Senate hearing, rally draws attention to frustration with Planned Parenthood’s practices

JEFFERSON CITY — A heated debate about terminology used to describe aborted babies was one of the highlights from testimony presented before a Senate committee investigating Planned Parenthood's practices in Missouri.

The Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life heard nearly two hours of comments Sept. 15, primarily from pro-life organizations. They also heard from Susan Gibson with the National Organization for Women, an organization that supports abortion access; Gibson said more time and energy should be spent working on reforms related to the situation in Ferguson, among other issues, rather than investigating Planned Parenthood.

She took issue with the terminology the Senate committee members have used related to the undercover videos depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of body parts from aborted babies. (The same day, the Center for Medical Progress released its tenth video, which featured Planned Parenthood officials acknowledging the public-relations nightmare that could result from buying and selling of baby body parts.)

"You insist on using inaccurate inflammatory language like 'babies,' 'body parts' and 'selling' rather than scientifically and medically accurate language," Gibson said to the Senate committee.

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, took Gibson to task, asking her what word should be used.

"Fetus," said Gibson.

"What is a fetus?" asked Onder.

"It's the product of conception," she said. "It's not a baby until it's been born."

"When someone has intent to deliver a baby, it's totally OK to say this will be your baby," Gibson later said, adding that "it is not a baby — it will be a baby" only once it's passed through the birth canal.

The conversation became heated when Onder mentioned the hearts, livers and lungs described in the undercover videos, and he asked Gibson to confirm if those were body parts. Gibson refused to answer the question, instead diverting to other topics related to health care.

"Do we use clear language or do we use Orwellian double-speak?" Onder said after the hearing. "Those who want to obscure what's really going on at Planned Parenthood ... they want to speak in double speak. They're obscuring the fact that they're killing babies. They're being exposed and they don't like it, so they're attacking the messenger."

The committee, led by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, is investigating how Missouri clinics dispose of aborted babies, whether state funds were used to facilitate abortions and if Planned Parenthood has broken any laws. Schaefer said he is planning to representatives from Planned Parenthood and Pathology Services Inc. — the third-party provider of pathology services for Planned Parenthood — forward for testimony.

Sharonda Donner, whose sister became suicidal after having an abortion, also presented testimony before the committee. Donner now volunteers with the 40 Days for Life campaign in Columbia, Mo.

Donner described how her sister, armed with a knife, was found roaming outside her house and claiming she heard voices. After doing some research, she was convinced her sister was suffering the emotional fallout from an abortion she had years prior.

"If someone was on the sidewalk for my sister when she went to Planned Parenthood, if someone had been there for her, then she probably wouldn't have had her abortion," Donner said, adding that she doesn't consider herself a "protester" but instead someone who wants to offer a helping hand.

"That is why we are here, to help the next young girl choose life, so she doesn't have to go what my sister went through."

The committee also heard comments from Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholics Conference, Brian Westbrook of Coalition for Life St. Louis and Mary Maschmeier from Defenders of the Unborn, Susan Klein of Missouri Right to Life, Kathy Forck of 40 Days for Life in Columbia and former Sen. Delbert Scott, who sponsored legislation regulating abortion clinics as licensed ambulatory surgical centers.

Several hours after the hearing, about 150 people, including many of the same legislators serving on the Senate committee, gathered in the Capitol rotunda for the Stand Up for Life Rally, hosted by 40 Days for Life in Columbia.

"I think we all agree that we are engaged in a spiritual battle of epic proportions," said Karen Nolkemper, executive director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate. "This is the ultimate desecration of human life. Every single woman has been betrayed by abortion. Our Church speaks of mercy — we are pro-healing and mercy. One poor decision does not define you for the rest of your life.

Everyone needs to become involved — call, write, text, speak, work, pray and fast, she said. "We will not rest until babies and moms are safe."

Among those attending the rally were students from St. Louis Priory School, who led the crowd in several cheers. Respect Life Club senior president Liam Sehnert said the rally was just one of many activities the club is involved in throughout the year.

"We're looking for a widespread defunding of Planned Parenthood," said Sehnert. "We want to orient our nation to a more pro-life stance and give everyone the right to life." 

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