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Anti-abortion group targets Planned Parenthood’s abuse-reporting procedures

Woman poses as pregnant girl; should agency report purported sexual abuse?

An anti-abortion group’s hidden-camera video is raising questions about whether Planned Parenthood facilities in Arizona are meeting their legal duty to report sexual abuse of minors.

Planned Parenthood Arizona says its commitment to the health of women remains its guiding principle. It calls the videos “edited propaganda.”

In the videos, a girl tells employees she is a teen, pregnant by an older man.

Under state law, health-care providers must file a report when they suspect abuse, such as a sexual relationship between an adult and an underage teenager.

But the question of accountability is unclear. The videos are based on a fabrication. The women in the videos are adults, not young teens, and they’re not pregnant.

“A prosecutor in our sex-crime bureau reviewed the recordings,” said Mike Scerbo, a public-information officer with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. “The videos are disturbing, but we cannot comment further on potential activities this office, or any other law-enforcement office, may take.”

Lila Rose, a college student, is the founder of Live Action, which describes itself as a “youth-led movement dedicated to advancing life rights.”

In 2008, Rose started the Mona Lisa Project, which has recorded meetings between activists – with fabricated stories – and Planned Parenthood workers in other states.

The goal of the project is the “criminal prosecution of Planned Parenthood.”

The tapes, and an aggressive media campaign by Live Action, have thrust Rose into the national media scene.

She was recently featured on the “O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News as well as several conservative radio talk shows.

Rose, 20, a junior at UCLA, says she is opposed to abortion but is equally disturbed at what she says is the treatment of the young women or girls who go to the clinics.

“The Mona Lisa Project focuses on the young girls,” Rose said. “Their abuse is being ignored.”

On the tapes

In July, Rose and another young woman visited the Margaret Sanger Clinic, 2255 N. Wyatt Drive, in Tucson and posed as a 15-year-old girl who is pregnant and her best friend.

They also went to Planned Parenthood facilities in Phoenix.

In the Phoenix video, Rose and her friend start at a clinic on Seventh Avenue where a Planned Parenthood worker, her face obscured, tells the women that they will need to see a counselor.

Rose and her friend then describe the father of the child as being “a lot older than me.”

They want to know if there will be a lot of questions if he pays for an abortion.

“No,” the Planned Parenthood worker is recorded as saying. “We don’t ask a lot of questions.”

The worker then sends the young women to a second facility on Seventh Street.

There, they speak with a clinician who says, “I mean everything is confidential here, you know what I mean?”

Both the Phoenix and Tucson visits were recorded by a hidden camera. The recordings were posted on the Live Action Web site.

The recordings, edited by Rose and her colleagues at Live Action, give the impression that workers at Planned Parenthood clinics may be more concerned with keeping their patient’s circumstances confidential than with notifying police about suspected sexual abuse of a minor.

If so, that could be a violation of Arizona Revised Statute 13-3620, which states that any person who has the responsibility for care or treatment of a minor and suspects abuse “shall immediately report or cause reports to be made of this information to a peace officer or to Child Protective Services.”

For a 15-year-old, a sexual relationship with a person older than 18 would be illegal under any circumstances.

Group responds

Planned Parenthood Arizona initially released a statement about the videos.

It said it “takes allegations of this nature very seriously.”

“We are conducting an internal review and will come to a conclusion that is fact based and not based on edited propaganda video,” the agency said.

After the review, Cynde Cerf, director of communication and marketing for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said that, at the first Phoenix facility, the young women were talking to a front-desk worker, not a medical professional.

At the second meeting, the women, still posing as 15-year-old girls, met with a clinician who may have been more practiced at providing medical care than counseling.

“I think she was clumsy in explaining how the practice works,” Cerf said. “At the same time, she was still following the procedures that were set up at the time.”

The worker in the tape from the second facility no longer works for Planned Parenthood. She left of her own accord months before Planned Parenthood knew about the recordings.

Procedures have changed since the video was recorded last July. The changes were put into place before Live Action started posting their videos. Now, clinicians are trained in how to talk to all patients.

Also, young women or girls who appear to possibly be victims of a crime are told upfront that Planned Parenthood has a legal obligation to share any suspicions to law-enforcement authorities.

These clinicians are also responsible for the reporting of any suspicions. Previously, that was likely to be a counselor’s role.

Cerf said that, from Feb. 1 to March 20, Planned Parenthood Arizona reported 24 cases of suspicions of abuse. Those reports came from the organization’s 20 facilities in the state.

No investigation

Planned Parenthood Arizona is not under investigation by the Arizona attorney general or Maricopa or Pima counties’ attorneys.

Rose is disappointed that there are no criminal investigations under way by any law-enforcement agencies.

“They better figure it out fast,” Rose said. “Because young girls are going into these clinics all the time.”

Cerf said suggestions that her organization does not care about young women is absurd:

“Our entire mission it to protect women. It’s everything we are about.”

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