Matthew J. Franck

Mark Regnerus and the storm over his controversial gay parenting study

Matthew J. Franck
By Matthew Franck

November 19, 2012 (ThePublicDiscourse) - Seldom has the publication of a dry, factual report in sociology caused such a storm of controversy. In June 2012, the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal Social Science Research published an article by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus titled, “How different are the children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.” The answer to his title’s question was: quite a bit different, and most of the differences are not good.

Within minutes, it seemed, Professor Regnerus, a gifted and highly productive scholar with two previous books published on related subjects, was denounced as “anti-gay,” attacked personally and professionally, and his thoughtful, measured research conclusions were buried under an avalanche of invective, abuse, and misunderstanding. For the remainder of the summer months, Regnerus withstood an onslaught of criticism, but as the autumn arrived, it became clear that his reputation and the soundness of his research had been vindicated.

What had happened?

The editor of Social Science Research, Professor James D. Wright of the University of Central Florida, had known that Regnerus’s article would spark discussion about family and sexuality among sociologists. As he would later say himself when others complained that he was trying to drive up the readership of the journal, “guilty as charged.” What editor doesn’t want people reading and talking about what he works so hard to produce?

This is why Wright published, alongside Regnerus’s new research, a probing criticism of the inadequacy of nearly all previous research on the question of parenting by people in same-sex relationships, authored by Professor Loren Marks of Louisiana State University (who was not connected with Regnerus’s new research in any way). It’s also why Wright invited critiques to be published, in the same issue, by three experienced scholars in the sociology of the family (Paul Amato, David Eggebeen, and Cynthia Osborne), with rejoinders by Regnerus and Marks. It made for a very interesting exchange.

The June 2012 issue of SSR was a red-hot topic of controversy because Regnerus and Marks overthrew a “consensus” among sociologists on the “no differences” thesis—the view that there are no meaningful differences, in the life outcomes of children, between those raised by heterosexual parents and those raised by gay or lesbian ones.

In its most extreme form—one that is not even supported by the generally low-quality research published before Regnerus’s article—the “no differences” thesis holds that children raised by parents who have same-sex relationships do just as well as, or in some cases even better than, those raised in the intact biological family by their own natural parents who are and remain faithfully married to each other.

The American Psychological Association, despite the cagy wording of its bombshell assertion, was probably happy to invite this unwarranted inference in its 2005 legal brief, published to influence judicial deliberations in same-sex marriage lawsuits. The APA said “the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.” And who didn’t think of the Ozzie-and-Harriet natural family when reading “heterosexual parents” in that sentence?

But as Loren Marks showed, the 59 studies grounding the APA’s statement were all deeply flawed, with sampling and design problems, inadequate statistical rigor, and conclusions about “no differences” that could not be justifiably generalized to the larger population.

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And whereas Marks offered only well-founded criticism of previous research, Regnerus offered something new: the first research employing a large, random sample of the young adult population, directly asking them about their childhood experiences and their present state of life, across a range of variables touching on economic and educational success, romantic and sexual experience, substance abuse, experiences with crime and violence, and so forth.

Regnerus and his colleagues in the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), working with the research firm Knowledge Networks, screened more than 15,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 39, and interviewed nearly 3,000 of them. The subjects’ family experiences were sorted into eight categories, ranging from the intact biological family (with the subject’s parents still together at the time of interview), across various family structures involving divorce, remarriage, adoption, and single-parenting, with two categories for subjects raised by mothers or fathers who had same-sex romantic relationships during their childhood.

The results were dismal for the “no differences” thesis: on 25 out of 40 outcomes variables, the children of mothers who had had lesbian relationships fared poorly compared to the children of intact biological families. And on 11 of the 40 outcomes, the children of fathers who had had gay relationships fared poorly on the same comparison. (For a summary of the study’s findings, see Ana Samuel’s Public Discourse article, “The Kids Aren’t All Right,” and this link here.)

