It would happen the same way every time.
A few tough-looking guys would show up on the doorstep of a new business. They came offering “protection services” for a certain fee as a most generous favor to the owner. These services were necessary, it would be explained, because this was a “bad neighborhood.” When refused, the very same people would hire a few troublemakers to surreptitiously throw a brick through the window of the business. A few days later they would come back and ask again about the “services.” The business owner had by then figured what everyone else knew: No one did business in South Philly without paying for “protection.”
I grew up in South Philadelphia at a time when the Italian Mafia there was in decline, but stories like this one still filtered through the neighborhood. I relate it by way of comparison. At this point, most people with a pulse have watched or at least read about the recent undercover investigations of Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). These videos feature Planned Parenthood officials haggling over the cash value of fetal tissue and blithely talking about “crunchy” abortion procedures.
Others, including Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, have already noted that in the 1980s, abortion advocates attempted to silence various pro-life groups using RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is an ambiguously worded statute, and purposefully so. It was passed in the 1970s in order to give the federal government broad leeway in prosecuting organizations tied to illegal activity. A racket is essentially any organization that claims to solve a problem which does not exist or would not exist without the offending organization. It is an indirect version of extortion. While the term is usually associated with groups like crime syndicates, public and “legitimate” businesses can be prosecuted under RICO. Just because a company has a pleasant façade and a mission statement does not mean it is not a racket.
Planned Parenthood offers to solve a problem which it greatly assists in creating, thus exhibiting the classic characteristics of a racket—and it’s all legal.
Many, including Pope Francis, have spoken about the gut-wrenching decision which abortion is for many people, and I do not wish to deny that. It is exactly for this reason that Planned Parenthood bears responsibility. They promote myriads of contraceptive methods. They provide sex education classes better suited for a Cinemax movie. And when enough people start to accept the premises of the contraceptive culture which Planned Parenthood happily preaches to children and adults, unintended pregnancies abound. When this is joined to the “fact” that the thing inside the woman’s body is nothing more than a mass of cells (a “fact” established by opposing sensible—but morally awkward—ultrasound requirements), abortion suddenly becomes a viable alternative. And so the racket is born.
In accusing Planned Parenthood of causing the problem it claims to solve, am I claiming that Planned Parenthood is responsible for all unplanned pregnancies? Of course not. But were federal prosecutors in the 1990s claiming that every broken window in South Philadelphia was caused by the Italian mafia? Just because the racket didn’t invent the problem does not mean they haven’t greatly facilitated it.
The irony does not stop there. Planned Parenthood then takes that same “bundle of tissue” (or, to use the elegantly Orwellian term, “product of conception”) and sells it to organizations which perform research on the fetal tissue. At the risk of stating the obvious, these organizations only want these fetal body parts because they are human tissue, i.e. tissue belonging to a human being, the very thing Planned Parenthood is trying to convince the rest of us it’s not.
Planned Parenthood and its defenders have tried to portray the abortion behemoth as a victim of a dishonest right-wing smear campaign. Even Donald Trump, the provocateur-in-chief of the GOP, has gone on record as supportive of some tax funding for Planned Parenthood because, he insists, “we have to take care of women.”
It is absolutely true that we have to take care of women. And, indeed, some of the services provided by Planned Parenthood are legitimate and in the interests of individual and public health. But the CMP videos capture the profound ugliness at the heart of the organization’s business model. Groups other than Planned Parenthood can easily, and far more credibly, receive funding to provide good health services to women without killing unborn children and emotionally scarring women in the process.
On August 31, 1993 in the middle of the morning rush hour on a busy stretch of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Expressway, a few thugs in a van pulled up behind another car and shot the son of a rival mob boss. That was when the public consciousness about the Mob shifted. The brazen act of violence in broad daylight meant that the wider community had to face its criminal syndicate problems and do something about them.
Is this that paradigm-shifting moment for Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry in the United States? That probably depends largely on the courage of legislators. It seems that, for some Catholic senators, a proclamation in praise of ethnic Mafiosi would be more palatable than one seeking to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
But unlike those senators, we cannot go on recess from the demands of conscience and the teaching of Christ. He identifies both with pregnant women in challenging situations and with the children they carry inside them. And they all deserve better than that Planned Parenthood.
Eric Banecker is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?