What If Planned Parenthood Is Sincere?

October 19, 2015 at 5:15 am 3 comments


Credit: AFP Photo/Mandel NGAN

Credit: AFP Photo/Mandel NGAN

Last week, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, announced in a letter to the National Institutes of Health that the organization she heads will no longer be accepting reimbursements of any kind for its disbursements of fetal tissue:

Our Federation has decided, going forward, that any Planned Parenthood health center that is involved in donating tissue after an abortion for medical research will follow the model already in place at one of our two affiliates currently facilitating donations for fetal tissue research. That affiliate accepts no reimbursement for its reasonable expenses – even though reimbursement is fully permitted … Going forward, all of our health centers will follow the same policy, even if it means they will not recover reimbursements permitted.[1]

This new policy comes on the heels of a firestorm over whether or not Planned Parenthood has been illegally selling aborted baby parts for profit. A series of undercover videos published by the Center for Medical Progress appears to show Planned Parenthood officials admitting that they do, in fact, make money off the sale of fetal tissue, even if such profit is minimal. Profit from the sale of fetal tissue is a federal offense.

Upon the release of this new policy, abortion opponents were quick to react with cynicism, asking why, if Planned Parenthood has done nothing wrong as it has been claiming throughout this controversy, the organization would need to change their current policy at all. Bre Payton, writing for The Federalist, opines, “Despite its previous claims of innocence, Planned Parenthood’s announcement today suggests that the organization knew its activities were almost certainly illegal.”[2]

Ms. Payton may be right. It may be that Planned Parenthood knew that what it was doing was illegal and was simply gaming the system. But I’m not so sure. Planned Parenthood’s statement may actually be sincere.

If I was to be accused of some wrongdoing – let’s say, financial mismanagement – not only would I adamantly maintain my innocence if I believed I had done nothing wrong, I would take extra precautionary measures to guard against further accusations. So, using the example I cited above, I may institute an annual independent audit of my income and expenses and share the results with key people in my life to make sure I am held financially accountable. But this would not be an admission I had done something wrong. Rather, it would be an attempt to be above reproach in my finances so that all could see I was committed to doing right.

I have to at least entertain the possibility that Planned Parenthood is acting in this same way by refusing to take any sort of reimbursement for their disbursement of fetal tissue. They may simply be trying to be above approach in how they handle their fetal tissue.  If this is the case, however, it terrifies me. Here’s why.

If Planned Parenthood really is simply trying to be above reproach in their fetal tissue disbursements, this means that they truly believe that what they have done is not illegal and, even more disturbingly, not immoral. In other words, it could be that some – indeed, even many – at Planned Parenthood believe that what they are doing by offering abortions and dispersing baby parts is good, needed, and right. What is happening is not flowing out of sinister conniving, but out of genuine conviction.

I used to think people knew somewhere deep-down that abortion was a moral blight on our modern culture. As I have written before, if abortion isn’t self-evidentially morally repulsive, then nothing is. I still believe that most people do know this somewhere within the deep recesses of their souls. But after watching #ShoutYourAbortion trend on Twitter, I have come to recognize that some people do not. Consider these tweets:

I’ve never wanted to have children, so I had an abortion. I’m thriving, without guilt, without shame, without apologies. #ShoutYourAbortion (@favianna, 9.21.2015)

I had an abortion in 2008, and it was the easiest decision I ever made. Long before I got pregnant I had decided that… (Birdy Eugenie-Clark, 9.21.2015)

These women could be lying about their experiences with abortion. But, then again, they could be telling the truth.  They really could be okay with and even happy about their abortions.

Columnist Dennis Prager distinguishes between that which “feels good” and that which “does good.” These two things, he notes, are not always the same. Take, for instance, in the realm of parenting:

It feels good to give one’s children what they want, but it rarely does good. It feels good to build children’s self-esteem – giving them trophies for no achievement, for example – but when the self-esteem is unearned, it doesn’t do good. It feels good to provide one’s adult children with money and other material benefits when they should be providing for themselves, but it doesn’t do good. And it feels good to coddle children rather than discipline them. But, same deal: It’s not good for them.[3]

What is true in parenting is true also of abortion. For some people – at least as far as they will publicly admit – abortion may feel good. It may feel good because it relieves a person of the burden of having to raise an unwanted child. It may feel good because it allows a person to have sex without having to worry about its divinely designed procreative telos. It may feel good because it feels empowering. It is the ultimate way to declare, “No one will tell me what to do with my body! Not even nature and nature’s God!” The problem is that many people have made what feels good equivalent to what is good. This is why I am willing to entertain the sincerity of Planned Parenthood’s statement about the trafficking of fetal tissue even if I am not willing to entertain its objective morality. We may have genuinely come to a point in our society where people have bought into a modified version of the old adage my mother once warned me against: “If it feels good, do it!” We now say, “If it feels good, it is good!”

As Christians, we need to continually remember and proclaim that what is good objectively cannot be determined only by what feels good internally. Good needs an external regulator. Christians believe this external regulator is Scripture and, in a secondary way, God’s ordering of creation. Even if our culture flatly rejects the first regulator, they’re still left to grapple with the second. Every pregnancy, even if it ends in abortion, is proof of that.

I hope we’re there to help people grapple with what true good looks like – and to lead them to surrender. Otherwise, this letter from Planned Parenthood will only be the first in a series of sad, but sincere, attempts to be above reproach while engaging in what is morally repulsive. And that would be heartbreaking.

____________________________________

[1] Cecile Richards, “Planned Parenthood Opt-Out,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America (10.13.2015).

[2] Bre Payton, “Planned Parenthood: We’re Going To Stop Doing That Thing We Said Was Totally Legal,” The Federalist (10.13.2015).

[3] Dennis Prager, “Feeling Good vs. Doing Good,” National Review (10.22.2015).

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