Regnerus was cautious in his conclusions: he didn’t label poor outcomes as effects of parents’ sexuality, and noted that “a variety of forces uniquely problematic for child development in lesbian and gay families” could account for the phenomena. But, he concluded, “the empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go.”

The high quality of the New Family Structures Study’s research design, data collection, and findings, and the firmness of Regnerus’s conclusion that the “consensus” in sociology was exploded, only seem to have encouraged interested parties, in the academy and outside it, to attempt to debunk the NFSS. UCLA demographer Gary Gates assembled about 200 scholars to denounce Regnerus’s article, but to little substantive effect.

In the public arena, Regnerus saw his research crudely hashed over at The New Yorker, The New Republic, and the Huffington Post, among other places—and found himself caricatured as strapped to a Catherine wheel on the cover of the Weekly Standard. These are not normal experiences for your average stay-at-home sociology professor. Clearly Regnerus’s political adversaries saw much at stake in the public reception of his research. (For the legal stakes, see my Public Discourse essay, “Supreme Court Take Notice: Two Sociologists Shift the Ground of the Marriage Debate.”)

The two main criticisms of Regnerus’s article, repeated in numerous variations, are these. First, he had used the abbreviations “LM” (for “lesbian mother”) and “GF” (for “gay father”) to describe subjects who knew that their mother or father had a romantic same-sex relationship of any length before the subject turned 18.

The use of “LM” and “GF” was culpably misleading, critics claimed, because the category might include persons who never “identified” as lesbian or gay, and might only have had a “one-night stand” with a same-sex partner. The second criticism, closely related, was that in comparing these young people raised in “LM” and “GF” households, so defined, with those raised in “IBF” households—married heterosexual couples raising their own biological offspring and staying together throughout the subjects’ lives (even beyond their childhood, to the present)—Regnerus was comparing apples to oranges.

In their view, he should have compared children of IBF households with children of long-term, intact, stable same-sex couples who identify as gay or lesbian. Then, they were sure, the differences he found would largely disappear—as they claimed was shown by the previous research Regnerus and Marks had each criticized for their small, unrepresentative samples. What he was really doing, they claimed, was setting stable family situations next to unstable ones—and so stability was the real variable at work. To make it seem that the differences were “about” sexuality was worse than an error, critics claimed: this was culpable distortion of the social phenomena, a twisting of social science in the service of conservative ideology.

A third, more ad hominem criticism was that Regnerus received the majority of his grant funding from the Witherspoon Institute (publisher of Public Discourse), and a minority from the Bradley Foundation—both of them viewed as “conservative” institutions in their educational and philanthropic efforts. But Regnerus declared these facts in his original article, and told his readers that neither Witherspoon nor Bradley had any role in shaping the conduct or the conclusions of his research, which he has made wholly transparent. No one has ever gainsaid this avowal on his part. For my part, I can say that Regnerus had no input on my choice to write this account of the controversy or its content.

In the less responsible precincts of the blogosphere, Regnerus was the target of vicious calumnies along the lines described above, one of which led to the opening of an official “inquiry” by the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches, to determine whether he had committed “scientific misconduct.”

At UT, the policy in such matters is that the merest squeak from any party alleging misconduct is enough to trigger a preliminary inquiry, which in 60 days must determine whether a full-blown investigation is warranted. The university swung into action, doing everything by the book, at no little inconvenience to Regnerus, but at the end of August the UT “research integrity officer” concluded that no plausible charge of misconduct could be substantiated. The university’s provost accepted that conclusion, and closed the matter without prejudice to Regnerus’s standing as a scholar and teacher.

Meanwhile SSR editor James Wright was under fire for publishing Regnerus’s article; for appearing to rush it to publication; and for placing Marks’s article alongside it. Opting for transparency at some risk to his own reputation, Wright asked a member of SSR’s editorial board to “audit” the process that led to the publication of Regnerus’s article.

