An anti-abortion activist group notorious for its undercover "sting" operations on Planned Parenthood is currently attempting a similar secret investigation of the family planning provider and at least three other progressive advocacy groups, Planned Parenthood told The Huffington Post on Monday.
Live Action, which most recently tried to catch Planned Parenthood facilitating sex-selective abortions in April, sent a woman posing as the owner of a Malibu, Calif., abortion clinic to meet with at least four women's health advocacy organizations -- Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY's List and Priorities USA -- during the first week of October. The woman called herself "Wendy Reed," presented a business card with that name on it, and promised to make a "substantial donation" to each organization if they agreed to meet with her and answer her questions, the organizations confirmed to The Huffington Post.
The woman asked each organization a similar pattern of questions having to do with President Barack Obama's plans for abortion policy in his second term. She asked whether the groups expected him to repeal the long-standing Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, and whether they or the president supports late-term abortions, or so-called partial birth abortions. She also inquired about the groups' political strategies and pressed for information about how closely the groups worked with the Obama campaign.
All of the organizations said they immediately suspected that the woman was not a legitimate donor.
"She showed up unannounced at our office on a Wednesday, claiming that she wanted to make a sizeable contribution to our electoral efforts. That raised a red flag right away," said Beth Shipp, political director of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She said NARAL sent lower-level staffers from its development team to meet with the woman at a Caribou Coffee in Washington, D.C., on October 5 because it was a "high-trafficked public place."
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for communications at PPAF, said the woman raised PPAF's suspicions by asking "kooky questions" about abortion policy that a donor would not normally ask. "We're focused on birth control and protecting Roe v. Wade and making sure your boss can't take away insurance coverage, and she's digging on these very obscure policy topics," Laguens said. "That was an alert."
PPAF became so suspicious of the woman that they set up a second meeting with her to get a better image of her face on the security camera. When the woman returned, the security guard asked for her identification, and she presented a Costco ID that listed her name as "Wendy Wilmowski." Laguens said PPAF was then able to confirm that Wilmowski was working with Live Action and that the website listed on her business card was a hoax.
"[Live Action has] a history of hoax videos, but now they've added that they will even impersonate a medical provider and mislead people out in the world with this fake website," Laguens said.
Live Action did not return a call for comment.
None of the organizations are worried that the people with whom Wilmowski met on their donor teams said anything that could be used against them, but they did express concern that Live Action would heavily edit the videos before releasing them to the public as it has done in the past.
"We told her the truth, which is that we don't lobby and we exist solely to elect these pro-choice women and to make a better America for women and their families," said Jen Bluestein, communications director for EMILY's List. "That said, these people have proven again and again that the truth is not where their commitments lie. I fully expect they'll try to turn everything that was said against our candidates and against our president, because reporting the truth and campaigning on their own agenda to roll back women's access to health care would not be a winning approach."
Shipp said Wilmowski could not have any dirt on NARAL, because the staffers directed all of Wilmowski's abortion questions to NARAL's policy team. "The fact that they're using live videotapes and trying to trip people up and get people to say things that aren't true and cut and slice -- that's despicable," Shipp said. "If that's the only way you can win an election, that's downright shameful."
Priorities USA confirmed that Wilmowski met with members of its development team, but declined to comment for this story.
PPAF has taken steps to retaliate against Live Action by writing a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris requesting that her office investigate Wilmowski's fake website and, if necessary, prosecute the people involved.
"If this medical website is a hoax and is falsely holding out services to women in need, it should be immediately taken down and the persons responsible for the site should be held accountable," Laguens wrote in the letter, dated October 11. "Politicizing women's health by creating false identities and advertising sham medical services should be widely condemned by all."
WATCH PPAF's security footage of Wilmowski's second visit:
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