The recent set of sting videos on Planned Parenthood, put out by The Center for Medical Progress, have shaken up the abortion debate in important ways. While it had never actually gone away, abortion had more or less become an accepted constant of American political life with few looking for significant change. That has changed now, as Planned Parenthood is under intense scrutiny, and the national opinion is actually capable of being influenced once again.
What are the major points we should consider in this scandal?
The legal questions are significant and mainly two: whether Planned Parenthood is doing more than simply recouping their costs from these transactions involving fetal remains and whether they are modifying their ordinary procedures in order to repurpose the tissue and organs. At the very least, these videos ought to raise concern to investigate the matter. Tellingly, the New York Times has gone out of its way to try to debunk any further inquiries, fallaciously appealing to motives to distract from the main point. They would prefer for everyone to ignore the videos and for politicians to keep their distance. Yet the videos do in fact show two matters of concern, and no amount of hand-waiving will be able to avoid them.
In both videos (so far, that is–we are told that there may be 10 more to come) we see Planned Parenthood representatives mention the possibility that abortion procedures could be altered if there is a known intent to preserve the remains. Dr. Nucatola only speaks of this as a hypothetical, but Dr. Mary Gatter clearly says that she supports the “less crunchy” method of extraction, and she says this in the immediate context of the desire to procure intact remains.
The matter of payment is even more significant, especially after the second video. In the wake of the initial video, the CMP had successfully baited Planned Parenthood into officially stating that they do receive remuneration but only as a way to recover the expenses of storage and transportation. This was of central concern. But in the second video, Dr. Gatter engages in negotiation and explicitly states her desire to find out the market price in her area. This would be irrelevant if the only concern was cost, and it is wholly inappropriate given the legal restrictions against human organ harvesting.
These legal questions are the ones that both the CMP and the defender of Planned Parenthood are emphasizing most, and they are important. Yet they are not the most important matters for the larger conversation. Indeed, they actually serve as an occasion to consider abortion anew and the role it plays in American society.
Abortion is typically able to garner some measure of sympathy from political moderates because it is presented as a tragic necessity. Images of desperate women, forced into a no-win situation, allow people to conceive of abortion as a charitable humanitarian undertaking. It is a matter of granting freedom and assistance to a person in need. Certain abortion proponents have tried to reframe the debate to one of women’s autonomy and power in a more abstract way, but they have only gained traction among the far-left. Most people still think of abortion as a bad thing which simply lacks any better solution.
What the CMP videos do is shift the focus away from the people seeking to procure an abortion to those providing it. This latter group, far from being weak and needy, is indistinguishable from the other holders of “power” otherwise decried by progressives. Fully contextualized among the California bourgeoisie, Planned Parenthood is seen to be technocratic, corporatistic, and very very white. Their clinical and antiseptic language is used to mask what they really do, which is commodify human life. Instead of dealing with babies or even fetuses, they speak of “intact specimens.” The human skull becomes a vertex calvarium. The rhetoric is technically accurate but with the effect of actually obscuring the subject. It is thus simultaneously correct and deceptive. It allows them to treat human beings like objects and, perhaps, to “do a little better” than break even along the way.
Thankfully journalists have begun to notice, and the appropriate questions are now being asked. For the first time in recent memory, major news outlets are allowing opinion pieces to be written which decry Planned Parenthood’s business as an inhumane and even devilish activity. And so the opportunity is now here to press this point again and again. Abortion is a service offered by the power elite, and it appears to be essential to their own identity and self-conception.
With abortion being the majority service offered, the fact is that Planned Parenthood is a corporation that exists to terminate human life and reuse its remains for other purposes. The reason that the “tissue” is valuable is because it is human life. The lungs and liver which are being “donated” are human lungs and liver. What the CMP videos do most successfully is confront us with this reality. It makes the action of abortion visible.
Indeed, abortion is much easier to justify if one is dealing with the oft-quoted “bag of cells.” However, once the focus is on heads, hearts, lungs, livers, and other unavoidably human features, the conversation must change. Older and stronger humans are, in fact, carrying out violent acts on younger and weaker humans. Whatever the reason, the thing that is happening is the same. Human life is being instrumentalized for the sake of some greater goal. This is very likely systemic, and thus America is again reminded that its unique conceptions of freedom and equality are founded upon the dehumanization and even death of a remainder class.
Though abortion is now largely wedded to the progressive wing of American politics, we can see that it is fully consistent with many Republican elements as well. It expands the freedom and power of some at the expense of the life of the weaker other, and it continues the conquest and subjugation of nature by way of technological advance. Planned Parenthood appears to be the embodiment of Foucault’s biopower, and as we consider the role that the American government plays in exporting such practices among the developing world, the nature of the hegemony becomes truly dystopian. We should be under no illusions. Abortion is not a way to grant equality over and against “the man.” Abortion is the man.
If Mr. Daleiden really does plan to release 10 more sting videos, then we will learn much more and could see some very significant political shakeups. The regulation and even defunding of Planned Parenthood would be a great blessing, but we must continue to press for the consideration of the basic questions. Must “freedom” and “equality” depend upon violence and death, and if so, what should that teach us about their order of priority? Most of all, can it be possible for modern people to care?
Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, Florida. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Trust. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, daughter, and two terriers.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.