Posts tagged ‘Fetal Tissue’

Planned Parenthood, Legality, and Morality

Abortion ProtestLast July, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of undercover videos cataloguing conversations between its operatives, posing as potential buyers of aborted fetal parts for a human biologics company, and high level Planned Parenthood representatives, who appeared to be willing to sell fetal parts for profit, even if that profit was minimal.  Selling fetal parts for profit is a federal offense.  Getting reimbursed for the cost of procuring and transferring fetal parts, however, is not.  Thus, there has been a protracted debate over whether or not Planned Parenthood has broken the law.

Last week, a grand jury in Houston took its shot at answering this debate.  Though the grand jury did not find sufficient evidence to indict Planned Parenthood, it did indict David Daleiden, one of the producers of the undercover videos.  Danielle Paquette, writing for The Washington Post, explains the reasoning behind the indictment:

David Daleiden, the director of the Center for Medical Progress, faces a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to buying human tissue.[1]

In order to gain access to a Planned Parenthood facility in Houston, Mr. Daleiden and his companion, Sandra Merritt, presented fake California driver’s licenses.  According to The Washington Post article, using fake IDs with “intent to cause harm” is a felony for which Mr. Daleiden could face anywhere from two to twenty years in prison if he is convicted.  The misdemeanor charge has to do with Mr. Daleiden’s overtures to purchase fetal parts.  According to Texas law, it is illegal, irrespective of whether or not Mr. Daleiden’s offers were genuine, to offer to pay for fetal parts.

This is a strange outcome to a sensational story.  How many cases are there where a grand jury is asked to decide whether or not it should indict one party and it winds up indicting another party?

The New York Times editorial board came out in favor of the indictment of Mr. Daleiden, writing:

One after the other, investigations of Planned Parenthood prompted by hidden-camera videos released last summer have found no evidence of wrongdoing. On Monday, a grand jury in Harris County, Tex., went a step further. Though it was convened to investigate Planned Parenthood, it indicted two members of the group that made the videos instead.

The Harris County prosecutor, Devon Anderson, a Republican who was asked by the lieutenant governor, a strident opponent of Planned Parenthood, to open the criminal investigation, said on Monday that the grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any misconduct.

Yet despite all the evidence, Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, said on Monday that the state attorney general’s office and the State Health and Human Services Commission would continue investigating Planned Parenthood. This is a purely political campaign of intimidation and persecution meant to destroy an organization whose mission to serve women’s health care needs the governor abhors.

Fortunately, in the Harris County case, the jurors considered the facts.[2]

What is most fascinating about The New York Times’ editorial is not its opinion about this case, but how it reports the facts of this case:  “One after the other, investigations of Planned Parenthood prompted by hidden-camera videos released last summer have found no evidence of wrongdoing.”  It seems as though, for The New York Times editorial board, that which is legal is coterminous with that which is moral.  Because Planned Parenthood was not found guilty of doing anything illegal, they must also not have been guilty of any, to use The New York Times’ own terminology, “wrongdoing.”

As a Christian, I have to disagree.  The first and final source and arbiter of moral activity – what is right-doing and what is wrongdoing – is not rooted in a humanly contrived legality, but in a graciously given theopneusty.

At the church where I serve, we are preaching and teaching through the book of Judges and I was reminded once again of how the Bible views and treats unborn life when I came to the story of Samson.  Samson, most famous for his strength, was also consecrated to the Lord as a Nazirite from before birth.  Being a Nazirite involved a vow to reject, among other things, any food or drink made from grapes.  When the Lord comes to Samson’s mother and announces that she will bear a deliverer for Israel, He says to her, “Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son” (Judges 13:4-5).  Notice that the Lord is concerned not only with Samson keeping his vow, but with his mother keeping his vow in his stead even before he is born.  The Lord regards the actions of Samson’s mother as his actions, knowing that her actions can affect the child in her womb not only medically – after all, refraining from “fermented drink” is sage advice for any expecting woman – but also spiritually.  Samson’s vow, then, binds him not only from the day of his birth, but from the day of his conception.  Why?  Because even in the womb, he is alive.  And his life is important to God and ought to be kept sacred for God.  The taking of any life by abortion, therefore, though it may be legal, is certainly not moral.

As Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, rightly points out in his commentary on this story, what The New York Times has posited in its editorial amounts to a kind of legal positivism – a theory of law that, while being acutely concerned with societal legality, has no use for transcendent morality.  The editorial board applauds Planned Parenthood simply because its disbursement of fetal parts has been found to be purportedly legal.  The board never takes the time, however, to go beyond the legal questions and consider the intrinsic merits and morality of abortion law itself, for these considerations involve all the questions legal positivism does not care or dare to ask.  But I would argue that some of the greatest triumphs of justice over the previous century have come not because people were content with the law as it was, but because they strove for a moral standard beyond the law that, at the time, was not, but should be.  Watershed victories like women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Act happened not because editorial boards assumed that the legality of an issue was its warp and woof, but because they knew that legality must work in tandem with a higher morality.

