On December 5, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) released a statement that began by condemning reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas against Israelis. But it didn’t mention the nearly 20,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in two months until the third paragraph. The statement quickly drew impassioned backlash, especially from reproductive justice advocates and abortion funds, who accused PPFA of sidelining a humanitarian crisis that’s carried disproportionate harm for pregnant people and children. Shortly after this statement, one social media user (who works in public health) shared on Dec. 7 that when her friend called PPFA to cancel her monthly donation, they were accused of supporting Hamas: “The operator said ‘thank you for your support of hamas’ and hung up on them.”
PPFA acknowledged the incident the next day in a new statement, saying the organization “directly apologized to the individual who made the phone call.” They also said they opened an investigation into the third-party call vendor that handles donor calls and terminated its relationship with the person who made the comment. “There are no words that will undo this harm, but we are reviewing our processes to prevent this from happening again,” the statement says.
However, the controversy surrounding PPFA’s position on Gaza and Israel was just beginning. That Sunday, after days of internal conversations among frustrated employees at PPFA and Planned Parenthood affiliates, the employees shared a statement disavowing PPFA’s statement and calling for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire.” The counter-statement, which was made public on Dec. 10, has collected 445 signatures from current and former employees as of Monday afternoon.
Four current PPFA employees and four employees from three different Planned Parenthood affiliates spoke to Jezebel about their involvement in the counter-statement.
a friend of mine called to cancel their monthly donation to planned parenthood after this statement and the operator said “thank you for your support of hamas” and hung up on them https://t.co/GL8icFJ6VE
— frogan (@fr0gan) December 7, 2023
“An organization with this level of political power, this name brand, could not take a more firm stance against the genocide that is occurring—that’s extremely frustrating,” the PPFA employee who led the effort told Jezebel. Each of the employees expressed frustration with not just the statement itself, but its impact on Planned Parenthood’s reputation in the reproductive justice space, and how this will hurt their ability to organize and forge relationships within their communities. They further criticized the lack of transparency about the process of putting out the Dec. 5 statement; a lack of empathy for Arabic employees and employees of color; and a widening gulf between the values of PPFA leadership and lower-ranking, unionized employees. Ultimately, employees said they were disappointed in PPFA leadership before December 5, between its prior silence on Gaza, and, even before the last two months, burnout and alleged union busting.
All employees spoke to Jezebel on the condition of anonymity out of fear of professional retaliation. One PPFA employee told Jezebel that, back in 2021, one of their co-workers was “berated” by their manager “after they asked a question in an internal employee meeting about PPFA’s stance on Palestine.” Per this employee, their co-worker was “pulled aside later and berated by an upper manager about using offensive language” because they used “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. PPFA’s media office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about this employee’s claim.
“As workers in the fight for reproductive health and justice in the United States, we cannot stay silent as we bear witness to a longstanding genocide funded by our tax dollars,” the counter-statement reads. It goes on to specifically criticize PPFA for not acknowledging Israel’s actions in Gaza as a genocide, nor Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and apartheid conditions imposed on Palestinians.
The employees’ response takes particular issue with PPFA’s statement for not acknowledging crises of reproductive injustice in Gaza, including pregnancy complications under bombardment and a lack of anesthetic for emergency C-sections. In November, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry said nine premature babies had died from a lack of fuel for incubators as a result of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.
“Israeli airstrikes have struck schools, hospitals, and health centers—including the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association’s [PFPPA] only reproductive health facility in Gaza,” the employees’ statement says. (PFPPA is a member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.) The statement concludes by criticizing Planned Parenthood’s Dec. 5 statement for ignoring “widely reported cases of verbal, psychological, physical and sexual abuse of Palestinian children, teenagers, and women in Israeli prisons.”
Please read the unionized Planned Parenthood workers response to this—and about the genocide of Palestinians. We do it better than our bosses, trust us 😉 #IStandWithPPWorkers
— my good bitch 🇵🇸 (@clozillo) December 11, 2023
A Planned Parenthood affiliate employee based in Ohio told Jezebel that reading PPFA’s statement “as a Muslim person, it just made me feel like an afterthought.” They expressed particular frustration with how the statement will affect Planned Parenthood affiliates’ ability to connect with their communities and patients: “People that we serve are going to look at this statement and they’re going to equate us with it, even though it does not reflect the average client-serving Planned Parenthood employee.” Another Ohio-based affiliate employee told Jezebel, “The leaders at PPFA who are making the statement don’t really have to see its impacts on our work, our patients, firsthand. They can just mute it. We can’t.” Or, as a different employee at an affiliate in the South told Jezebel, “We’re left cleaning up the mess with far fewer resources than PPFA leaders.”
