Liberal Clergy Praise Planned Parenthood 'Doing God's Work'

Members of Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and more than 20 other organizations hold a 'Stand Up for Women's Health' rally in support of abortion in Washington April 7, 2011.
Members of Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and more than 20 other organizations hold a "Stand Up for Women's Health" rally in support of abortion in Washington April 7, 2011. | (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

A group of liberal clergy who advise the largest abortion provider in the United States have praised employees of the organization for "doing God's work."

A statement released Wednesday by the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board attacks what it portrays as "politically motivated, heavily edited, and secretly recorded" videos released by the California-based organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

The videos, of which a fourth installment was released this morning, reveal Planned Parenthood officials discussing compensation for the potential sale of tissues from aborted pregnancies. Widely shared over social media, the videos sparked uproar among abortion opponents and some medical ethicists because the sale of fetal tissue for profit is illegal under U.S. law. CMP simultaneously released unedited footage of conversations with the officials.

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To date, 12 states and two committees in the U.S. House of Representatives have launched investigations into the practices of Planned Parenthood, seeking to determine if the organization broke U.S. law and potentially placing continued government funding of the organization in jeopardy.

"As faith leaders committed to justice, honesty, and liberty, we are troubled by the decades-long campaign of harassment against Planned Parenthood and those they serve," the clergy statement reads. "Our faiths demand care for those marginalized by poverty and other oppressions. Faith leaders have supported Planned Parenthood for nearly 100 years because of our shared goals: every person — regardless of income, race, or religion — deserves access to safe, affordable, high-quality health care."

The statement does not mention abortion, instead portraying Planned Parenthood as an indispensable provider of "high-quality care" that "does the best of what religious traditions do."

The clergy also appeal to religious liberty and individual conscience, portraying the abortion provider's opponents as seeking "to impose their values and work obsessively to limit access to health care on individuals."

"Our religious traditions call us to offer compassion, not judgment," the clergy declare. "People who work for Planned Parenthood give care and respect to those in need, doing God's work. For this we are grateful."

The Advocacy Board includes clergy from the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church and American Baptist Churches as well as clergy from Reformed Jewish and Unitarian Universalist congregations.

Among the clergy listed are Episcopal Priest Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, a prominent lesbian activist within the Episcopal Church who is listed as Vice Chair. The clergy board also lists Ani Zonneveld of Muslims for Progressive Values among its members. Zonneveld served as a board member of the short-lived Progressive Muslim Union of North America and has presided over same-sex weddings.

The abortion provider has acted to limit the impact of the videos, with Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards calling congressional efforts to defund the organization as "attacking women who need preventive health care" in an opinion piece posted Wednesday on the Washington Post. Planned Parenthood has annual revenue of $1.3 billion, of which over $500 million is provided by federal, state and local governments. The organization has contracted with a New York-based public relations firm in order to shape media coverage of the controversy, and media outlets have been warned by the organization not to air footage from the videos.

According to the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a temporary injunction this week stopping CMP from releasing any video showing three officials from StemExpress, a company that transfers fetal tissue from abortions performed at Planned Parenthood and other clinics to medical researchers.

Jeff Walton is Communications Manager for the Institute on Religion & Democracy and directs the Anglican program. He graduated in 2001 from Seattle Pacific University and is a member of Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, VA.

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