In the Planned Parenthood “Furor,” It’s All About Your Premises

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Presumably in response to the constant and interminable and redundant claims by antichoicers that pro-choice folk are “suppressing” or “hiding” or “avoiding” discussion of the sting videos being released to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegal fetal sales and general ickiness, Sarah Kliff of Vox watched the entire 12 hours of original footage released by the antichoice group the Center for Medical Progress. She concludes that one and only one of the Planned Parenthood officials depicted in the videos–Mary Gatter, president of Planned Parenthood’s Medical Directors Council and also the medical director for a clinic in Pasadena–said anything that raised a reasonable suspicion of interest in charging more than the minimal and entirely legal amount for fetal tissue or perhaps a vague interest in promoting abortions that yield better tissue (the idea that Kliff finds most troubling).

But Kliff notes the possible whiff of an intent to violate federal law by one Planned Parenthood official isn’t what this is about:

What these videos try to do is split the people who are actually comfortable with abortion from those who support it uncomfortably, and who might be repelled by the idea that aborted fetuses are being used for medical research. The Planned Parenthood staffers in these clips are genuinely comfortable with the morality of fetal tissue research — they speak easily, and even a bit dismissively, of issues that many Americans, including some who support Planned Parenthood, find ethically troubling.

But the real divide here isn’t about fetal tissue research. It’s about abortion.

Opposing fetal tissue procurement can be a position consistent with supporting abortion rights; it’s possible to support a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy while also objecting to how tissue donation could alter or change the procedure.

But imagine, for a second, that Planned Parenthood came out tomorrow morning and said that the Center for Medical Progress had caused them to reconsider their position, and henceforth, they would no longer participate in fetal tissue research. Does anyone think Republicans would stop trying to defund Planned Parenthood? Or that the Center for Medical Progress would believe it had won?

Of course not. Because the whole idea here is to use very scant and circumstantial evidence of a highly technical violation of law in cases involving rare late-term abortions to shut down everything Planned Parenthood does, including hundreds of thousands of early-term abortions that don’t raise any of the issues discussed in the videos, plus contraceptive and women’s health services. Truth is the people making and distributing and screaming about these videos by and large don’t think a late-term abortion is morally any more horrifying than a first-trimester abortion or using an IUD. That’s why they like to talk of an abortion “Holocaust”–the numbers of late-term abortions certainly cannot justify such rhetoric–and why in the key Hobby Lobby case the issue was the company’s intolerable “complicity” in the homicidal practice of distributing IUDs and Plan B contraceptives.

Consider this: one of the loudest voices for “defunding” Planned Parenthood is presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who is now claiming that the U.S. Constitution bans abortion from the moment of conception. Thus when he’s president he’ll not only ignore the long string of SCOTUS cases recognizing a right to abortion; he’ll use the Department of Justice, the FBI, and even the military to stop all abortions. That’s the kind of people we’re dealing with her, and if you doubt me on this, consider all the time and energy Republican pols devote to debates over whether or not to provide tiny, tiny exceptions to a total ban on abortions in the rare cases of rape and incest, and often cannot bring themselves to consider making a threat to the life of the mother a valid reason for letting her terminate a pregnancy even at the very earliest stages.

Why? Because by the very nature of their position they cannot help but think of women of reproductive age being either killers or potential killers. So truth be told, forget about what these birds say about equal pay or child care or gender discrimination or any other “women’s issue.” Of course they are engaged in a “war on women” in which the uterus is the battleground and the enemy is that demonic being who would “kill her baby” and anyone who tried to help or defend her.

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.