The risk was that he chose Darren E. Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University whom Regnerus would later describe (without fear of contradiction) as someone “who has long harbored negative sentiment about me.” Sherkat, speaking out of school, confidently told a writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education in July that Regnerus’s study was “bull****” when his audit was still in draft form and neither Regnerus nor Wright had written a response to it.

Sherkat’s audit and several other items of interest have now been published in the November 2012 issue of SSR, in a special 40-page section introduced by Wright. To his credit, when he sticks to the charge he was given, Sherkat finds that the journal’s editor did nothing wrong in publishing either Regnerus’s article or Marks’s.

Wright referred both papers to knowledgeable scholars of the subjects involved, who held varying views on the politics of same-sex unions, and who unanimously recommended their publication. No violations of normal procedure occurred; Sherkat says he “may well have made the same decisions” Wright did, given the reviews; and he dismisses as “ludicrous” any suggestion that the editor was up to anything political.

To his discredit, Sherkat, a sociologist of religion who does not appear to have done any research on family and sexuality issues (but for a single article studying how religion and political affiliation affect views of same-sex marriage), nonetheless appoints himself a final referee of the merits of Regnerus’s research—not a function he was asked to perform—and opines that it should not have been published.

James Wright, correctly, takes Sherkat’s conclusions as an auditor as vindication of his editorial performance, and rightly discounts his colleague’s attempt to set himself up as a post hoc referee with a veto over publishing Regnerus’s scholarship. If he sent the work to knowledgeable reviewers who unanimously said to publish it (and Wright notes that such unanimity is unusual), that seems to be the end of the affair.

But it isn’t. In the latest issue Wright chose to publish two significant new contributions to the discussion begun in June. The real issues with Sherkat and other critics are joined by Regnerus, who returns to the pages of SSR with a vigorous response and a re-analysis of his data, and by Professor Walter Schumm of Kansas State, who contributes an expert review of what we know from social science today about the interwoven variables of sexuality, family stability, and childrearing outcomes.

I’ll say more on these contributions in tomorrow’s essay.

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Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University. Reprinted with permission from The Public Discourse.

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‘It’s another boy!’: 4th video goes into heart of Planned Parenthood fetal body parts lab

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By Pete Baklinski

Urgent: Sign the petition demanding that Congress investigate and defund Planned Parenthood here

July 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Workers in a lab are seen sorting through body parts on a dish: a heart, stomach, kidney, and legs.

And then a medical assistant suddenly announces: "It's another boy!"

This is just a little of the macabre and heart-wrenching footage in the newest undercover video showing alleged harvesting and sale of body parts from aborted babies by Planned Parenthood, released Thursday morning.

The newest video also shows a Planned Parenthood medical director negotiating a fetal body parts deal while agreeing to prices for harvested parts, and suggesting ways to avoid legal consequences.

"For anyone with a conscience, the video's entire fetal organ scene is wrenching -- to the gut as well as the heart. It hearkens us back to the days of Joseph Mengele or Kermit Gosnell, who both coldly killed and dissected children without remorse," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, in a press release.

The video takes the viewer into Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, where Vice President and Medical Director Dr. Savita Ginde discusses with actors posing as representatives from a human biologics company a potential partnership to harvest fetal organs.

When one of the actors posing as a buyer asks the doctor if “compensation could be specific to the specimen?” Ginde agrees. As the camera travels to the abortion clinic’s pathological laboratory to reveal the aftermath of a real abortion of a baby boy, Ginde tells the buyer that the abortion clinic would rather receive payment per body part harvested, rather than a standard flat fee for the entire case.

“I think a per-item thing works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it,” she is heard saying on the video.

Planned Parenthood hit national headlines last month after undercover videos released by the pro-life group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) showed top officials from the nation’s largest abortion provider discussing the sale of body parts harvested from babies aborted at their facilities. Those behind the undercover videos say that selling the body parts for profit is a violation of federal law.

Yesterday, the California Superior Court issued a narrow temporary restraining order preventing CMP from releasing further undercover video footage involving top-level staff of StemExpress, the company that purchases the body parts from Planned Parenthood. 

