A viral meme claims that Girl Scout cookies support Planned Parenthood, but the organization says it has no “relationship or partnership with Planned Parenthood.”
The first few months of the year bring Girl Scout cookies, and the internet brings overstated claims linking them to abortion.
One popular meme circulating on social media claims: “Before you buy Girl Scout cookies, be aware that they support Planned Parenthood, which now endorses full term abortions.”
Some version of that claim has been going around for years. It dates to at least 2004 — the same year that Facebook began — when John Pisciotta, an anti-abortion activist in Waco, Texas, bought ads on a local Christian radio station calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies.
On NBC’s “Today” show, host Lester Holt interviewed Pisciotta and Kathy Cloninger, who had become the CEO of the national Girl Scouts six months earlier, about a local boycott that made national headlines.
Pisciotta opened the interview, which took place on March 5, 2004, by praising the “Girl Scouts for taking the decision to separate themselves from the controversial organization of Planned Parenthood.”
Days earlier, in response to Pisciotta’s call for a boycott, “the Bluebonnet Council of Girl Scouts, which oversees troops in the Waco area and 13 other counties, announced … that it would not be affiliated with Planned Parenthood sex-education programs this year,” the Associated Press reported in a March 3, 2004 story. The Girl Scouts in Waco had been affiliated only with the local Planned Parenthood’s sex-education program — not with the organization’s clinical services.
Later in the show, Pisciotta announced that he had ended his boycott. “It is over, and I encourage everyone to go out and buy Thin Mints,” he said.
But the unfounded claim that Girl Scout cookies support Planned Parenthood lives on — in large part because of Cloninger’s interview that day on the “Today” show.
Holt asked Cloninger, “You say there is no formal relationship between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood. Can you describe what the relationship is or was?” After criticizing Pisciotta as a “bully,” Cloninger went on to say:
Cloninger, March 5, 2004: The Girl Scouts in Waco, Texas, really made a decision based on local community context, they decided that in this particular situation that it would be in the best interest of girls and their families to discontinue the relationship with Planned Parenthood. Girl Scouts is the largest voice for, and advocate for girls across the country. Know that girls grow up with very complex issues facing them. And so we do, across the country, tackle the issues of human sexuality and body image and all of the thing that’s girls are facing. And we partner with many organizations. We have relationships with our church communities, with YWCAs, and with Planned Parenthood organizations across the country, to bring information-based sex education programs to girls.
The last part of Cloninger’s answer has lived on as the primary piece of evidence used by critics of the scouts.
But the national organization, Girl Scouts of the United States of America, takes no position on birth control or abortion and has no relationship with Planned Parenthood, according to its website. And it didn’t at the time, either, according to the AP’s 2004 story.
Also, there is no evidence of funds going to the group in the scout’s 990 tax form.
As for the suggestion that cookie sales “support” Planned Parenthood, there is no evidence of that, either. Proceeds from Girl Scout cookie sales stay within the local councils — that’s the tier between the national organization and the troops in the Girl Scouts’ structure. Those councils largely decide on the programming and events that will be offered to scouts in their area.
According to the Girl Scout’s governing rules, the councils can work with local businesses, but those businesses have to maintain “policies and operations compatible with the values of Girl Scouting.” And, of course, the national organization “does not have a relationship or partnership with Planned Parenthood,” as it says on its website.
While the Girl Scouts don’t have a relationship with Planned Parenthood, they have historically had one with the Catholic Church. Prompted by questions about the potential relationship between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood (among other related questions), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spent two years examining the issue. It did find the “possibility of local councils or troops collaborating with or forming a relationship with Planned Parenthood to be an area of serious concern deserving close attention at the local level,” but it didn’t give any examples that showed a relationship between the two organizations on a local level and it didn’t recommend that the church cut ties with the scouts. Rather, it recommended that dioceses develop a memorandum of understanding with local councils, as has been done by at least two dioceses.
So, although there has been concern over the years about a relationship between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood, there is scant evidence that there is one.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.
Pro-Life Waco. “Video Today Show.” YouTube. 5 Mar 2004.
Associated Press. “Girl Scout cookies, and troops, crumble in Texas.” NBCnews.com. 3 Mar 2004.
Girl Scouts of the United States of America. IRS Form 990. 7 May 2018.
Girl Scouts of the United States of America. Blue Book of Basic Documents. Oct 2017.
Girl Scouts of the United States of America. Social Issues. GirlScouts.org. Accessed 20 Feb 2019.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Background on Girl Scouts of the USA and USCCB Conversations. USCCB.org. Accessed 20 Feb 2019.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions and Answers About Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) and About Catholic Scouting. USCCB.org. 2 Apr 2014.