This is not to say that there are no questions to be asked of the Center for Medical Progress.  Its action of obtaining fake IDs and having misleading conversations with Planned Parenthood officials raise not only legal concerns, but moral ones too.  There is the moral question of deceit.  Is it ever moral to lie for the sake of a just cause?  Uncovering the true and disturbing nature of what happens at Planned Parenthood clinics is certainly just, but should a person present a fake ID in order to gain access to what happens at these clinics?  Rahab told a lie to her compatriots to protect the lives of a group of Israelite spies who had come to case her city, and she is hailed as a hero of the faith in the Bible (cf. Hebrews 11:31)!  Can we not do the same?

My personal view is that though there may be an occasional extraordinary circumstance – such as trying to protect a life – where telling a lie is the lesser of two evils, this does not make lying moral, it only makes it understandable and, perhaps, reluctantly preferable.  Furthermore, I would hope that we would generally try to avoid willingly placing ourselves in situations where we would feel compelled to lie.

There is also the moral problem of the Center for Medical Progress’ violation of the law in its use of fake IDs.  Considering we are called to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), it is important to ask if it is appropriate to violate the moral law of truthfully representing one’s identity in order to bring to light the immoral practice of aborting babies and harvesting their organs for disbursement.

I would note that even as the actions of the Center for Medical Progress raise some moral questions about truthfulness and legality, Planned Parenthood’s actions raise these same moral quandaries.  By all appearances, Planned Parenthood’s desire to be less than forthcoming about its fetal tissue disbursement practices, perhaps even to the point of deceit, and the question of whether or not Planned Parenthood violated any laws in its handling of fetal organs are issues worth pursuing further.  Planned Parenthood was, at the very least, living near the edge of the law, which oftentimes leads to, at minimum, isolated instances of going outside of the law.

There are many moral questions that surround this story, but this much is morally certain:  Scripturally, putting an end to abortion and the gruesome harvesting of fetal organs for disbursement is one of the great ethical imperatives of our time.  In a story that raises many moral question marks, this should be a moral period.  This is something for which Christians must call.


[1] Danielle Paquette,“The charges against anti-Planned Parenthood filmmaker, explained,” The Washington Post (1.26.2016).

[2] The Editorial Board, “Vindication for Planned Parenthood,” The New York Times (1.26.2016).

February 1, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What Planned Parenthood Wants You To Believe About Sex

Planned Parenthood“Planned Parenthood.” “Selling.” “Aborted Baby Parts.” When a friend first texted me a link with these words in the URL, I knew I was in for a wild ride. The Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, released a video, recorded in 2014, of two of their operatives, posing as employees from a biotech firm, having a discussion over lunch with Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Research. The Center for Medical Progress claims the video blows the whistle on the trafficking of aborted baby organs. Planned Parenthood disputes these claims.  Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood’s Vice President of Communications, issued this statement:

In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. 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. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.  In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

In the video, however, Ms. Nucatola seems to contradict Mr. Ferrero’s statement when she explains:

I think every provider has had patients who want to donate their tissue, and they absolutely want to accommodate them. They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as, “This clinic is selling tissue, this clinic is making money off of this.” I know in the Planned Parenthood world they’re very, very sensitive to that. And before an affiliate is gonna do that, they need to, obviously, they’re not – some might do it for free – but they want to come to a number that doesn’t look like they’re making money …

I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit, they just don’t want to – they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.

Ms. Nucatola’s slippery language is striking. She never asserts that Planned Parenthood is not, as a matter of fact, making money off organs from abortions, she just says Planned Parenthood doesn’t want it to “look like they’re making money.” She even admits, “If they can do a little better than break even … they’re happy to do that.” In other words, Planned Parenthood does make money off selling organs from aborted babies according to Ms. Nucatola, they just don’t make a lot of money off it.

It sounds like Planned Parenthood may be gaming federal law. 42 U.S. Code § 289g–2 states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce … [which] does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.

Selling fetal tissue for profit is illegal. Getting reimbursed for expenses associated with shipping and processing fetal tissue, however, is not. It seems as though Planned Parenthood will take any money they can claim as reasonable reimbursement for the costs of transporting and processing aborted organs, and if these monies are slightly more than what the actual costs are, so be it – as long as they’re not exorbitant enough to look like “profit.”

Planned Parenthood may not have gamed federal law as well as they thought, however. In the video, Ms. Nucatola links Planned Parenthood to an organization called StemExpress, a company that bills itself as providing “qualified research laboratories with human cells, fluids, blood and tissue products for the pursuit of disease protection and cure.” StemExpress also explains to potential allies that “by partnering with StemExpress, not only are you offering a way for your clients to participate in the unique opportunity to facilitate life-saving research, but you will also be contributing to the fiscal growth of your own clinic.” I’m not sure how “the fiscal growth of your own clinic” can be construed to be anything other than profit for your clinic. And considering the prices StemExpress charges for their fetal organs, if StemExpress does indeed share some portion of their proceeds with Planned Parenthood for the “fiscal growth” of their clinics, it seems awfully shady for them to claim they are not, at least indirectly, profiting, perhaps handsomely, off fetal tissue.

