Right fears secret abortions for 13-year-olds in reform

The latest myth going around: Healthcare reform legislation would lead to abortion clinics in schools

By Vincent Rossmeier

Published October 1, 2009 6:50PM (EDT)

Wednesday night brought the latest installment of everyone's favorite political drama: "Michele Bachmann tries to warn Americans about a threat that isn't real." Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives, the Minnesota Republican warned parents everywhere that if Democrats' healthcare reform legislation passes, school clinics will become controlled by Planned Parenthood and turned into sex clinics that promote abortions free of parental consent for 13-year-old girls (video of Bachmann's comments is below).

Bachmann said:

And written in this bill is a provision whereby Planned Parenthood could become a proprietor for school-based clinics in every school across United States. These have been more accurately called school sex clinics ... And as a matter of fact, the bill goes on to say what's going to go on -- comprehensive primary health services, physicals, treatment of minor acute medical conditions, referrals to follow-up for specialty care -- is that abortion? Does that mean that someone's 13 year-old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back and go home on the school bus that night? Mom and dad are never the wiser.

Bachmann's argument is entirely untrue and both PolitiFact and Politico's Glenn Thrush have done a thorough job debunking her claims. But she's hardly the first conservative to advance this line of thinking. In fact, the specter of Planned Parenthood engaging in abortion bonanzas in America's schools has been a staple of right-wing opposition to healthcare reform for a while now -- though that doesn't make the assertion any less of a lie.

The falsehood seems to have begun with a blogger named Peter Fleckenstein, writing on his blog Common Sense From a Common Man back in July. Fleckenstein alleged that Page 992 of the House healthcare bill contained language that would lead to the establishment of school clinics that could advise young girls to have abortions without parental input.

Conservative groups like the American Family Association and Liberty Counsel, a conservative group affiliated with Liberty University's law school, then pushed the abortion clinic myth to wider right-wing audiences. One chain e-mail from the Liberty Counsel told parents, "[your] children will be indoctrinated and your grandchildren may be aborted!"

In actuality, the section of the bill at the root of the controversy states explicitly that the school clinics would have to abide by existing federal, state and local laws regarding parental consent. On top of that, the school clinics in question aren't a new entity dreamed up by Democratic socialists intent on indoctrinating America's youth. Rather, as PolitiFact has pointed out, the clinics have been around for 30 years. There are 2,000 such clinics across the country. None provide abortions and they generally serve students who live in areas with limited healthcare options. The healthcare reform legislation would just ensure that these clinics continue to receive funding.

However, as Thrush suggests, the fact that Bachmann's allegations have no basis in reality might not keep Congress from overreacting.

"[N]one of the three bills in the House explicitly prohibit the use of the school-based clinics to steer kids to abortion clinics — so look out for an amendment, however statutorily superfluous, to be introduced by somebody as a way to wedge conservative Dems from the party's liberal base," Thrush writes. "Either that, or we'll be hearing 30-second ads that say something like, '[Candidate X] voted for the Nancy Pelosi government takeover of health care, which will result in your 13-year-old granddaughter getting an abortion on the way home from school ...'"

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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Healthcare Reform Michele Bachmann R-minn.