WASHINGTON, D.C.—As I was walking out of the final "breakout session" of the 2011 Values Voter Summit, "Exposing and Defunding Planned Parenthood, America's Abortion Giant," the nice old lady who'd expressed concern during the session for the mental health of young pregnant girls who, as part of a sting operation, had been enlisted to go to Planned Parenthood and pretend to be seeking abortions, confided to me that her real concern was that activists (like faux journalist James O'Keefe's protégé Lila Rose) were having the young girls purposely get pregnant in the first place, and possibly actually having Planned Parenthood perform abortions on the girls, all in the service of exposing what a shoddy agency it was and why it was undeserving of federal funds.
"Oh, I don't think that's too likely," I responded. "Do you really think they would do that?"
"Well, they were undercover," the woman said. "Who knows what people who are undercover will do?"
"Beats me," I said.
"I mean, have you ever gone undercover?" she pressed.
Right about then, I was suspicious that the woman had pinned me. I mean, what conservative religious person hasn't watched The E! True Hollywood Story: Jenna Jameson, in which I have about 30 seconds of screen time?
"Gosh, no," I laughed... then cut out of the hotel as quickly as I could, pausing briefly only to wave goodbye to the summit's "protesters": A small group from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who'd set up a small table on the sidewalk in front of the Omni Shoreham Hotel, where the summit was held.
Welcome to the Values Voter Summit 2011, where old familiar terms like "compassionate conservatism" have been replaced by "fuck you in the ass unless you're rich, fundamentalist and/or extremely well-connected conservatism."
The summit, which was a joint effort by FRC Action, the activist branch of the ultra-conservative (but tax-exempt) Family Research Council (FRC) and the fundamentalist American Family Association (AFA), lasted three days, though the final day, Sunday, October 9, was devoted entirely to prayer services, which I decided to pass up. The previous two days had been loaded with speakers, including all seven Republican presidential candidates, as well as an assortment of famous "wingers," most of whom could also be counted upon to be religiously conservative as well. However, there was just one mention of "pornography" before the "breakout sessions, from Mathew "Mat" Staver of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, who's also dean of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University Law School.
Before the conference began, however, its organizers clearly knew that A) some liberal/progressive media were attending and covering it, and B) that some of the roughly 3,400 religio-conservative whackos in attendance could easily provide some embarrassingly revelatory "inside stories" about the event that its sponsors dearly wanted to avoid.
Hence, it was not surprising that the very first thing out of moderator (and FRC Regional Director of Development) Gil Mertz's mouth was the admonition to attendees to guard what they might say to roaming reporters, and the plea not to say anything too outlandish, which he capsulized as, "Don't Be The Weird One." He even had the audience repeat the phrase a couple of times.
Even with that admonition, there were a few "golden moments" that will be related in succeeding stories about the summit... but first I'll deal with the breakout sessions, since they were the only lectures/discussions that mentioned porn or sexually-related subjects.
We arrived slightly late for "Saving America's Children from Pimps and Perverts: The Protected Innocence Initiative," hosted by former Rep. Linda Smith (R-Wash.), who founded and heads Shared Hope International, a religious anti-trafficking group. In so doing, I had to pass up such tantalizing topics as "How the Welfare State Erodes the Family," "The Meaning of Life: From Pre-Natal to Grave," and "Our Turn to Lead: Why Young Conservatives Must Engage to Shape the Debate." Fortunately, Young America's Foundation was giving out copies of its "Campus Conservative Battleplan: Your Month-to-Month Plan to Activism on Campus," so I figured I could skip that last session with impunity.
"I got a call one day, and this is what changed my life," Smith, a "pro-life advocate," was saying as I arrived. "This is what brings me here today, to encourage you to really take a serious look at, when you think of the moral base, of devaluing a person by a label, whether it be 'fetus' or 'prostitute.'"
The call was from a minister in Mumbai, who'd seen dozens of girls locked in cages, waiting to be sold into sexual slavery. Smith visited the area, and arranged for $25,000 in grants for housing to be built for the women—all of which provided fodder for her book, "From Congress to the Brothel," which she spent some minutes hawking from the rostrum.
The Mumbai experience led to her having been commissioned to do a study of trafficking markets around the world, and she said she decided on her own to add the U.S. to the mix. She eventually targeted more than a dozen major U.S. cities, and sure enough, found trafficking networks in all of them, dealing with girls who were, on average, about 13 years old.
"We have a huge trafficking problem of American children," Smith said the study revealed. "And the biggest product line is, 80, 90 percent at least, maybe more, are the American-born minors. Over 100,000 a year. Some say it's 300,000—I don't care if it's two. It could be my grandchild, your child, a child who needs our help who escaped from foster care, got lost—I don't care. There are kids and one makes a difference. But if you heard there was 100,000 rape victims, what would you think? You would say, 'No, not child rape!' But we've called it prostitution." As Smith sees the problem, it's generally the trafficked kids who get busted for prostitution, while the adult who's fucked her goes free—which, if true, is certainly an indictment of the police agencies in several states. It inspired Smith to write her own trafficking victims law for Washington state, and she hopes to have similar laws passed elsewhere as well.
But according to a story in the Village Voice recently, there are plenty of reasons to doubt claims of 100,000 or more trafficked American teens, with police statistics revealing that there were fewer than 850 arrests per year of child prostitutes—and if there's one thing cops are pretty good at doing, it's arresting prostitutes, underage or not. And it's not like the proponents of the 100,000-to-300,000 figures (like Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Justin Timberlake and Julia Ormond) have any scientific studies to back up their claims.
Smith also imagined that there are a great number of teens in America who, because they're fairly ignorant about sex and scared of their parents, wind up as trafficking victims—and Smith even presented a short film about how young "Lacy" was targeted by a "spotter," who gained her confidence and then "turned her out." (And of course, Smith brought her own "trafficking survivor," Shamere McKenzie, formerly a student at St. John University who now works for Shared Hope, and who was only too willing to tell her story of forced sex, forced stripping and physical abuse to the audience.)
When it came time for questions, I asked, "Do you see sex education as helping or hurting the problem?" This drew scowls from a few audience members. This was not a crowd that thinks government does much of anything good, and a few of the presidential candidates and other speakers at the conference had already promised, to audience cheers, to get rid of the federal Department of Education.
"I don't know how to address that, because I think proper education for any child, within their age limit, is right, but sex education in our public schools, the way it's happening—now you're getting me into my political—I don't support it," Smith said. "Education is proper, but the idea that you put a condom on and you go ahead and go into that sexual activity strips away the humanity of the individual, brings her back to an object to be used, and just starts her earlier to believing that's how she has value, sexually... Anything that demeans, devalues, uses a woman, it changes the whole dynamic of her ability to be free and loved and precious and made by God... There's a wonderful and beautiful thing that God has created for us in family and relationships and any time any person is devalued and made a product, we know that our God, our Father, doesn't like that."
Another guy asked about "the legalization of pornography," whether there were any statistics that linked pornography and sex trafficking, and what Smith's opinions were about porn.
"I have not had very many girls who didn't have pictures, and they are the pornography within the victimization," Smith responded. "How many men know a woman who just loves to be having pictures taken when things happen to them? We are romantic, we like one guy and we like to be treated pretty good. So we know right at the base, there's a false base to pornography. It's victimization, and if we allow anybody to be devalued and made a product, then we're violating most of our religious beliefs."
Always great to end a session on an up note, isn't it?
The following session, "Exposing and Defunding Planned Parenthood, America's Abortion Giant"—the session I chose over "Divorcing God: Secularism and the Republic" and "Establishing a Culture Impact Team in Your Church"—was moderated by Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion right-wing women's group that would probably have its namesake, a "pivotal" 19th century women's suffrage activist (and Women's Temperance Movement co-founder), turning over in her grave. On stage were also the aforementioned "gotcha" filmmaker Lila Rose, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.), head of the ultra-conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, and Catherine Adair, a former Planned Parenthood clinic worker until she got religion.
"I grew up very pro-choice," Dannenfelser claimed, as do so many religious anti-abortionists. "I just thought it [Planned Parenthood] was a nice organization, very civic-minded, that just helped parents plan their families. Who could say anything negative about that? What we've come to know is that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, could look into the eyes of a human being, a child and say, 'Human weed. I'm here to weed out you like underbrush and cast you into the fire. You, child, are underbrush, and the more you stick around, the worse it is for all the rest of us. This world and our hearts are not big enough to welcome you into the world.' That is a tragedy that has led to untold death, untold death and untold sadness for, of course, the lost children that we had who are supposed to be here, and untold misery in spirit and emotions and the physical bodies of women for years and years and years."
And of course, it's all (somehow) Obama's fault, and unless enough Republicans are elected to majorities in Congress, Planned Parenthood will continue the "killing rampage" that makes up a whole 3 percent of its business. (Much of the rest of their work, of course, is helping women prevent pregnancy, so they won't have to seek abortions for children they don't want and often can't afford.)
"The most fundamental issue is, what is a life worth? What is a human being worth? The question of human value?" asked Lila Rose. "And if we don't get that question right, then how good our economy is, or even the potential success of our economy, or our immigration or our foreign policy, all of these things don't matter, if we get the fundamental question of how we treat each other wrong."
