The recent exposure of the trafficking in body parts removed from aborted fetal children has opened many eyes to the inhuman practices of Planned Parenthood. It shows the callousness of the abortion industry and the heart-rending nature in which many women are subject not only to a difficult pregnancy, which they have tragically decided to end violently, but furthermore asked to—by Planned Parenthood’s own admission—give consent to donate their recently-killed child’s healthy body parts to be sold for commercial research. Dr. Nucatola reveals the emptiness of the rhetoric that abortion is a woman’s decision between her and her doctor. The woman’s decision is subject to the pressure of a large corporate entity, which seeks to gain from the healthy organs of a child that they have just killed.
There are two tiers to this story. The first tier should appeal to the heart and mind of each ordinary man and woman. The video tells the story: only the most hardened of abortion advocates could suppress revulsion at the cold nature of Dr. Nucatola’s words.
The second tier is the larger legal action that must now be taken. If the commercial trade of the parts of fetal human children with the consent of the mother is legal, that must be reevaluated and legal protections must be implanted to protect mothers from the mixed motives of the abortion provider. Further, the existing laws prohibiting profit from fetal organs must be enforced.
This story is important because it has brought this grim practice to many Americans’ consciousness for the first time.
So how has the media reacted to this story? The video was released yesterday at 8:00am and was covered by pro-life advocates like Jill Stanek. Then I wrote an article at First Things. Soon other conservative media outlets started to report on it. At about 3:00pm, The Hill posted an article about the reactions of Republican presidential candidates to the story and Buzzfeed gave a more complete roundup of tweets by GOP contenders. According to the Washington Free Beacon, no Democratic hopefuls had condemned the action.
The first breakthrough into the mainstream media came around 4pm at the Washington Post, which did a relatively good job of providing in-depth perspective on the issue. (The Weekly Standard points out some weaknesses in the article though.) The Post (and many other outlets) interviewed Arthur Caplan, director of New York University’s Division of Medical Ethics: “If you’re starting to play with how it’s done, and when it’s done, other things than women’s health are coming into play. You’re making a huge mountain of conflict of interest.”
Most liberal websites defended Planned Parenthood and attack the undercover video. The debate is nothing new, says Vox, though they do pay some attention to objections. Mother Jones says the video is a “nothingburger,” and New York Magazine stridently refers to pro-lifers as “wacky relatives” whom you have to “deal with.” Ashley Feinberg, for Gawker, writes “In reality, the donation of fetal tissue is no different than any other situation in which a patient might donate tissue to scientific research.” Right.
Amanda Marcotte, for Slate, writes “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.” But the problem is not that it’s “gross,” it’s the double evil of killing innocent life and commodifying her body parts. As an article at The Federalist reveals, the human fetal parts trade has a commercial and profitable nature. Incidentally, the group StemExpress—which was implicated in the story—is undergoing website maintenance and has deleted their Facebook account.
The sad thing is, the body of a child in the womb can be killed and used for research, but outside the womb, it would result in first-degree murder charges, as seen in the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. It’s a sad but complicated reality when a mother decides to kill her own child. It is something totally different to use the parts of the dead child (and possibly profit by them).
Other mainstream outlets politicized the video. The New York Times had an article in Wednesday’s paper by Jackie Calmes, in which she warns that being pro-life means losing elections. That might be true if one disregarded the 2014 midterm victory for pro-life politicians. She also doesn’t cite evidence for her claim about the support of suburban women for performing research on just-killed unborn children. Something tells me there isn’t any.
Blooomberg’s Arit John has a roundup article entitled, “Why Liberals Should Take the Planned Parenthood Video Seriously.” NPR mentioned in their article that John Boehner has called for a congressional investigation, and also the possibility that the public felt “outrage and disgust” at the “gruesome” details of the procedure. The story for TIME was that Republicans are against abortion. CNN framed it as a cultural debate in their article. (Incidentally I couldn’t find an article by the Wall Street Journal.)
It’s disappointing that the story has been presented by the media as a political issue. This is a story about a humanitarian crisis, which in itself is legal in our country. It should transcend “sides” and politics. Further, the possible illegality of profit from fetal trade at least casts serious doubt on the integrity of America’s largest abortion provider, and simply must call into question their status as a recipient of federal money. This story should have been presented as the unquestionably dark side of an already controversial industry—a dark side of which most Americans were totally unaware. Instead, attempts to frame the story as a mere brushfire in the culture war do not relate the story in a complete or integral way.
Pro-life advocates must be careful not to overstate the case or take an excessively legal approach. This story speaks for itself and appeals to the hearts and minds of the common man and woman. As former abortion worker Abby Johnson eloquently appeals to the humanity of Dr. Nucatola to leave her deadly and chilling trade behind, we should see this story as primarily about people, not politics. It’s about seeing clearly the effects of the dehumanizing practice of abortion on unborn children and abortion workers alike.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.