Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
Planned Parenthood may be one of the most socio-politically divisive organizations in the country. So it stands to reason the public relations operations, for and against the group, will be challenging. But, a recent article in the New York Times proved explosive for Planned Parenthood.
According to the Times, the organization has been accused of “discriminating against expectant mothers” on their payroll. According to the allegations reported in the article, PP “broke state and federal protocol” and created a “hostile work environment” for pregnant staffers. Among the specific accusations: pregnant women were “deterred from sharing their excitement” with coworkers in the workplace.
And that’s just the beginning of the specifics being published in a cascade of media reports. Former PP employee Ta’Lisa Hairston has alleged that, despite her doctor’s orders, she was denied regular breaks and not allowed to take necessary rest while on the clock. Hairston said: “I had to hold back tears talking to pregnant women, telling them to take care of their pregnancies when I couldn’t take care of mine…”
That statement has been jumped on by organizations opposed to Planned Parenthood, promoting the message that, while the organization purports to care for pregnant women, it does not offer the same consideration to its own employees.
Stories like that tend to have more media staying power than vague allegations that an organization may have “defied federal and state laws.” While those kinds of narratives grab attention, when a support organization is accused of specific hypocrisy by a sympathetic message-carrier, that escalates the intensity of the narrative in the minds of the audience. They now have a name and, in some cases, a face to connect with the allegations… rather than notions of potential legal violations.
The narrative source, in this case, is also a powerful PR problem for Planned Parenthood. Deserved or not, the Times is assumed to have a liberal bias, and, thus, to be somewhat sympathetic to organizations like Planned Parenthood. These assumptions come into play when the Times publishes statements like this:
“Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues…”
The image of pregnant women, made to fear for their jobs and their health by managers working for an organization whose brand defines itself as a service organization dedicated to caring for women, creates a paradox, as well as a significant PR challenge.