For years now, whenever a Pro-Life politician says or does something impolitic, the entirety of the Pro-Life movement is made to answer for it. Every time a Todd Akin, for example, uses a term like “legitimate rape,” and suggests that women’s bodies “shut down” in response to sexual assault, the media and the dominant cultural forces insist that all Pro-Lifers answer for his comments. Indeed, if such comments happen to be made in an election year, they can and will be turned into a central theme of the campaign, painting all Pro-Lifers as cold and callous, even going so far as to suggest that concern for the lives of the unborn is somehow tantamount to a “war on women.”
By contrast, it seems, the Pro-Choice movement has largely been immune from this collective guilt. If, say, a late-term abortionist in Philadelphia crosses legal lines and starts killing babies after they’ve been born, rather than just before, he is treated as a criminal, prosecuted and punished. But no Pro-Choice politician is made to answer for his actions. No Pro-Choice advocate is confronted by the media or other politicians about the callousness involved in crossing the line between late-term abortion and infanticide. No Pro-Choicer is ever compelled to contemplate publicly the possible cultural impact of a constitutional regime that insists that a fully-formed fetus with its own heartbeat, the ability to feel pain, and the capacity to show emotions is a mere “clump of cells” unworthy of legal protection.
The fault for this latter circumstance, I think, falls squarely on the shoulders of Pro-Life politicians, who have, for far too long, refused to hold their ideological opponents to the same standards to which they are held themselves. Knowing full well that the media has no interest in promoting the Pro-Life cause or, by extension, wounding the Pro-Choice crusade, Pro-Life politicians should have been willing to ask the hard and uncomfortable questions themselves; they should have been more aggressive in using the radicalness of the Pro-Choice movement against it, drawing the link between inflexible, diehard support for abortion and the potential impact of that dogmatism on some people’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong where life issues are concerned.
But they didn’t.
Or at least they didn’t do so consistently. As I’ve noted before in these pages, the abortion debate was a little different in the 1990s, largely because the Pro-Life crowd then felt confident that it could paint the proponents of such things as “partial-birth” abortion as radicals and could, therefore, make some progress on the issue. You see, in the ‘90s, two influential Pro-Life and conservative organizations, “Project for the Republican Future,” and the “Ethics and Public Policy Center,” proposed a new political posture for Pro-Life politicians that represented a significant departure from their past. These two organizations, headed then by William Kristol and George Weigel respectively, suggested that the Pro-Life movement continue to publicly declare its opposition to abortion, but shift its tactical role away from attempting to overturn Roe v. Wade, concentrating instead on efforts in the individual state legislatures to “curb the incidence of abortion by seeking maximum feasible legal protection for the unborn.”
By focusing on incremental movement and, more to the point, by painting the Pro-Choicers as radicals unwilling to compromise even one little bit, the Pro-Life side made significant gains in terms of both public opinion and public policy. Slowly but ever so surely, many Americans who had once thought that the anti-abortion side of the dispute was made up of a bunch of wacky religious fanatics began to think that maybe they had been wrong, that maybe the “choice” advocates were the nut cases, people who were so obsessed with their “rights” that they couldn’t see that this “partial birth abortion” procedure was ghoulish and wrong. “How could any decent person justify such a thing?” they began to ask.
Things moved slowly, of course. Twice, both houses of Congress passed a ban on this procedure. And twice, Bill Clinton vetoed the bill, claiming that a woman’s “right to choose” was more important than outlawing this particular practice. Each time this happened, the public became more aware of the controversy. And eventually, Congress passed the bill again, and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Pro-Lifers won the battle, but almost immediately thereafter forgot how to fight the war.
