I’ve written 15 stories for either the Washington Post Magazine or the newspaper’s Style section, most of which have been lengthy features highlighting an interesting individual. I know a little bit of what goes into choosing a topic for such prominent placement.
Let’s just say that a lot of thought goes into it.
So, I’m not complaining about the magazine featuring Planned Parenthood’s arts and entertainment director and her huge influence on how abortion is portrayed in Hollywood. What I gripe about is the absence of a similar several-thousand-word piece featuring an articulate woman on the opposite side of the issue.
Where’s the magazine piece on Abby Johnson, the heroine of the recent movie “Unplanned” and the Texas activist who left Planned Parenthood to now work against them? It’s not there.
Or Kristan Hawkins, an evangelical-turned-Catholic convert who turned Students for Life from a tiny group into an organization with 1,200 chapters in 50 states; who has four kids, two of whom have cystic fibrosis? She lives in DC’s Virginia suburbs, probably a mere hour’s drive from the Post’s downtown office.
So, let’s delve into this paean to Planned Parenthood’s “woman in Hollywood.”
It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday at Planned Parenthood’s New York headquarters, and I’m watching TV. Specifically, I’m watching a series of scenes clipped from movies and TV shows, all of which have two things in common: The woman beside me, Caren Spruch, had a hand in them, and each one features an abortion…
Spruch is the rare person in the abortion rights movement for whom the past few years represent a long-awaited breakthrough in addition to a series of terrifying setbacks. She’s Planned Parenthood’s woman in Hollywood — or, in official terms, its director of arts and entertainment engagement. She encourages screenwriters to tell stories about abortion and works as a script doctor for those who do (as well as those who write about any other area of Planned Parenthood’s expertise, such as birth control or sexually transmitted infections). It’s a role she slipped into sideways, but one that now seems to be increasingly welcome in Hollywood.
In the past year or two, word of Spruch’s services has started to filter through the film industry. “Nobody used to call me,” she says. “I would be watching TV and going to the movies and figuring out who I thought might be open to including these story lines. Now I have a couple of repeat clients. Now people call me.” She estimates that Planned Parenthood has advised on more than 150 movies and shows since that first effort with “Obvious Child.” Writers who have relied on her advice tell me they feel a secret kinship with one another. “We could see hints of her in all the TV shows coming out, from ‘Shrill’ to ‘Jane the Virgin,’ ” says Gillian Robespierre, writer-director of “Obvious Child.” “It’s really wonderful. She’s like Planned Parenthood’s secret weapon.”
In case you’re not familiar with “Obvious Child,” a trailer is included atop this post.
Spruch is a behind-the-scenes kind of person, so much so that I couldn’t find her listed on Planned Parenthood’s main site. Her LInkedIn profile tells nothing of her past. I’m curious what Spruch gets paid for all this work, but the article doesn’t say. There’s very little bio about the woman herself.
What it does say is:
With Spruch’s help and encouragement, Hollywood is writing abortion into its story lines, including it as one more possible plot point.
Such encouragement, at least from the left, is not new. While pop culture editor for the Washington Times in the 1990s, I used to write about how GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) did the same thing; advising producers and screen writers of how to realistically present the lives of gay people. Powderkeg does similar work and includes women and minorities.
Yes, this massive piece does include a few quotes from her opponents — but they often come with caveats. Take a look at this one:
At the same time, opponents argue that, as the largest provider of abortions in the nation, Planned Parenthood is an inappropriate source of information for filmmakers. “It’s like the tobacco industry getting to fact-check how smoking is treated in films,” argues Lila Rose, founder of the antiabortion group Live Action (which is known for releasing sting videos — criticized for being heavily edited — that have targeted Planned Parenthood clinics). “They have no business influencing anyone’s screenwriting. … It’s a real injustice.”
Now that’s a slap. Here’s a woman accused of editing videos and she’s lecturing Planned Parenthood about influencing screenwriting? Oh, the hypocrisy.
Instead of back-handing people like Rose, why doesn’t the magazine profile her?
Rose is a millennial and very successful at entering clinics playing the role of an abortion-minded pregnant woman, while surreptitiously filming Planned Parenthood employees giving her illegal instructions. Agree or disagree with her methods, she was creating serious problems for Planned Parenthood — and making news -- while in her early teens. Definitely a story possibility and she lives in nearby Arlington, Va., so it wouldn’t be hard for the Post to get to her, either.
Further into the article, the text does touch on “Unplanned,” but again, ran a lengthy caveat: “Extensive reporting by Texas Monthly and Salon has cast doubt on much of Johnson’s story; Planned Parenthood has said that the film, which accuses the nonprofit organization of performing abortions because they are lucrative, “promotes many falsehoods.” The fact that Johnson has answered those accusations is not mentioned. Who needs debate and balance?
But where are the caveats about Planned Parenthood itself? Where is the descriptor phrase that adds that the organization “tries not to mention well-documented evidence that its founder, Margaret Sanger, was a racist who wrote about encouraging black Americans not to reproduce in the early 20th century?”
Level the playing field, people.
There is religion content in this story, such as a sentence linking the Republican Party’s opposition to abortion in the 1980s as “an outcome of President Ronald Reagan’s alliance with white evangelicals.”
Why the race card here? FYI, here are black evangelicals who oppose abortion as well plus there’s a new book out about a noted pro-life black leader. And Catholics were out there opposing abortion way before the evangelical Protestants got into the act, but the story doesn’t link Reagan with them.
What the story does do is portray the astonishing access that Spruch has to Hollywood insiders and the freedom she has to manipulate how her organization is portrayed on the set, even down to the pictures on the wall of a typical Planned Parenthood clinic. And that the organization maintains a presence at the Sundance film festival, not to mention other insider gatherings.
The article was super informative. Don’t get me wrong, I never knew who this woman was. I wish I’d learned more of her personal story and how she came to work for this organization and what motivates her. Her amazing access to the people who actually write the scripts is pretty impressive but what also amazes me is how no one has a problem with her advocacy with all these creatives. Would these same writers, producers and actors be OK with a religious and/or pro-life group asking them to publicly support their mission?
We know they would not.