Project Lead David Daleiden is using the fourth video to call for an immediate ending to Planned Parenthood’s funding.

“Elected officials need to listen to the public outcry for an immediate moratorium on Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding while the 10 state investigations and 3 Congressional committees determine the full extent of Planned Parenthood’s sale of baby parts.”

“Planned Parenthood’s recent call for the NIH to convene an expert panel to ‘study’ fetal experimentation is absurd after suggestions from Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Ginde that ‘research’ can be used as a catch-all to cover-up baby parts sales. The biggest problem is bad actors like Planned Parenthood who hold themselves above the law in order to harvest and make money off of aborted fetal brains, hearts, and livers,” he said. 

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"It really stretches credibility to say that Bush or his people wouldn’t have known that the foundation pushes abortion and other population control efforts," said Stephen Phelan of HLI Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com
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Jeb Bush was director of philanthropy that gave tens of millions to Planned Parenthood

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By Ben Johnson

Analysis

NEW YORK, July 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Until the eve of his presidential campaign, Jeb Bush was director of a philanthropy that gave tens of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood and financed its advocacy of "unrestricted access to abortion" around the world. The charity also approved money to global abortion providers while he sat on its board.

In 2010, Jeb was named one of the founding directors of the Bloomberg Family Foundation, established as a tax-exempt foundation to advance the vision of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He resigned from the board at the end of 2014 to prepare his presidential campaign.

While a Bush spokesman has responded to concerns by saying that Bush would not have voted on every initiative of the foundation, a pro-life leader told LifeSiteNews it "stretches credibility" that Bush was unaware of the foundation's pro-abortion work, given the centrality of such work to the foundation's mission, and its scope.

LifeSiteNews reached out to Bush for comment, but did not hear back by press time. 

$50 million to 'reproductive health' and Planned Parenthood

In March of 2014, the Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million undertaking to expand "reproductive health," including lobbying foreign nations to loosen restrictions on abortion.

Bloomberg announced a major partnership with Planned Parenthood-Global to train and equip abortion activists in pro-life countries.

"In 2014, we started supporting local nonprofit organizations in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, and Nicaragua to advocate for better policies in their countries that will expand access to comprehensive reproductive health services," the foundation stated. "These organizations will receive technical assistance from Planned Parenthood Federation of America – Global Division to help augment their capacity for effective advocacy." 

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards greeted the news by saying that "governments need to play a stronger role to ensure that all women have access to the health care they need" - including abortion - "no matter who they are, no matter where they live.”

Bloomberg clarified how the partnership would work while receiving Planned Parenthood's Global Citizen Award at its annual gala last March 27.

"We'll Push for Less Restrictive Abortion Laws"

"I am happy to say our major partner in this project will be Planned Parenthood - Global," Bloomberg said. "In some countries, our funding will help advocates work towards better sexual health policies for teens and better access to contraceptives. In others, we'll help push for less restrictive abortion laws and more government funding for high-quality, accessible services."

Such advocacy was "necessary," he continued, because "there are plenty of outside interest groups funding the other side of these issues, and we cannot let them go unanswered."

"This is a fight to women control their own destinies," Bloomberg said. "And let me tell you: We are in it to help them win it, and we're gonna stay in it until they do."

"Together we can succeed," he concluded. "Thank you for this award. God bless."

As head of a foundation with $5.4 billion in assets, which awards more than $200 million a year, the three-term mayor of New York has put his money where his mouth is.

Funding Global Abortion Providers

One aspect of his philanthropy's overall health initiative is to underwrite  "reproductive health services in the most remote areas of" Tanzania. Although all grants say they are intended "to reduce maternal deaths," alongside the CDC and the World Lung Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded two abortion providers.

In 2013, Bloomberg Philanthropies approved a  a grant of $1,818,000 for EngenderHealth, and another $250,000 for Marie Stopes International - Tanzania.

"EngenderHealth works to ensure reproductive rights of Tanzanian women and their families by integrating family planning with HIV and comprehensive abortion care services," the group states on its website. EngenderHealth has been discovered promoting the use of manual vacuum aspiration (MVA), a common abortion method, as "post-abortion care" in Africa, including in Tanzania.

The group also touts the fact that its expansion to all 26 regions of the country "has also contributed to an increase in uptake of long-acting and reversible methods," especially Implanon. Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) work both by preventing conception and by "alterations in the endometrium," which can cause an early abortion by preventing implantation.

Marie Stopes is known as a global abortion provider. MSI states that it only provides "post-abortion care" in Tanzania, where abortion is legal only to save the life of the mother.

But Marie Stopes officials have admitted that the group performs illegal abortions. 

"We do illegal abortions all over the world," Paul Cornellison, the director of Marie Stopes International in South Africa, said during a Marie Stopes International conference in 2007 in London - remarks that were caught on film. "There's various options, you know, once we open a center there...if we can just get our foot in the door." 

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In other nations, Bloomberg has supported advocates of unlimited, universal abortion-on-demand.

"Abortion services should be made free...for all women and girls"

Bloomberg Philanthropies underwrites political advocacy in African and Central American nations whose laws reflect the pro-life outlook of its citizens. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) offers a glimpse into what international abortion lobbyists demand.

Between 2012 and 2014, IPPF wrote a 32-page case study on the Senegalese legal landscape, entitled Over-Protected and Under-Served. While numerous participants told researchers that abortion is "easy" to obtain and “lots of young people are having clandestine abortions,” IPPF focused on promoting "safe" abortion -- while making clear that such laws were only one components of its overall mission. 

"Advocacy efforts should focus on realizing the ultimate goal of unrestricted access to abortion services, and protection of this right under the law. Abortion services should be made free, safe, accessible and confidential for all women and girls," the report states.

The abortion industry signaled it rejects incremental aims to achieve the eventual recognition of abortion as a human right. "Anything other than full decriminalization will often lead to abortion remaining inaccessible to all but a very small number of women," the report says.

The task of pressuring government officials will fall to local activists in the nations targeted by Bloomberg because, in the words of Kelly Henning, the head of the public health program at Bloomberg Philanthropies, "We want this effort to be sustainable." 

If the effort fails, it will not be for lack of resources. In a separate component of its reproductive health plan, Bloomberg partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to enact Family Planning 2020's global reproductive and population goals.

Is Jeb "Ultimately Accountable"?

The association with Bloomberg conflicts with Jeb's record as a two-term pro-life governor of Florida who enacted parental consent laws, allowed the regulation of abortion facilities, did not allow state funds to be used for abortion counseling, and created the state's "Choose Life" license plate.

As one of more than a dozen directors - which include such distinguished names as former Sens. Sam Nunn and David Boren, currently Sen. Cory Booker, and former Bush-43 officials Elaine Chao and Hank Paulson - what responsibility does the former Florida governor bear?

The issue bubbled up in April, giving his yet-unannounced campaign an opportunity to respond.

“Governor Bush was honored to serve on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which does a lot of good work across the world,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told the Tampa Bay Times. "As a board member, Governor Bush did not vote on or approve individual projects or programs."

Although Bush and Bloomberg "disagree on several policy issues, both share a passion for improving education in America," she added - a reference to their mutual embrace of the Common Core curriculum and other policies.  

A spokeswoman for Bloomberg Philanthropies, Meghan Womack, confirmed to the newspaper that directors do not sign off on every project.

But to what extent was Bush active in the issue?

According to nonprofit norms, directors carry deep responsibility for the organizations they help lead. "Regardless of what board members are called, they are in essence the trustees in the literal and legal sense of the term," the National Center for Nonprofit Boards wrote on the responsibilities of board members. "No matter how the organization is structured or the degree of authority delegated to staff, committees, or affiliates, the board and therefore the individual trustees are ultimately accountable."

Bloomberg Philanthropies noted in a press release, "The directors will serve in an advisory and oversight capacity." Bush earned $37,100 in compensation for his nearly five years of service.

