By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
How anti-abortion-rights activists and the OC Board of Supervisors teamed up to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood
*This article was altered on July 6.
When Orange County Republican strategist Mark Bucher met Lila Rose last summer, he was incredulous and ecstatic. The 20-year-old pro-life activist and UCLA history major with a cascading brown mane had impressed Bucher with the details of what she planned to do with her summer vacation: With a hidden camera in tow and disguised as a 13-year-old, Rose would infiltrate Planned Parenthood clinics around the country to hopefully catch them breaking statutory-rape-reporting laws.
“She said she thought this is what Planned Parenthood does, and she’d like to try to prove it,” says Bucher, a well-connected lawyer from Tustin. “And then you’re like, sure, yeah, what are the chances of that?”
Bucher had heard of her activism—Rose founded a pro-life organization in her teens and had turned her attention toward Planned Parenthood in college. A large map of the U.S. with dots for Planned Parenthood clinics below the words “Exposing Planned Parenthood” adorns her homepage. Because there’s nothing illegal or covert about any of the medical and educational services Planned Parenthood and other hospitals and clinics in the country provide, including abortion, Rose focused on the reporting laws, which, if broken, can result in criminal prosecution—and bad press. Her goal of targeting Planned Parenthood fits in with a national pro-life strategy to pressure state and local governments into pulling federal dollars from Planned Parenthood’s network of community clinics because they perform abortions.
Although Rose didn’t videotape any violations at any Orange County (or California) clinics, what she filmed in Tennessee and Indiana would later serve as ammunition for Bucher, who says the videos were the catalyst for his own efforts to get the county to cut all funding to the organization. His success has generated a new, homegrown county fight over Planned Parenthood.
Bucher is chatty and affable, qualities that belie his political feats: He founded the influential, anti-union Education Alliance, helped qualify the state’s first gay-marriage-ban initiative in 2000, co-founded the conservative-candidate-funding Family Action PAC, and is treasurer of both the OC Republican Party and the powerful Republican Lincoln Club. “When you get conservatives together, great things happen,” Bucher said at a recent Family Action luncheon.
He was impressed by the bravado Rose displayed in front of a group of Family Action members last year and decided to support her summer project. Although she wouldn’t reveal how much Bucher donated to her project, Rose says she definitely received financial support from Bucher and considers him one of her most avid and active supporters. “He’s been following our work—and my work—for quite a while, along with others in Orange County,” she says.
The video she came back with, as well as the edited short clips she put up on YouTube, would pay off, especially for Bucher, who used the videos to alert county Supervisor John Moorlach (who received campaign money from Family Action PAC) that Planned Parenthood was receiving county funds—a fact that, according to Moorlach, came as a “shock” to him and the rest of the Board of Supervisors.
Although no county funds have ever gone to abortion services (Planned Parenthood is audited every year), in early March, the five-member, all-Republican board, citing their moral opposition to abortion, voted unanimously to cut off the $291,788 grant in tobacco-settlement funds the organization has received for the past nine years. In 1998, the attorneys general of 46 states settled their multiple Medicaid lawsuits against the four largest U.S. tobacco companies for $206 billion. The companies agreed to pay various annual amounts to the states, which would then distribute the funds to counties as tobacco-settlement-revenue (TSR) grants to pay for indigent medical primary and specialty care and smoking-related prevention and education. Counties decided how to spend their settlement funds; in Orange County, it was decided through 2000’s Measure H. Planned Parenthood was using its share of the grant to pay for comprehensive reproductive-health education for teens, health-education training (often attended by county employees) and family-communication workshops.
Bucher, Moorlach and others viewed Planned Parenthood as having somehow surreptitiously wormed its way into the county budget, despite the organization’s long track record in the county: Seed money to open its first OC clinic in 1965 was approved by the Board of Supervisors, and the county Health Care Agency (HCA) has long tapped Planned Parenthood to act as the primary health-care provider for thousands of women whom the county’s dismal public health system no longer serves.
“One in three women have used Planned Parenthood at one time in their lives in Orange County,” says Stephanie Kight, senior vice president for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties. “We’re a mainstream health-care provider, a primary provider. Women are turning to us in droves during these tough economic times. Lila Rose speaks to that small segment of the population who disagrees with one small part of our services.”
On April 28, the board reinstated the organization’s money through June because of potential illegalities, but it also directed the HCA to adopt a new policy that makes it tougher for local nonprofit clinics that provide abortions or abortion counseling to secure future county funding. Planned Parenthood believes it is being unduly targeted, and so far, the new policy seems to support that theory: The organization’s most recent request for TSR funds for an in-patient clinic that would treat hundreds of young breast-cancer patients has been rebuffed by the HCA for more than a month, while all the other community clinics that applied for funds under the new policy have been approved for their blocks of money.