Right-wing figures dishonestly attack Planned Parenthood over coronavirus pandemic relief

Image of Tucker Carlson, Ainsley Earhardt, and the Planned Parenthood logo

Citation Audrey Bowler / Media Matters

Right-wing media and abortion opponents have launched another political attack on Planned Parenthood, claiming the organization improperly applied for -- or even stole -- money under the coronavirus relief bills, as the federal government is requesting that the money given to its affiliates be returned. These figures have called the Planned Parenthood affiliates receiving money an “abuse” and a “deliberate attempt” by the organization “to scam this system.”

The attack started because independent clinics under the organization’s umbrella applied for federal assistance under the Paycheck Protection Program of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As Planned Parenthood Federation of America explained:

Like many other local nonprofits and health care providers, some independent Planned Parenthood 501(c)(3) organizations applied for and were awarded loans under the eligibility rules established by the CARES Act and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which they met. Planned Parenthood health centers play a core role in the social safety net, and there is no more critical time for the care they provide than during a public health crisis.

On May 20, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight revealed that the Small Business Administration has requested that Planned Parenthood return the funds, claiming the affiliates shouldn’t have received money under the program since Planned Parenthood as a national organization has more than 500 employees. In addition, 27 Republican senators have asked the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood.

But Planned Parenthood as a national organization did not apply for the program; only some of its affiliates did. The Washington Post’s Aaron Gregg explained, “Each of Planned Parenthood’s state and local affiliates is a separate nonprofit, with its own leadership and funding organization.” Vox’s Anna North wrote about the affiliates that received the loans:

The affiliates, meanwhile, argue that their leadership and finances are separate from the nationwide group — and other local affiliates of national nonprofits, like the YMCA, have received PPP loans without issue. Planned Parenthood affiliates say they’re being singled out by the Trump administration because some of their clinics provide abortions, although the PPP money cannot be used to pay for them.

It’s in part because other, similarly structured organizations have faced no calls to return their loans that both the local affiliates and the national Planned Parenthood organization believe the SBA letters and calls by Republican senators are motivated by politics.

Vice News’ Carter Sherman reported on one affiliate that received money through the program, and its CEO told Sherman about the importance of receiving the loan:

The $2 million coronavirus relief loan Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida received from the federal government was a lifeline. The Planned Parenthood affiliate, which operates 10 health clinics in the region, had been pulverized by the coronavirus pandemic, and CEO Stephanie Fraim had spent days agonizing over whether she’d have to lay off employees.

The loan, Fraim knew, would help people keep their jobs. It would help Floridians keep their healthcare.

If Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida does have to return the money, Fraim said that she would need to again explore laying off staff or closing health centers, which handle about 70,000 patient visits per year. Her affiliate employs less than 200 people, and of its 10 health centers, seven perform abortions.

“It’s almost too painful to contemplate,” she said.

Forty-one Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the Treasury Department and the SBA on Friday “refuting Republicans’ claims that the centers do not qualify for the loan program and blasted efforts to have Planned Parenthood return the money as ‘ideological,’” The Hill reported.

In reality, this is a new flavor of an old attack from right-wing media outlets, which have centered Planned Parenthood and abortion access as they make dishonest claims during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, federal funding cannot go to abortions under the Hyde Amendment except for limited circumstances. And political donations to the Planned Parenthood political arms are separate from the money received by the health care organization under programs like Medicare. The myth that Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding supports its abortion services is a frequent right-wing talking point, often framed around the idea that “money is fungible.” Right-wing media have also made several calls to investigate Planned Parenthood in the past, most notably after anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress released deceptive undercover videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue -- it does not.

Here’s some examples of right-wing media and abortion opponent’s latest attacks and false claims about Planned Parenthood:

  • Washington Examiner’s Kaylee McGhee: “Those funds were specifically designated for small businesses, not individual affiliates backed by a massive parent organization. And it’s a shame that as a result of this abuse, even more of our tax dollars have landed in the lap of a company that proudly takes the lives of unborn human beings. For that reason alone, the public deserves answers.”
  • On Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson called Planned Parenthood “the dirtiest national brand” and said, “It shouldn't surprise you that Planned Parenthood swooped in to take your money during this crisis.” Carlson also said the affiliates receiving money was “a scam.”
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Citation From the April 17, 2020, edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk tweeted:
  • Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich wrote for Townhall that Planned Parenthood “falsely took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program” in order to “fund their abhorrent, life ending practices.”
A Church Militant headline that says "Planned Parenthood Loots Small Businesses"
  • On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt bashed Planned Parenthood, saying “money equals greed oftentimes.”
  • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh said on his podcast, “This would seem to be a deliberate attempt to scam this system, which is no surprise coming from Planned Parenthood.”
  • Anti-abortion organization Live Action wrote that the SBA wanted “Planned Parenthood to return $80 million it stole from COVID-19 relief.”
  • On his Fox News prime-time show, host Sean Hannity used this narrative to falsely equate the money these independent operators received with the political donations the Planned Parenthood Action Fund has contributed, claiming, “I don't think we, you, the people, we the people, the taxpayers should be bailing out Planned Parenthood when they're spending $45 million on political ads.”
  • Anti-abortion organization American Life League tweeted: