An undercover video produced by anti-abortion group Live Action has enflamed the debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood and raised new questions about tactics used to try to discredit the nation's leading abortion provider.
The 22-minute video released Tuesday appears to depict the manager of a New Jersey clinic advising a pimp and an underage prostitute on how to apply for health services without triggering mandatory reporting requirements and evade detection by law enforcement authorities.
"The only thing that you do have to be careful is if they are a minor we are obligated if we hear any certain information to kind of report," the manager said in the video. "So as long as they just lie and say, 'Oh he's 15, 16.' You know, as long as they don't say '14' and as long as it's not too much of an age gap then we just kind of like play it stup-- ..."
The man and woman posed as sex traffickers when they entered a Perth Amboy, N.J., clinic on Jan. 13 to inquire about STD testing, abortions and access to contraception, Live Action said. They openly stated involvement in "sex work" that employed young, undocumented immigrant girls.
"This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Planned Parenthood intentionally breaks state and federal laws and covers up the abuse of the young girls it claims to serve," said Live Action president Lila Rose, a former associate of controversial conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe. "They don't deserve a dime of the hundreds of millions they receive in federal funding from taxpayers."
Planned Parenthood said in a statement Tuesday it had notified state and federal authorities of a suspected sex trafficking ring following the staged visit and raised the possibility that it could have been a sting.
"As soon as these visits were over, Planned Parenthood employees immediately reported to Planned Parenthood management that two highly unusual visits occurred within hours of each other by persons that claimed to be engaged in sex trafficking," spokesman Stuart Schear said.
"On that same day, prior to learning that these visits had also occurred in other states, the local Planned Parenthood affiliate notified local law enforcement in New Jersey," he said.
Schear said Planned Parenthood officials later pieced together a pattern of at least 11 similar incidents in six states that occured over five days and they notified federal authorities.
"These multi-state visits ... may be a hoax," the group's president Cecile Richards wrote in a Jan. 18 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. "In the past, Planned Parenthood affiliates have been approached by a small, organized group of people, opposed to our mission, who have misrepresented their circumstances to gain access to our health centers. ... This may be happening once again. If so, this kind of activity should be firmly condemned."
The FBI is investigating the incidents at Planned Parenthood health centers and reviewing surveillance photos of at least one of the men who had claimed to be a pimp.
Planned Parenthood Investigates Employee Actions
While opposing Live Action's tactics, Planned Parenthood has acknowledged that the behavior of one of its employees depicted in the film could have been inappropriate.
"The behavior of our employee, as portrayed on the video, if accurate, violates PPCNJ policies as well as our core values of protecting the welfare of minors and complying with the law," Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey CEO Phyllis Kinsler said in a statement.
Kinsler said "appropriate action is being taken" to investigate the incident.
The group asked ABC News not to identify the office manager shown in the film because of threats she has received.
The Live Action video lends ammunition to anti-abortion advocates who have pressured congressional Republicans to block all federal funds for Planned Parenthood.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Pence introduced a bill last month that would strip the group of the more than $350 million each year it receives in government grants for family planning services.
"The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal funding under Title X," said Pence. "The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act will prevent any family planning funds under Title X from going to Planned Parenthood or other organizations that perform abortions. It will ensure that abortion providers are not being subsidized with federal tax dollars."
Pro-abortion rights advocates have vowed to fight the effort and accused Republicans of violating their promises to focus on jobs and the economy.
"[House Speaker John] Boehner and other like-minded politicians campaigned on limiting the role of government in our lives, yet their actions prove otherwise," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "They want to shrink government to be just small enough to fit inside our bedrooms and our medicine cabinets."
Meanwhile, Live Action, which is a grassroots group of college-age anti-abortion activists, has not disclosed whether it is preparing to release other disparaging videos of Planned Parenthood clinics.
This story was updated from an earlier version to reflect comment from a Live Action spokeswoman.