Of course, some might say that having enough respect for women to prevent the government from officially taking away their right of choice over whether or not they want to remain pregnant is a "question of human value"—but not in this crowd.
"We know they're [Planned Parenthood] the biggest abortion chain," Rose continued. "We know they get a third of a billion dollars from the government. We know about their many abuses that are connected to that ultimate abuse of abortion. We know how they mistreat, ultimately, women, sexual abuse victims, willing to work with traffickers. We know all these bad things... They're just the biggest attacker right now on human life."
Leaving aside the lie that the agency is "willing to work with traffickers"—she gets that from her own deceptively-edited videos—Rose and her ilk don't just want to "bring down" Planned Parenthood, but "to establish in our country that creed, that culture of life, of respect for each other, at any cost; all for one life, to protect that one life, and to see each other as God sees us," according to Rose.
In other words, "respect for each other" translates into forcing any woman who dares to have sex without contraception (which this group also opposes), or even with contraception that failed, to remain pregnant and be legally unable to do anything about it except carry the fetus to term.
And yes, she had a video to show.
"He was the most popular guy at the party," the video's narrator claimed. "Big smiles and tall tales, but the longer he stayed, the less he's liked. First the small businessmen left him; then the union workers, college kids and soccer moms. But through it all, one friend has stuck with Barack Obama: The abortion providers. And his dedication knows no bounds. He promised to shut down the entire federal government, threatened to slash Medicaid for the poor in Indiana, even offered to pay for abortion clinics in New Hampshire with our federal tax dollars. Barack Obama and Planned Parenthood: They won't stop until America turns off the music." Cue sound of needle scratching across a phonograph record.
Yep, all it takes is a few videos deceptively edited to remove their context to make a splash on cable and broadcast news these days—a fact Rose seemed particularly proud of—and as Rep. Jordan, the next speaker, reminded us, "two 20-year-olds with a video camera brought down ACORN." Of course, one of those 20-year-olds was James O'Keefe, who's currently on probation for attempting to wiretap Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) office phones while dressed as a telephone repairman, and whose "exposés" of ACORN, which depicted him dressed outlandishly as a "pimp" with a scantily-clad fake prostitute on his arm, were largely faked... but what the hell; Jordan was on a roll, talking about all the "pro-life" legislation that had passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
The final panel speaker was Adair, once an alleged "pro-choice feminist," who told horror stories about how she had spent time as a clinic worker in a Boston Planned Parenthood facility during college.
"One of my jobs was to count these baggies, these plastic bags, because the bags had to match the number of abortions done that day, and what they called the bags are POC's, 'products of conception,' and the clinic workers would joke that they were 'pieces of children'," Adair claimed. "I know why they would joke; I know why there was that gallows humor. You sort of have to do that to survive. I mean, when you think about it, you're dealing with death day in and day out, the death of children. And you're in a culture that not only supports it and condones it, but pushes it forward as if it's a good thing."
But what allegedly turned Adair from an abortion rights advocate into an enemy of sexual freedom was the time when she went into an operating room after a second-trimester abortion had been performed, and "I stood there looking at this jar with these body parts, in shock, and I sort of backed out of the room, not sure if I had really seen what I'd seen, because the lie was exposed. This was a baby. I could see hands, I could see feet. This was a person, a human being; why didn't I know that?"
Still, it took her several weeks before she stopped working at the clinic, and more than 10 years before she became active in the anti-abortion movement, so maybe it wasn't quite as shocking as she'd now like us to believe.
And what she believes now is that Planned Parenthood is engaged in a vast conspiracy.
"I think Planned Parenthood, one of its goals is to go younger and younger and younger," Adair claimed. "It's name-branding. They want to get into the schools, and that way, when somebody is a teenager and pregnant, 'Oh, yeah; Planned Parenthood'; they know that name; it's the first name they're going to think of. And you know, it's a culture, it's a belief that being a mother takes away a woman's dignity, and it's a culture and a belief that children are the enemy of women, and that's what we're fighting against."
No, what they're fighting against ultimately, aside from disrespecting a woman's right to make choices about her own health, is the woman's right to decide whether she wants to be pregnant or not—and as was obvious from Adair's talk, anti-choicers have some pretty odd beliefs about how Planned Parenthood goes about protecting that right.
There were a few questions for the panel, including the one from the nice old lady referenced above, but what was abundant clear was that A) these people had little understanding of the mental turmoil that a woman who's pregnant but doesn't want to be goes through, and B) that all they have to do is say, No more abortions; it's wrong" and everything will be right with the world.