This is really bad. But it gets worse.

In the conversation, Ms. Nucatola also talks about intentional steps clinics will take during abortions to keep a baby’s organs in tact so they can be sold later:

You’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex, because when it’s vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium. So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there’s dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end.

This is all deeply disturbing. What is allegedly happening is not only potentially illegal; it is profoundly immoral. In what world is it okay to turn a baby breech so you can smash its legs, kill it, and then harvest its organs for profit? Is there any conceivable scenario where this is okay? Have we decided that a baby, growing in its mother’s womb, is so devoid of any rights and is so unable to be considered life in any meaningful way that it can be stripped of its dignity limb by limb – literally?  This is self-evidentially morally repugnant.  And if you can’t see that, we no longer need to have a conversation about abortion.  We need to have a conversation about nihilism.

This is not to say Planned Parenthood doesn’t have its supporters, even if supporting the organization is a little untenable right now. Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate Magazine, admits:

As someone who is squeamish, it was extremely difficult for me to listen to Nucatola talk about extracting liver, heart, and other parts to be donated to medical research. (I nearly fainted when a friend showed me the video of her knee operation once.) But people who work in medicine for a living do, in fact, become inured to the gore in a way that can seem strange to those of us who aren’t regularly exposed to it. She also thought she was speaking to people in her profession who would be similarly accustomed to this sort of thing.

Abortion is gross, no doubt about it. It becomes grosser the later in a pregnancy it gets. But so is heart surgery. So is childbirth, for that matter.

Behold, the fallacy of false equivalence. How one can equate the grossness of abortion to the grossness of heart surgery or birth is beyond me. Two of these things sustain life. One of these things, as more honest abortion supporters will admit, ends life. As any child who watches Sesame Street could tell you, “One of these things is not like the other.”

In researching for this blog, I went to Planned Parenthood’s website. I was greeted by a banner that said, “Worried? Had unprotected sex?” It is here that we find the real reason behind Planned Parenthood’s existence.  This organization exists to promote sex-on-demand, divorced from any of the entailments that come with it like, in this instance, children. Sex with whom you want, when you want, and how you want is Planned Parenthood’s holy grail.  And it is so sacred that they will kill for it – again, literally.

In other posts on this blog, I have painstakingly sought to not flippantly dismiss or diminish the desires and struggles people face when it comes to sexuality. I want to be as sensitive and empathetic as possible. These are, after all, confusing issues that deserve compassionate thought rather than self-righteous ire. But this is not about these issues.  In fact, this is not about individuals and abortion.  This is not about the woman who has suffered through the trauma of an abortion, though I grieve for you and, I am afraid, many times, with you.  This is not about the woman who went too far and is now pregnant and scared and is contemplating an abortion, though I would encourage you to seek guidance and help from people committed to alternatives to abortion.  You are in genuinely confusing and painful situations and have my concern, my compassion, and my prayers.  This is not about you.  This is about Planned Parenthood and their pack of twisted lies that unashamedly promotes the sacrifice of life for sex, which, I should point out, is the precise opposite of what sex is meant for and, by its very nature, is designed to do. Sex is not meant to take life. It’s meant to give it.  This is not about personal sexual confusion.  This is about an organization’s out and out corruption that has expressed itself again and again in the most macabre of ways – this time, in the sale of aborted organs.

At the risk of being offensive, I think it’s time for us to ask ourselves a few frank questions: Is indulging every sexual impulse in ways that transgress the sanctity of marriage and the security of family really our best strategy for intimacy?  Is this really the legacy we want to leave our children, our children’s children, and so on?  Is this really the evolutionary ethical curve we want to ride? Is it really beneficial for us to do what we want, when we want, and with whom we want and then use any means necessary to impede the entailments of our actions, even when impeding the entailments of our actions includes ending lives in utero? Is sexual self-control – even when it is difficult and involves some emotional pain – really that out of the question? Have we become that banal? Is Planned Parenthood’s view of human sexuality really the banner we want to wave and the worldview we want to adopt? And does it really take deceitful operatives from an anti-abortion organization secretly videotaping a conversation with Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Research, which itself presents us with a whole other set of legal and ethical difficulties, to get us to ask these questions? Shouldn’t we be thinking about the weighty ethical implications and aberrations of abortion even when there’s not a titillating video making its rounds on the Internet?

Ms. Marcotte was right about this much in her article for Slate:

This latest attack on Planned Parenthood is not just about abortion, but about demonizing an organization that makes sex safer and easier, while making it possible for women to plan when they have children.

This is exactly what Planned Parenthood is all about. They’re all about “safe sex,” which, if we’re honest, is just a euphemism for what Ms. Marcotte refers to next: “easy sex” – sex without responsibility, commitment, or offspring. So really, Planned Parenthood is about easy sex – even when easy sex involves dismembering babies and selling their organs. So let me ask:

Is the easy sex worth it?

July 20, 2015 at 5:15 am 6 comments

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