According to another PPFA employee, shortly after the Dec. 5 statement, employees across the organization and its affiliates coalesced in their group chats, then created a bigger group chat for everyone who was hurt or upset to vent, support each other, and share resources. This employee, who helped start the chat dedicated to working on the counter-statement, said they also took issue with what they see as PPFA’s “selective usage of active versus passive voice”—a sentiment echoed by each of the employees who spoke to Jezebel. “I was immediately frustrated that the organization can speak in the language of active voice and name oppressors when speaking about abortion, naming lawmakers as the oppressors—but not in the context of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians,” they said.
Planned Parenthood affiliates and unions across the country have shared photos and videos of their members marching for a ceasefire in their communities, as well as sharing statements in solidarity with Palestinians. According to another PPFA employee, the Dec. 5 statement “disregards” Planned Parenthood organizers’ work to build community with people of color-led reproductive justice groups and other marginalized communities. “There’s a very big difference between talking to rich Democratic politicians and rich white donors, and organizing in communities on the ground,” they explained. At the end of the day, the affiliate employee based in the South also stressed that “it shouldn’t take so much labor, particularly from employees from marginalized communities, to get an organization like Planned Parenthood to do what’s right.”
The formation of the group chat to air grievances ultimately led the employees to put together their counter-statement. Nearly everyone seemed to be “on the same page,” one PPFA employee said. This employee recalled personally “feeling physically ill” after seeing the Dec. 5 statement. And each of the employees who Jezebel spoke with expressed concerns that the decision to release that statement, and center Israel without characterizing the crisis in Gaza as a genocide, was a result of pressures from donors or pressures to fall in line with top Democratic politicians. Whatever the impetus for PPFA’s statement was, an Ohio-based affiliate employee told Jezebel, “Ultimately, no one’s happy.” The organization’s statement is “one-sided” and “pushes pro-genocide propaganda,” the employee continued, but they’ve still seen many pro-Israel social media users attack PPFA for merely acknowledging Palestinian civilians’ deaths. A former Planned Parenthood employee also criticized the statement’s contradictions in a tweet last week: “The thing about trying to play both sides of the fence is that you can’t claim it’s a war against Hamas and then say it’s killed thousands of palestinian civilians in the same breath and not interrogate how that happened.”
Jezebel reached out to PPFA to ask for comment on the employees’ counter-statement as well as employees’ comments to Jezebel about feeling disregarded, overlooked, and, from employees of color, personally hurt by the organization’s statement. PPFA did not respond to these requests.
It’s not just Planned Parenthood employees—other groups in the reproductive health and justice space have since sharply criticized PPFA’s statement on Gaza. The Abortion Fund of Ohio called it “fucking shameful,” adding, “Repro justice demands… liberation for all Palestinians liberation for all Palestinians. Repro must call for a #CEASEFIRE_NOW.” The Buckle Bunnies Fund of Texas shared the PPFA statement and wrote, “This pussy hat wearing, union-busting, genocide-denying org can no longer be the face of the reproductive liberation movement. We are not free until we are ALL free, from the river, to the sea.” In October, the women of color-led reproductive justice organization ARC-Southeast shared a letter of solidarity with Palestinians, characterizing the Israeli occupation as settler colonialism, and denouncing how Israel’s policies (including 2013 reports that Israel imposed forced sterilizations targeting Ethiopian Jews) have denied Palestinians bodily autonomy. The letter drew dozens of signatories including Indigenous Women Rising, the National Network of Abortion Funds, and the Feminist Women’s Health Center. It states:
At its core, Zionism denies Palestinians the right to exist, thrive, and have autonomy over their bodies, something that impacts Palestinians of all genders and ages. This racist ideology is incompatible with reproductive justice because we know firmly that settler colonialism denies the core tenants of RJ. Zionism is a contradiction to Reproductive Justice.
Speaking to Jezebel, a Planned Parenthood affiliate employee based in Pennsylvania said they’re still processing the fact that the PPFA statement from Dec. 5 doesn’t even mention the International Planned Parenthood Federation member facility that was destroyed in Gaza in October. “It’s the stuff that’s missing that speaks the loudest,” they said. As for PPFA’s handling of the phone call in which a pro-Palestine donor was accused of supporting Hamas, this employee expressed mixed feelings: The phone operator was “in the wrong,” but “I’m deeply annoyed that [PPFA] worked quicker to fire the [operator] than to make a comprehensive, attentive statement to begin with.” They explained, “It shows they can only punish after the fact—but they can’t lift up employees’ voices to begin with.”