestuous rape -- the sort that doesn't typically result in pregnancy according to Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin.

Laugesen's conclusion: "President Obama, instruct the Justice Department to investigate Planned Parenthood. That institution has no more business than Penn State covering up sexual abuse of children."

How does Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains respond to these accusations?

Continue reading for more on the comparison of Planned Parenthood and Penn State. "It's quite unfair -- a reprehensible comparison," says Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for the local Planned Parenthood office. "We are required by law to report possible patient endangerment and abuse, and we take our role on that very seriously."

She adds that "our policy is to terminate employees who violate reporting laws."

To McCafferty's knowledge, "Planned Parenthood in Colorado has never been part of any investigation" of the sort outlined by Laugesen. Moreover, she's not heard of any employee who was found to have broken reporting rules and been fired as a result -- although she promised to double-check on that. We'll update this post if she gets back to us with information about past violations or firings.

Does McCafferty see political calculations in the timing of the Gazette broadside? After all, it was published on Sunday, just before the scheduled start of the Republican National Convention -- a coronation for Mitt Romney, who was quoted as saying that he hoped to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood. (Romney's campaign later clarified that he'd like to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, not the entire organization.)

"I'm not a political analyst," McCafferty stresses. "And first and foremost, Planned Parenthood is a health-care provider -- and in Colorado, we have a favorability rating of about 64 percent. People who've gone to a Planned Parenthood and know us and understand what we do, and understand the broad range of services we provide, don't see the controversy in what we do."

At the same time, she notes that Lila Rose, who was cited in Laugesen's editorial, leads a political group (Live Action) "that's committed to making abortion illegal in the United States. And she's stated that one of her goals is to take down Planned Parenthood."

In the current environment, McCafferty goes on, "we're seeing a lot of baseless claims from organizations that want to make abortion illegal and go to great lengths and use deceptive tactics that do not help women. But helping women is not their goal. Their goal is to end safe and legal abortions."

Of course, the Gazette isn't a single-issue advocacy group. Rather, it's the second-largest daily newspaper in the State of Colorado. Does that make the editorial that much more damaging?

"Anything that could hinder the trust the public has in us is concerning," she replies. "And that goes for any type of claim that's not true. Obviously, we are taking it seriously, and we will be responding to it."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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