Culture War Video

The big buzz this morning across conservativeland is over a video created by a previously unknown antichoice group called the Center for Medical Progress and being distributed by the well-known antichoice group Live Action, with extremely selected excerpts from a fake meeting set up by the former group with a senior doctor associated with Planned Parenthood. It seems the CMP people were pretending to be interested in acquiring donated fetal tissue for medical research, and just happened to be very curious about the precise method used for preserving and extracting fetal remains during and after a rare (but legal) late-term D&X abortion. Thus they secured footage of the doctor discussing unpleasant details about how to ensure this or that organ or type of tissue was made available, and also, in an apparent effort to document illegal sales of fetal tissue, got an admission that PP charges for transportation costs associated with donated tissue.

As you can imagine, this has been translated in the antichoice world to Planned Parenthood “Selling Baby Parts” from “Illegal Abortions,” and cited as fresh evidence supporting the pre-existing Republican campaign to shut down the organization or at least deny it any public funds.

One intrepid Republican presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal, immediately saw the “scandal” as his ticket to a seat on the stage at the first GOP presidential debate, and launched an “investigation” of a proposed Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans.

Lost in the screaming are a few facts, such as the lack of any evidence the abortions in question are actually illegal (why would Planned Parenthood risk their huge investment in dispensing contraceptives and performing early-term abortions in order to perform a handful of illegal abortions?), and also the lack of evidence the organization is making any sort of profit off fetal tissue. What you have left, really, is the disturbing discussion of fetal tissue, which is, as Amanda Marcotte puts it today, “gross,” like a lot of medical procedures.

Look, we’re never going to have a consensus on the metaphysical character of fetal life, and the ethics of extinguishing that life early on, when nobody’s going to confuse it with a “baby” other than as an abstract notion or as a wish, or later on, when, in rare occasions, the life or health of the living, breathing, conscious pregnant woman is in question. Just calling a fetus a “baby” and calling use of fetal tissue for life-saving medical research “selling baby parts” is not going to change any minds. If Planned Parenthood has broken any actual laws, they should of course be prosecuted. But just because a loud and political powerful group of people thinks Planned Parenthood’s core activities ought to be illegal, and are in fact barbaric, is no reason to accept their lurid views of abortion doctors as Nazi butchers; rather the contrary, I’d say. A while back the antichoice movement decided that deploying activists brandishing bloody fetus photos was not doing The Cause any good. But this is pretty much the same thing.

UPDATE: Turns out the people meeting with Planned Parenthood staff in the video did not represent themeselves as affiliated with the Center for Medical Progress, but with a shadowy front organization that does not appear to exist other than on-paper. It’s also emerged that CMP has been planning this sting operation for 30 months; indeed, that’s all they’ve apparently existed to do

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.