Even Teen Hookers Need Abortions

Anti-abortion activists are busily stoking the lie that Planned Parenthood "aids and abets" sex trafficking, because an undercover camera crew caught some counselors advising purported minor prostitutes—and their pimps—on how to obtain abortions. There's nothing wrong with that.

The "sting" involved Lila Rose, an anti-abortion activist who trained under the wing of rapey lying trespasser James O'Keefe, sending actors into Planned Parenthood offices across the nation (so far she's released footage from New Jersey and Virginia) pretending to be a young hooker and her pimp. In the New Jersey case, the "pimp" made clear to Planned Parenthood's office manager that he was working with girls as young as 14 who need abortions and testing for STDs, and strongly suggested that they had been illegally brought to the U.S. from Asia ("they don't speak English, they're not even from here"). She responded by conspiratorially coaching the pimp on how to avoid getting reported to the authorities—"we want as little information as possible" because for girls "fourteen and under, we have to report"—and telling him that he needed to keep the girls doing "waist up" work for two weeks after any abortion procedures.

In Virginia, the couple presented the same front, and were told—truthfully and accurately—that minors can't get abortions in Virginia without parental consent unless they seek "judical bypass," or permission from a judge to proceed without telling her parents.

After catching on fairly quickly to the pattern of a suspicious hooker and pimp walking into their facilities, Planned Parenthood called the FBI last month to report either a trafficking operation or some idiots pulling a hoax. Live Action, Rose's pressure group, released the videos this week, claiming that they showed Planned Parenthood "aiding and abetting" sex trafficking. Conservative abortion opponents presented them as evidence of Planned Parenthood's fundamental lawlessness—the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez called the group a "clearinghouse for sex trafficking," and Rose called on Virginia's troglodytic attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood for "facilitat[ing] sex trafficking."

Planned Parenthood fired the New Jersey worker for failing to live up to the group's "values of protecting the welfare of minors and complying with the law." To its credit, it defended the Virginia worker, saying she behaved "professionally to a highly unusual person posing as a patient" and alerted a superior immediately afterward.

The New Jersey woman's cavalier attitude toward child prostitution is troubling. But what was she supposed to do? What do abortion opponents want to see from a sting operation like this? A citizen's arrest? Immediate ejection? If I were to walk into the offices of the National Review and say, "I'm a pimp, here's my ho, we'd like to subscribe," should the receptionist pull a gun on me? Press the panic button? Or maybe engage me in banter about Ayn Rand to make me comfortable and gather information on me and call the cops after I leave?

And even if the New Jersey worker's attitude wasn't an attempt to put these weird people at ease, hookers need abortions, too. Abortion is legal in New Jersey. There is no requirement for parental consent. Any 14-year-old can legally get one as a walk-in. Even prostitutes, who need them more than most women. The notion that Planned Parenthood should be turning away child prostitutes makes sense only if you live in a fantasy world where all abortions are crimes. Lila Rose and her allies would apparently prefer abortion rights be restricted to people who need them least, like rich girls, while teen victims of sex trafficking should be further victimized by being forced to bear a child born of what Rose would certainly regard as rape. Instead of welcoming troubled and frightened teens and providing them with birth control, medical care, STD screenings, and abortions without judgment or reprisal, Planned Parenthood ought to make clear that if you come in and appear to be a prostitute they will immediately call the police.

Planned Parenthood is a service provider. It is there to give women abortions and birth control. If I go into a 7-11 and ostentatiously claim to be a pimp buying condoms for a bunch of 14-year-old prostitutes, does that make 7-11 a "facilitator" of sex trafficking if the clerk fails to call 911? What if I go to a dental clinic and ask about fillings for my young hos? Planned Parenthood shouldn't be held responsible for policing the criminal behavior of its clients—at the risk of turning away girls who need its help—any more than any medical care provider. Lila Rose's real problem isn't that Planned Parenthood talks to pimps and underage hookers about the services it can offer—it's that Planned Parenthood provides abortions. The "sex trafficking" canard is just a headline-grabbing proxy for the same old debate.

It's worth noting as well that the tapes show no violations of the law. The New Jersey worker, for instance, advised the hoaxters to lie about the age of their girls because "fourteen and under we have to report" sexual activity. That's not true. In New Jersey, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [pdf], sex with girls 13 and older is legal if the partner is within four years of age; if the age difference exceeds four years, then the age of consent is 16. So absent knowledge of the age of the partner, a Planned Parenthood worker would only be definitively required to report sexual activity for girls 13 and under. On top of that, New Jersey law requires anyone who "suspects that a child has been the victim of abuse" to report that abuse; but it specifically defines "sexual abuse" as "contacts or actions between a child and a parent or caretaker." In other words, as perverse as it may sound, New Jersey doesn't consider forced prostitution to be "sexual abuse" for the purposes of its mandatory reporting statute. So absent evidence of some other kind of abuse—physical or emotional—a Planned Parenthood employee who encountered a 14- or 15-year-old prostitute would be under no legal obligation to alert the authorities.

She would be under a moral obligation to do so. But she'd also be under a moral obligation to preserve access to medical care and protect the victim. The best way to do that would be to discreetly find a way to refer her to help from the police or a social worker, not to threaten to report her the minute she steps into the office.

Likewise, the Virginia worker who mentioned "judicial bypass" was simply referring to the plain text of Virginia law. Minors in Virginia who can convince a judge that it's in their best interest can have an abortion without telling their parents. There's nothing even remotely sketchy about counseling a teenager about that aspect of the law. Even a prostitute!