Over the last couple of weeks, an organization called the Center for Medical Progress has released a series of undercover videos alleging that Planned Parenthood has been selling parts of aborted fetuses for medical research. Posing as representatives of a medical research company, they have made inquiries about acquiring fetal tissue for research. On the videos, Planned Parenthood representatives discuss how to provide the tissue. They also joke about the procedure and talk about how abortion providers can carry out abortions to spare organs that medical researchers want.
Selling parts of aborted fetuses for profit is illegal. However, asking for compensation for the costs of harvesting those organs is legal. Right now, it appears that Planned Parenthood is in compliance with the law.
Planned Parenthood and the medical companies are countering with allegations that the videos are deceptively edited and several companies have sought a court order to prevent further releases of the videos. Ken White breaks that down here. The short version is that the Center for Medical Progress can not be forced to not show the videos unless they have already waived their first amendment rights by signing non-disclosure agreements. There also appear to be issues with the Center for Medical Progress sting videos taken in California, which is a two-party state. The Center, however, has indicated that they intend to release more videos.
In general, I tend to shy away from the abortion issue. People are too entrenched on the issue. If the Center for Medical Progress has broken the law — either by violating a non-disclosure agreement or taping someone in California without their consent — they should be punished accordingly. And if Planned Parenthood or other organizations have broken the law by selling fetal tissue for profit, they should be punished accordingly. The courts seem well on their way to sorting this out.
The Republicans, however, are using this in yet another effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood doesn’t get money for abortions. They do, however, get money from grants and from Medicaid for providing birth control and disease screenings to poor women and the Republicans now want to shut that off. I have to say that I’m against this. Planned Parenthood provides abortions. This has never been a secret. Abortion is a nasty business. That has never been a secret either. But their abortion business and their birth control operations are separate and trying to defund the latter because of the behavior of the former is, effectively, trying to ban abortion through the back door.
No, it’s worse. Cutting off Planned Parenthood from federal funds will have no effect on their abortion business. It will simply mean fewer women getting contraception and more women having babies (and having more abortions). It will mean fewer women getting condoms and more women catching diseases. And while you might say “Hey, let them pay for their own birth control!” guess who’s going to have to pick up the bill for those babies and diseases? Unless the Republicans are also willing to shut off Medicaid, WIC, food stamps and everything else … including for children … this is not a move to save the government money. And it is doubly not a move to save money because the Republicans want to divert that money to ineffective faith-based programs that will result in more poor women having babies and getting diseases.
There’s one other aspect of this, though. One I’m hesitant to get into, but one I think is important. The thing is … while I disagree with the Republicans, I understand where they’re coming from.
The pro-choice side has a very long history of trying to run away from the gruesomeness of abortion. They’ve tried to keep protesters from showing signs of aborted fetuses; they’ve tried to block informed consent laws that tell patients how abortion works; they try to pretend that the procedure is no more significant than having a boil lanced.
But this is nonsense. Abortion is a gruesome business. Most medicine is. I had my gallbladder out a few years ago and that was still nasty despite being done through a laparoscope. If you work in medicine for any period of time, you will see things that make your stomach turn. And then you will get inured to it.
If there have been laws broken, that needs to be punished. But there is nothing illegal about providing fetal tissue — at cost — to medical research companies. The alternative is to incinerate the tissue. But there’s also nothing wrong with abortion opponents pointing out that harvesting of fetal cells exists and that abortion providers try to accommodate that demand. This is part of the debate. It is perfectly acceptable to say to pro-choicers, “If you think abortion, should be legal, this is what you think should be legal.” And honest pro-choicers, like Elizabeth Nolan Brown, have accepted that. I accept that (although I oppose most late-term abortion).
The outraged response to this from the Left; the reflexive defensiveness; the attempt to impugn the Center for Medical Progress as “extremists” (which they are) instead of addressing their claims represent a real problem for the pro-choice movement. They don’t like to talk about what abortion entails.
This is not unique to the pro-choice movement. Pro-death-penalty people don’t like to talk about botched executions and the likelihood that the lethal injection combo we use causes excruciating pain. War advocates don’t like to see pictures of dead children. But that doesn’t change the reality of these policies (or their necessity, if you think them necessary).
The pro-choice movement, which I reluctantly agree with, is trying to run away from the reality of what they support. I don’t think they can.