The Planned Parenthood Videos Made Me Uncomfortable, But I’m Not Ready To Start Listening To Rush. Now What?

Charles Camosy Professor, Fordham University
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Isn’t it the case that pro-lifers basically ignore women and children after pregnancy? And don’t hard core pro-lifers — including those behind the new Planned Parenthood videos — have shady connections? Haven’t they edited these videos and doesn’t that reveal a particular agenda? Isn’t this just another right-wing hit job designed to bring down a pro-woman organization?

I know many fair-minded people who would answer “yes” to these questions. But, I know that they’re still deeply uncomfortable about the facts that remain. Facts which are confirmed by dialogue and images in the video that no one (including Planned Parenthood) is contesting.

Seeing baby arms and legs and heads in laboratory dishes is a stark reminder of the Orwellian dishonestly involved in speaking of “tissue” or “clumps of cells.” Even the lab workers themselves (rightly) refer to the remains of these babies with personal pronouns.

Clear dialogue not only demonstrates Planned Parenthood physicians discussing “crushing” strategic parts of well-developed prenatal children in order to procure their organs, but also even fulfilling requests to change the abortion procedure to deliver fully “intact cases.” Because such prenatal children are unlikely to be killed before delivery — ruining the very organs trying to be preserved — this is strong evidence that such babies are being born alive before being killed. Indeed, a recent video shows a woman noting that babies slated for abortion have been accidentally born alive.

Though only 50 percent of Americans have seen these videos, the overwhelming majority who have find them deeply disturbing — even Hillary Clinton — which is hardly surprising, given that Americans are deeply disturbed by abortion overall, with 73 percent believing it should be illegal beyond week 12.

But, million and millions of Americans, despite being even more deeply disturbed after seeing these videos, nevertheless refuse to identify with the pro-life movement.

There is a very strong public sense that those who support limiting abortion rights are “tea party conservatives” who also support causes they abhor: opposition to gay marriage, rejection of the right to health care, and the fighting of reckless wars, to name a few.

And partnering with this crowd can seem like a non-starter for moderates and progressives. So, what options are available to them if they want to express their skepticism of abortion?

The first thing to do is take a second look at the pro-life movement. Though it doesn’t get a lot of press coverage, the diversity is astonishing. It welcomes Muslims and Jews, Tea-Partiers and pagans, theists and secularists, whites and blacks, heterosexuals and gays and lesbians, young and old, conservatives and liberals. It is also disproportionately young.

I’ve argued elsewhere that, not only are progressives welcome in the movement, in some ways they are actually a better fit. Consider that the typical pro-choice arguments are conservative, even libertarian, focusing almost exclusively on skepticism about big government regulating the private lives and autonomous rights of individuals. For decades progressives have rightly called such blanket principles into question, instead holding up the dignity of the powerless and voiceless who have no mechanism for asserting their rights within the system.

It wasn’t always so obvious that progressives were by definition “all in” with abortion rights. The first feminists — like Susan B. Antony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — were strongly anti-abortion. The Democrats of the 1960s and 70s were complicated on the issue. Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Jessie Jackson, and Ted Kennedy all took very serious pro-life positions early in their careers. Things changed in the 1980s when politics flipped on abortion and the pro-choice governor of California, Ronald Reagan, somehow became a small-government pro-life candidate. The flip also required that all Democrats pursuing national office would be strongly pro-choice.

But pro-life progressives, despite being under constant attack from both the right and left, have survived. As Kristen Day of Democrats for Life pointed out, “Democrats once held a 292-seat majority in the U.S House with 110 pro-life Democrats.” As recently as 2009, a full quarter of the Democratic caucus was pro-life. A 2011 Gallup poll found 27 percent of Democrats are pro-life, with 44 percent claiming that abortion should be legal in “few or no circumstances.”

Pro-life progressives insist on consistently using government to protect the vulnerable, and in the context of abortion it means protecting both the baby and her mother. This is one reason why Democrats for Life is pushing to add mandatory paid family leave to the Pain-Capable Act. In so doing the legislation not only becomes instantly bipartisan, but also radically commonsensical. The US is one of a handful of countries without some form of paid family leave, and we are only one of a handful of countries which have abortion on demand beyond 20 weeks.

If we are to move beyond our incoherent and destructive abortion wars, it will require most of us rethinking the conventional wisdom—including progressives realizing they need not give up their most deeply-held principles when supporting modest limits on abortion rights. Indeed, those of us who reject lazy abortion libertarianism must confront a very complex issue in which certain abortion restrictions make sense while others are much more dicey.

Here’s to those who are unafraid to live in this world of complexity.

Charles C. Camosy is Associate Prof. of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University. He is author of several books, including Beyond the Abortion Wars. Twitter: @nohiddenmagenta.