In April, you may recall, I noted that Senator Rand Paul had managed to resurrect the 1990’s strategy by turning the proverbial tables on the Pro-Choice side, insisting that it represented the radical position and suggesting that all Pro-Choice politicians should, in fairness, be held to the same standards as their Pro-Life counterparts, which is to say that they should be held to account for the radicalness of the most extreme Pro-Choice positions. As Paul put it three years ago in his response to charges made against him at the Democratic National Convention:
We always seem to have the debate waaaaaay over here on what are the exact details of exceptions, or when it starts. Why don’t we ask the DNC: Is it okay to kill a seven-pound baby in the uterus? You go back and you ask Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she’s OK with killing a seven-pound baby that is just not yet born. Ask her when life begins, and you ask Debbie when she’s willing to protect life. When you get an answer from Debbie, come back to me.
Today, Senator Paul no longer stands alone in seeking to use Pro-Choice extremism in pursuit of delegitimizing the abortion regime. As you all likely know by now, over the last couple of weeks, the Center for Medical Progress has released three undercover videos showing executives of Planned Parenthood haggling with actors they presumed to be “buyers” over the price of aborted fetal tissue. Pro-Choice advocates and Planned Parenthood defenders have insisted that the videos show nothing illegal, that they were heavily edited, and that the Center for Medical Progress seeks nothing more than to discredit important providers of necessary “women’s health” services.
Truth be told, I am in agreement of sorts with some of Planned Parenthood’s complaints. For example, the abortion providers shown on the videos contend that they were “entrapped,” that they did not seek out these purported buyers and that they were therefore misled. While it is nigh on impossible to sympathize with an organization that performs nearly a third-of-a-million abortions every year, even such wickedness cannot be used to justify deception, even in pursuit of a noble end, in this case exposing said organization’s corrupt and grizzly nature. As the Catechism of the Church notes: “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.”
Not that the morality of the videos will matter much in the end. The vile and horrifying statements made by the Planned Parenthood officials are now part of the public consciousness. And such statements, once loosed upon the world, are like the evils in Pandora’s Box, forever irretrievable.
As in most cases involving abortion, the only court that will ultimately matter in this case is the court of public opinion. And neither the legality of Planned Parenthood’s statements nor the morality of the Center for Medical Progress’ actions will matter much to that court. All that will matter is that the public has seen Planned Parenthood officials very calmly and coldly negotiating the price and the techniques necessary for the sale of baby parts.
One indication of the public reaction to the exposure of this calculated cold-heartedness is the willingness of Pro-Life politicians to incorporate the videos into their stump speeches and once again to go on the offensive on the issues of abortion, depicting their opponents – the defenders of Planned Parenthood – as the real extremists.
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina provided a pitch-perfect example of how these videos have emboldened Pro-Lifers to shift the terms of the debate. In response to Tapper’s question about a new Wisconsin law banning abortion after twenty weeks, Fiorina responded:
Let’s talk about the legislation that’s sitting on the Senate floor right now, which does allow for [exceptions for rape and incest]. Let’s also talk about Hillary Clinton’s position. Let’s talk about what extreme is. “It’s not a life until it leaves the hospital.” That’s Hillary Clinton’s position. It’s Hillary Clinton’s position that a 13-year-old girl needs her mother’s permission to go to a tanning salon or get a tattoo, but not to get an abortion. It’s Hillary Clinton’s position that women should not be permitted to look at an ultrasound before an abortion, and yet people who are trying to harvest body parts can use an ultrasound to make sure those body parts are preserved so they can be sold. That, Jake, is extreme.
We already know that Senator Paul will join Mrs. Fiorina in pursuing this tack in defending his positions and undermining the Pro-Choice position. We also know that yet another Republican presidential candidate, the former Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, will do the same, having already done so in an interview with MSNBC’s Mark Halperin. My guess is that before long, most of the Republican candidates will be proudly trumpeting their Pro-Life bona fides, rather than shrinking from the issue, as they might have done four or even two years ago.
The videos released over the last two weeks showing Planned Parenthood’s own callousness may or may not be the smoking gun many Pro-Lifers think they need to eliminate the organization’s federal funding. And again, the videos themselves are clearly of a dubious moral nature. But that may well be beside the point. The real fight, right now, is for the hearts and minds of the voters. And for once, the Pro-Life politicians seem not only to have grasped this, but to have decided to make a stand, aggressively and unapologetically.