As I said with the release of the first surreptitious “sting video” of Planned Parenthood released under auspices of the anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, such videos are, in principle, unethical. However, while the unethical should be used in pursuit of a greater good only with great reluctance, moral certainty and a minimum of harm, there are instances when utilitarianism must apply.
This is one of them.
In the case of abortion, the prospect of saving the lives of millions of unborn is certainly worth the incursion on the ethical values of honesty and respect for privacy implicated by these videos. Indeed, it is worth a great deal more. With the seventh video, released yesterday, the conclusion is unavoidable that we, the public, the nation, and humanity, owe a debt of gratitude to the Center for taking radical action to force confrontation with the reality of abortion so that there can be a real, open and honest debate that doesn’t duck the central issue. That issue is not women’s control over their lives, but the ethics of killing innocent human beings to achieve it.
The latest video, like the earlier ones, compels any fair, emotionally functioning and rational observer to accept the brutality and near complete callousness towards human life that the abortion machine creates and requires. In this respect the seven videos—with more to come— are abortion’s equivalent of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” forcing genteel, moral, good people by their own confident assessment to confront the horrors that have been occurring under their noses with their passive approval. Because they chose not to think about what abortion really involved, just as so many Americans had no idea what slavery was like until Harriet Beecher Stowe forced them to consider it as more than an abstraction, abortion advocates, passive and active, have an ethical obligation to watch these videos. Those who refuse are admitting that they are incapable of letting facts disturb their ideologies.
The seventh video shows how Planned Parenthood customizes abortions to ensure that they produce intact fetal remains, which are apparently more valuable than the sum of the parts taken piece by piece. Thus this is the opposite of breaking up a classic stamp collection, which is usually more lucrative to sell stamp by stamp than all at once. As in the previous videos, Planned Parenthood personnel treat the human fetuses they abort with no more respect than a stamp collection, and no more humanity. It’s a commodity, that’s all. Meat.
Let me interject this, because it is important. The focus on Planned Parenthood as the villain here is misplaced, unfair, and ultimately self-defeating. Abortion itself, and the culture that accepts and embraces it based on political propaganda and misrepresentation, are the wrongs to address, not the organization that only facilitates conduct that has already been sanctified by ideology, power and law.
I don’t particularly care what happens to the fetuses, or their parts, after they have been killed. Using them for valuable research mitigates the damage; it doesn’t add to it. I care if Planned Parenthood violates the law, but no more than I care that any organization violates the law. Making that organization the issue is, frankly, stupid, and allows, yet again, the pro-abortion forces to avoid the real ethical dilemmas and conflicts at the heart of the abortion debate.. Look at all the op-eds and defenses of Planned Parenthood bickering about whether “harvesting” is a fair word to use, and how being reimbursed by researchers for fetus parts isn’t the same as selling them. The attacks on Planned Parenthood play into the abortion lobby’s hands, because it allows abortion advocates to steer the subject away from that which is no more defensible under human, ethical and moral principles than Simon Legree killing his human property for the fun of it.
The new video includes images showing what a 19-20 week fetus looks like after it has been aborted and is outside the womb. Any casual and smug abortion advocate needs to look directly at these images and explain why a society should permit this any time a woman’s life plans are threatened by the tiny, helpless, developing human being. Then let’s hear the rationalizations. It’s not really human. It doesn’t think. It can’t process pain. It’s only a potential life. It’s nobody’s business but the mother’s (well, it’s Planned Parenthood’s business too, but never mind, never mind…) The new rationalization, launched as a Planned Parenthood talking point: All medical procedures are icky, and this is no different.
On the ten minute long video #7, Holly O’Donnell, a a former StemExpress procurement tech who appeared in the previous video, describes how she removed the brain of an aborted fetus by cutting through its face.
It had a face, you know.
Appendixes and tonsils don’t have faces.
“‘I want to see something kind of cool,’” O’Donnell says. “And [her supervisor] just taps the heart, and it starts beating! And I’m sitting here and I’m looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating, and I don’t know what to think.”
Clarence Darrow gave a famous speech in which he praised John Brown, the mad abolitionist whose deadly rampage raised public consciousness over slavery. The speech, which according to Google I seem to be the only one to quote on the web, concluded:
“The world has long since accepted the results of John Brown’s work. Great as the cost was, all men know that it was worth the price. But even now the idle, carping, and foolish still ask; “Did Brown do right, and would it not better have been done some other way?”…The fruits of John Brown’s life are plain for all to see; while time shall last, men and women, sons and daughters of bondsmen and slaves, will live by the light of freedom, be inspired by the hope of liberty.
The earth needs and will always need its Browns; these poor, sensitive, prophetic souls, feeling the suffering of the world, and taking its sorrows on their burdened backs. It sorely needs the prophets who look far out into the dark, and through the long and painful vigils of the night, wait for the coming day. They wait and watch, while slow and cold and halting, the morning dawns, the sun rises and waxes to the noon, and wanes to the twilight and another night comes on. The radical of today is the conservative of tomorrow, and other martyrs take up the work through other nights, and the dumb and stupid world plants its weary feet upon the slippery sand, soaked by their blood, and the world moves on.”
John Brown was a terrorist. Darrow, our most revered trial lawyer, believed in extreme measures to achieve justice and progressive ends; he even approved of murder when it was the only way, he believed, to conquer a great evil, and nothing was more evil to Darrow than slavery. He believed in terrorism for the right cause. I don’t know where Darrow would have fallen in the abortion debate, but if he opposed it, he would have regarded the use of unethically obtained videos as a tiny ethics price to pay for a sword that might cut the abortion Gordian Knot tied by the Supreme Court in its Roe decision. Darrow would have eagerly defended those who shoot abortion doctors and bomb clinics, I think. He was wrong about John Brown and terrorism, but right about the importance of cutting Gordian Knots.
John Brown was not the hero that Darrow believed he was, for his violent acts in opposition to slavery could not be squared with any ethical system, including responsible utilitarianism. In contrast, the surreptitious videos used to, finally, educate Americans about the nature of abortion—especially in light of the mainstream news media’s decades long support for abortion and pro-abortion politicians—are ethically justified, and laudable.
These videos don’t, and shouldn’t, settle the issue, which is much more complicated than slavery, with vital interest on both sides of the scale. At least, however, perhaps for the first time, we may be able to debate the competing interests inherent in abortion while being honest about what abortion is, what support for abortion means, and what the consequences are, both to the aborted, and to our culture’s values.
Pointer: Professor Jacobson