Were the deceptions by agents of Live Action in exposing Planned Parenthood wrong or right? That’s a question that Christopher Tollefsen and Christopher Kaczor have been discussing the past few days on at Public Discourse (see here, here, and here).
Today, Robert George weighs in on the legitimacy of lying in the fight against grave injustices:
Even apart from the invocation of religious authority, it seems to me that Tollefsen (with whom I am co-author of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life) is correct that lying is intrinsically wrong. So the only way I can think of to defend Live Action’s tactics is to argue that the utterances and actions of those who represented themselves as sex traffickers and prostitutes were not lies. My sense is that Rick is inclined to defend Live Action’s tactics in precisely this way. I don’t think it can possibly work when it comes to the utterances of the Live Action team. They stated things they knew to be false precisely with a view to persuading the Planned Parenthood workers that they were true. That’s just what a lie is. And their utterances were not made in a context of social conventions that could render a statement one knows to be false something other than a lie: such as when someone invites a friend out for a “quiet meal” on his birthday, only to deliver him to a big surprise party in his honor. Could Live Action have pulled off the sting without making false utterances?
I think the answer to that is probably yes. And that takes us to the next question. What about deceptions that do not involve false utterances? Some are plainly wrong. Others, however, seem pretty clearly not to be. Tollefsen points out that Aquinas, while condemning lying even in justified wars, held that military feints are not necessarily lies and can be morally permissible. Getting to just what it is that distinguishes the two is, I predict, where this debate is heading—and that, I believe, is just where it should head. Getting greater clarity on the issue would be valuable to all who wish to use every legitimate means, while avoiding every illegitimate one, in working to defend human rights, protect the common good, and fight grave injustices such as abortion.
Catholics certainly, but non-Catholic pro-lifers, too, should reject lying even in the greatest of good causes. What we fight for is just and true, and truth—in its unparalleled splendor and luminosity—is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. It is the truth about the precious life of the child in the womb, and about the consequences of abortion for women and men, and the effects of abortion on families, on the medical profession, and on society more broadly, that will ultimately enable us to build a culture of life—a culture in which, as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus prayed, “every child will be protected by law and welcomed in life.”