A Joke That Isn’t Funny

Inside New Orleans Planned Parenthood clinic. (Detail of photo by Bryan Tarnowski for The New York Times)

“It strikes me as extremely odd that you have a dermatologist, an audiologist, a dentist who are billing for family planning services.”

Judge John DeGravelles

And, yet, the hidden jewel is one you might overlook if you’re not careful. Molly Redden of Mother Jones tops His Honor, wondering the obvious: “They know vagina dentata is a myth, right?”

It’s a fair question, given the Louisiana proposal to do away with Planned Parenthood in the Pelican State and expect other providers to pick up the load.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post offers her own rejoinder to the Jindal administration’s jab:

Need a breast exam?

Call your dentist.

What about an HIV test or pap smear?

Find your friendly ophthalmologist.

Looking for a birth-control refill?

No problem. Visit your local nursing home.

These were Louisiana’s utterly unhelpful, sublimely ridiculous recommendations for where to send the 5,200 low-income patients who will lose access to reproductive health services if the state cuts off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, as Gov. (and flagging Republican presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal wants.

Ms. Rampell goes on to throw her obligatory bone, part of the obligation of working for a business like The Washington Post, noting, “Jindal announced the change after some shocking (but possibly misleadingly edited) undercover videos about aborted fetal tissue donations went viral.”


No, not really; Dave Levitan and Lori Robertson unspun the yarn for FactCheck.org in July; August saw evidence of manipulative editing―(what was that about possibly?―as Jackie Calmes explained for the New York Times; and we heard from Sarah Ferris of The Hill how the pranksters even tried using a stillborn baby as a body double for an aborted fetus. And this was also only days after we heard repeatedly that investigations at the federal and state levels found no wrongdoing.

It’s to the point that it almost seems extraneous to remind that this allegedly shocking, horrifying practice of fetal tissue research was specifically authorized by Congress, and while activists scramble to dig up dirt on Planned Parenthood, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson also found himself trying to answer questions last month about his own participation in fetal tissue research over two decades ago.

The whiff of scandal doesn’t seem to have hurt his candidacy; Dr. Carson runs second in the polls these days. But that in itself is an interesting notion; to the one perhaps he gets a general pass because he is the social conservative currently surviving the Trump effect, but the flip side is that his answers weren’t exactly good … or intelligent, or useful … and while hardline misogynists moralists might be mollified―

“You have to look at the intent,” Carson told The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel before he began a campaign swing through New Hampshire. “To willfully ignore evidence that you have for some ideological reason is wrong. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”

If you had to reread that once or twice, you’re not alone. It’s a very complex — and politically charged — issue.

Carson appears to be saying that the fetal tissue he used for research didn’t come from fetuses aborted specifically for use in medical research. He also appears to accuse Planned Parenthood of doing just that.


―by such lazy, puerile dishonesty, Dr. Carson’s trembling fear that he might not be good enough for GOP voters only forebodes a difficult tack in stormy seas come general election season. Outside the epistemic bubble of righteous, faithless, idiocy that seemingly contains and directs the American conservative movement, fetal tissue research, as long as it’s all above-board, is not something Dr. Carson will find held against him. The problem is that he’s trying to make his own work sound so godawful by offering such grotesquely stupid excuses. He doesn’t sound like a confident politician, but, rather, a frightened con artist who tells his guilt with specificity. In truth, though, he’s just hammering a terribly dishonest sales pitch, and that, too, will hurt him in the general. And running such a clumsy con just makes him sound worse.

But this brings us ’round the circle; look at what all of this is for. It’s a swindle. And yet we still put ourselves through it.

Looking back to Louisiana, Ms. Rampell notes:

If anything, the much-vilified organization probably depresses abortion demand because it provides patients with birth control. That’s not to mention the other critical services it provides, given that Louisiana has the highest rates of syphilis and gonorrhea among all states and the second-highest rate of chlamydia . It’s also fifth in HIV prevalence, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates it has the highest share of HIV victims who don’t know they’ve been infected.

More viscerally, we might look back a couple weeks, when the aforementioned Jackie Calmes looked into the complexity of Louisiana’s push to punish Planned Parenthood:

Dr. Stephanie Taylor recently showed off the private community health center here, newly built on the site of a women’s clinic wrecked by Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, pointing out the colorful furnishings, germ-resistant flooring and, in the sunny lobby, a welcoming Tree of Life mural. So it was a tad incongruous when she added, “We’re at ground zero for sexually transmitted infections.”

Dr. Taylor’s point was twofold: Demand for tests and treatment is great, not just in this neighborhood beyond the French Quarter, but all over Louisiana. And clinics like this CrescentCare Health and Wellness Center need all the allies they can get — including the state’s two Planned Parenthood clinics, one here and one in Baton Rouge, whose public funds are now threatened by Republicans in the state capital and in Congress.

“We have a syphilis epidemic right now in New Orleans,” said Dr. Taylor, the medical director overseeing programs to combat sexually transmitted infections for the State Office of Public Health. She is also the director of Louisiana State University’s sexually transmitted infections program, which operates in the wellness center here. Louisiana ranks first among the states in cases of gonorrhea, second in chlamydia, and third in syphilis and H.I.V., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But, you know, any excuse will do. These are, after all, Republicans.


Image note: Inside New Orleans Planned Parenthood clinic. (Detail of photo by Bryan Tarnowski for The New York Times)

Calmes, Jackie. “Louisiana Lays Bare Difficulty in Push to Cut Planned Parenthood Funding”. The New York Times. 1 September 2015.

—————. “Planned Parenthood Videos Were Altered, Analysis Finds”. The New York Times. 27 August 2015.

Culp-Ressler, Tara. “Republicans Repeatedly Voted To Use Aborted Fetuses For Scientific Research”. ThinkProgress. 3 August 2015.

Ferris, Sarah. “Anti-abortion video showed stillborn baby — not fetus”. The Hill. 21 August 2015.

Glenza, Jessica. “State inquiries into Planned Parenthood turn up no evidence of wrongdoing”. The Guardian. 19 August 2015.

Haberkorn, Jennifer. “HHS to Congress: No violations of fetal tissue laws”. Politico. 16 August 2015.

Lachman, Samantha. “States Try To Dig Up Planned Parenthood Violations, Fail Miserably”. The Huffington Post. 14 August 2015.

Levitan, Dave and Lori Robertson. “Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video”. FactCheck.org. 21 July 2015.

Phillips, Amber. “Ben Carson’s tortured defense of his fetal tissue research”. The Washington Post. 13 August 2015.

Rampell, Catherine. “Louisiana’s attack on women’s health”. The Washington Post. 14 September 2015.

Redden, Molly. “Louisiana: Women Don’t Need Planned Parenthood. They Have Dentists.” Mother Jones. 10 September 2015.

Weigel, David. “Ben Carson: No apologies for 1992 fetal tissue research”. The Washington Post. 13 August 2015.

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