A series of undercover videos from a pro-life group have rocked Planned Parenthood — and the national debate over abortion.
In all three videos, officials from the nation's largest abortion provider discuss compensation for extracting organs from aborted fetuses, including, in one case, over wine and salad at lunch. Much of the debate has been over whether this constitutes sales or compensation. But the much larger questions concern how abortion has been sold, and what it truly is. That's where we ought to focus our attention.
The conversations clandestinely captured by the activist group Center for Medical Progress would sound familiar to anyone who has held negotiations with vendors and buyers over pricing. The level of compensation changes depending on the organs involved and how cleanly they can be separated. One executive claims that all Planned Parenthood clinics want is reasonable compensation, but if they "come out a little ahead," they're "happy to do it." Another jokes that she wants a Lamborghini and doesn't want to name a figure first for fear of getting "lowballed."
In the latest video, which depicts an actual dissection of aborted material as a technician identifies the human organs for transfer, a vice president of a regional chapter of Planned Parenthood discusses the benefits of pricing the individual parts over a flat rate for each specimen. As the technician points out intact kidneys and a spinal column in a pie dish of the torn-apart remains of a first-trimester fetus, Dr. Savita Ginde tells the undercover reporter posing as a buyer that she prefers to transact as a "per-item thing." That "works a little better," Ginde says on hidden camera, "just because we can see how much we can get out of it."
To many people, these conversations sound very much like Planned Parenthood is selling tissue based on market value. Even if the prices seem rather low on a "per-item thing," the transfers reduce the costs for disposal, turning a cost into a revenue-producing action, as John McCormack notes at The Weekly Standard. If the transactions of human flesh don't count as profit, they at least reduce cost.
Selling human organs and tissue for profit violates federal law. However, the law also allows for compensation for the costs to produce the tissue, a point that Planned Parenthood and its defenders have raised repeatedly since the videos started emerging. Does this fit within the law, or do Planned Parenthood and its buyers cross the line? The New York Times calls this "a gray zone, legally," but does concede that the videos raise questions about "what the law allows."
Certainly, Congress should look into how its exceptions for tissue donation have been exploited. But this isn't the main issue seen in these videos.
Planned Parenthood wants to keep the debate on these points to deflect from the real debate — the nature of abortion itself, and the deliberate minimization in language that has allowed it. Abortion defenders claim that the procedure does not terminate life, and that it has no more moral meaning than excising a tumor or a cyst, a "clump of cells" in the most common construction. On Twitter, a young actor in Hollywood offered a more crude assessment this week. "A pile of goop should not have more rights than a human being," Lucas Neff tweeted, "period."
Now, though, we see that the same abortion clinics that argue for the "pile of goop" status see things very, very differently when it comes time to benefit from the results of their services. They adjust their techniques to extract and market human organs for buyers to meet demand, with the clear value attached on the basis of both their humanity and specificity. Clinic executives like Dr. Ginde want to negotiate those markets on a per-item basis because of the value that humanity and specificity provides to both parties, "just because we can see how much we can get out of it."
The true danger to Planned Parenthood and the entire industry is the exposure of their hypocrisy. The two positions of "clumps of cells" and negotiating over human organs from abortions are mutually exclusive. One cannot extract human organs from "a pile of goop," or from tumors or undifferentiated "clumps of cells." Human organs come from human beings, and the only way to harvest them from unborn human beings is to kill them first. The videos cut through all of the misdirection, all of the antiseptic generalities used in defense of abortion, to expose its true nature — and that's what has Planned Parenthood panicked over the videos.
For those who oppose abortion, the debate over sales of human organs and tissue is very tempting, and certainly should be engaged. However, the focus should be on the admitted humanity of those whose lives come to an end in those clinics rather than the legal technicalities of compensation and sales for the "products" that result from them. Expose the lie, and let's finally have the conversation about the value of human life in all its stages that we have spent the last 42 years avoiding.