The real lessons of that shameful Planned Parenthood video
These are lessons that should stretch across the partisan divide on abortion
Planned Parenthood is officially a non-profit dedicated to women's health. But it's more accurate to call it an abortion business. And businesses seek to maximize profit.
Which is why, in a sense, we shouldn't be surprised that one of Planned Parenthood's lines of work is trafficking in the organs of aborted fetuses, as a hidden camera report has recently exposed. The video is extremely unsettling. It shows one of the organization's top executives glibly chatting about selling fetal lungs and livers while munching on salad and sipping wine.
Now, Planned Parenthood doesn't call it trafficking. They say it's all pro-bono — they just charge for shipping and handling! I think I saw an offer like that in a late-night infomercial, too. (For the record, Planned Parenthood also says, "At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.")
We all know that abortion is a huge fault-line in American politics. And by itself, this video doesn't tell us anything about whether unborn human beings should have their right to life recognized in law or not.
But it still tells us many important things.
The first is that this story is emblematic about how we couch the language of abortion in niceties. "Termination." "Disposal." "Fetus." "Dilatation and extraction." "Process."
Here is the truth, whether you like it or not: Abortion is a gruesome thing. It involves the destruction of an innocent being that looks just like you, that often has dreams, that often can feel pain. And it involves its destruction through the use of tools that dismember it — her, him — limb by limb.
Abortion-rights advocates want to hide this, because they realize it makes people uncomfortable — perhaps because it makes even these pro-choice activists uncomfortable (I hope it does, for their sakes).
That is perhaps the most important thing about this video and the resulting conversation: It reminds us that the whole business of abortion is highly unpalatable.
And there is a second important reminder: just how skewed coverage of abortion is in American media.
A landmark LA Times study showed in 1990 how pervasively and consistently news coverage of abortion is skewed towards the pro-choice perspective, through the use of journalistic techniques like framing, angle, and vocabulary that skew a story even while maintaining the appearance of objectivity. Former New York Times editor Bill Keller, in an unguarded moment, once rejected charges of bias in the paper of record on most issues — except on social issues, where he unabashedly boasted of his paper's liberal bias.
I wish it was just militant hyperbole for me to claim that overwhelmingly, and in defiance of its stated code of ethics, America's journalistic press corps acts like political activists when it comes to abortion. But them's the facts.
We were reminded of it with the story of Kermit Gosnell, the butcher-abortionist who preyed on poor, minority women. It had all the makings of a national story, with elements of horror, gruesomeness, medical malpractice, as well as a poverty and race angle, and yet the national media blacked it out. (During the first hearing of the case, court officers had cordoned off an entire section of the courtroom for press, and only one reporter, of a local newspaper, showed up.)
You would think a story about trafficking in dead baby organs would also be sensational. But America's supposedly mainstream media has barely noticed.
Whether Planned Parenthood sells baby organs or not doesn't change those things, and it doesn't change much to the magnitude of what abortion means, and represents, for our society.
But it might still be useful to be reminded once in a while.