"Bush’s people are probably right that as a board member he did not vote on every project," Stephen Phelan, the director of mission communications at Human Life International, told LifeSiteNews. "But Bloomberg has been so open about his foundation’s goals for so long that it really stretches credibility to say that Bush or his people wouldn’t have known that the foundation pushes abortion and other population control efforts."

Bloomberg clarified his goals while accepting his Planned Parenthood award last year. "You can't fight every battle," he said. "The things that are high on my priority list are sensible gun laws...I obviously care about a woman's right to choose...Nobody's a bigger supporter of gay rights." He added that "we need a good immigration bill" that provides amnesty for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, "so we can continue our economy."

Bloomberg has described abortion as a "fundamental human right, elevating it to a make-or-break position. "On this issue, you’re either with us or against us.” He once cited abortion among his reasons for endorsing Barack Obama in 2012. 

Despite their differences on abortion policy, the billionaire has had no reservations supporting Jeb Bush's candidacy - even before there was one.

Last spring, he called Jeb and Hillary Clinton "two quality” candidates and "the only two who know how to make the trains run."

He also showered compliments upon Bush while introducing him to the New York State Republican Party convention in 2010. 

“I couldn’t agree more with this guy,” he said of Jeb. “If there’s anyone I would want on my side waging all those important battles and helping provide the government Americans deserve, it is our next speaker."

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Planned Parenthood says ‘extremists’ brought down website: critics say possible ‘PR stunt’

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By John Jalsevac

Updated 07/30/15 at 1:57 EST

July 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - At the same time as a fourth video exposing Planned Parenthood's practice of harvesting and selling aborted baby body parts was released Thursday morning, visitors who attempted to access Planned Parenthood's website were greeted with a message saying, "Our site is not available due to an attack by extremists."

The page announcing the attack stated that "200,000 people a day are now being blocked from information and care by this attack," and directed visitors who wanted to find out more to Planned Parenthood Action Fund's Facebook page. 

At that Facebook page, the abortion giant states that the attack is a "new low" by anti-abortion extremists, and asks for donations to help them "fight back." 

However, some are raising questions about the purported attack, pointing out that a look under the hood shows that content from the site appears to be loading without a problem from Planned Parenthood's web server, while they have categorized the "site down" message as a "campaign."

At The Federalist, Sean Davis points out that the splash page also directs users to another page at ppaction.org where they can write their "story" about where they "stand" on Planned Parenthood, in the process of which Planned Parenthood collects their personal information.

"That’s right," says Davis. "Even though ppaction.org redirects to a page saying the site was hacked, the domain still house (sic) a perfectly functional URL and page that are being actively used to help build Planned Parenthood’s fundraising list."

Some hours after the original message was put up, Planned Parenthood changed the message to say simply that the website was "undergoing maintenance."

However, in comments to CNN Wednesday, Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, said that the website was originally brought down briefly on Wednesday by a distributed denial of service attack. “Although our websites were back online shortly after the attack, in order to ensure that we are fully protected, we’ve made the decision to take our website offline for a day,” she said, according to Jezebel.

The alleged attack comes days after Planned Parenthood had issued a statement claiming that "extremists" opposed to their agenda, "have called on the world’s most sophisticated hackers to assist them in breaching our systems and threatening the privacy and safety of our staff members."

At that time LifeSiteNews spoke with cybersecurity experts who said the attack appeared to be legitimate, but that it was not as sophisticated as Planned Parenthood claimed, given the outdated version of the abortion behemoth’s webserver.

The abortion giant has been reeling in recent weeks from a series of undercover videos, which appear to show high level Planned Parenthood staff negotiating to profit from the sale of body parts harvested from aborted babies. The videos have also shown the staff describing how they alter the abortion procedure to procure the best specimens possible.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

"Planned Parenthood says it’s been hacked by 'extremists,' but a review of the publicly available evidence suggests that the only things being hacked at Planned Parenthood right now are perfectly healthy and viable unborn babies," said Davis.

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