Recently, the organization Planned Parenthood has produced significant controversy as a result of secret videos regarding the organization that have been leaked to the media. The purpose of the present sample essay is to develop an in-depth discussion of this recent issue.
Scandal hits Planned Parenthood
- The essay will begin by describing what has actually happened thus far.
- The essay will provide a broader overview regarding the issue of abortion within the United States and the role of the present situation within this context.
- The essay will consider Planned Parenthood’s response to the situation.
- The essay will reflect on the potential political implications of the situation over the course of the coming times.
The videos in question
Regarding the situation under consideration here, Cabaniss and Gillin have written the following:
“Controversial videos released by an anti-abortion group have highlighted the murky guidelines for using fetal tissue for research purposes. The group, called the Center for Medical Progress, has accused Planned Parenthood of selling aborted fetuses for a profit” (paragraphs 1-2).
This accusation emerges from a series of secret videos the group took while visiting Planned Parenthood officials while disguised as fetal tissue brokers. That is, the members of Center for Medical Progress posed as the kind of people who would ordinarily do business with Planned Parenthood, in order to obtain a clear picture of the way that Planned Parenthood ordinarily conducts itself in its business affairs regarding fetal tissue.
These videos, which were released to the media, show Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue sales in what clearly seems to be a transactional, for-profit manner.
Now, if this is true, it would be problematic for two main reasons. The first consists of the simple legal reason that for-profit sales of fetal tissue is illegal within the United States. One ambiguity that emerges, has to do with the difference between a sale proper and a “donation” with fees. In at least some states, the donation of fetal tissue is considered legally acceptable, as is the charging of “reasonable” fees in order to facilitate the donation process.
So, there is a conceptually cogent distinction that can in fact be drawn between a sale and a donation; but in practice, it is easy to see how this distinction could easily become blurry to the point of nonexistence. If the Center for Medical Progress’s videos actually show what they seem to be showing, then this would imply that Planned Parenthood officials do in fact tend to conduct themselves more or less as businessmen and businesswomen in their dealings regarding fetal tissue, and that they would thus be in violation of federal laws that specifically prohibit such a practice.
Moreover, the situation is also problematic for strictly moral reasons. Planned Parenthood provides sexual health services to women, which includes abortion services. The fetal tissue that is donated (or sold) by the organization is obtained from aborted fetuses; and the videos seem to indicate that at least sometimes, Planned Parenthood employees actually conduct abortions in such a way as to preserve the most “valuable” organs of the fetus for future sales.
Moreover, the idea that the organization is doing this for the sake of profit is confirmed by a video that shows officials literally haggling over the price of fetal organs. Assuming that this is true, it is difficult to imagine how any person with even basic moral sense could fail to feel completely disgusted by what has been happening. Irrespective of how one feels about abortion per se, this kind of gross commodification of fetal organs surely evokes a kind of dystopian vision in which the value of human life itself is calculated in exclusively financial terms.
In short, if the videos show what they seem to be showing, then what they are showing can only be called morally repulsive.
History of abortion in America
Within the United States, the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, in the year 1973, established the modern paradigm regarding abortion rights. This case conceptualized abortion rights as a matter of the agreement of confidentiality between a woman and her physician—which, in the long run, has come to mean that abortion is ethically a matter of personal autonomy.
Of course, there have been countless people who have contested the moral logic of this judgment. For example, the novelist Percy has written the following:
“It is a commonplace of modern biology, known to every high school student . . . that the life of every individual organism, human or not, begins when the chromosomes of the sperm fuse with the chromosomes of the ovum to form a new DNA complex” (paragraph 6).
The contemporary debate on abortion, though, would seem to have reached a kind of stalemate, due to the fact that it is difficult to rationally convince anyone regarding the point of whether a fetus is or is or not equivalent to a full human life.
Given this stalemate, stakeholders have primarily sought to resolve the issue in more or a political than a moral way, seeking to win less in the domain of logic than in the court of public opinion. In this context, the recent controversy regarding Planned Parenthood has potentially significant consequences for the issue of abortion. Of course, the specific issue in question pertains not to abortion per se but rather to the potentially illegal sale of fetal tissue.
However, the argument could now easily be made by anti-abortion activists that the practice of abortion itself is dehumanizing, which would then be why Planned Parenthood officials are apparently able to engage in business transactions regarding fetal tissue in such a callous fashion (Mendoza).
Planned Parenthood’s response
The president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards (qtd. in Brockes), has said the following regarding the controversy surrounding her organization:
“In this coming presidential election, Roe v Wade is on the ballot. The battle lines were drawn last week. This isn’t about Planned Parenthood or fetal tissue . . . It’s about whether abortion is going to be legal anymore in this country” (paragraph 10).
This is probably an astute judgment, especially given the impolite way in which Republican congressmen treated her when she was recently called in to speak on behalf of her organization. Both sides of this issue refuse to compromise. It is in fact the case that in both the political and the public consciousness, responses to the Planned Parenthood controversy have come to be understood as not just a matter of the legality of fetal tissue sales but rather as a referendum on the legality of abortion as such.
The idea that Roe v. Wade is in danger implies that if it is decided that abortion is a dehumanizing practice that must be stopped, then this moral judgment would override the previous moral judgment in favor of individual autonomy, in a similar sense to which a psychiatrist who knows his patient is plotting a mass shooting has an obligation to break confidentiality and say something.
Regarding the specific issue of fetal tissue sales, Planned Parenthood has simply denied that the videos are actually showing what they seem to be showing, and that the organization has done nothing illegal. In particular, the organization has tended to bank on the distinction between sale on the one hand and donation on the other, and has argued that its specific organizational practices are fully congruent with the legal statutes within the states in which those practices have occurred.
To tell the truth, though, this line of response seems to come across as more of a strategy for legally protecting the organization than a real attempt to explain what is being portrayed in the leaked videos. However, the fact that this controversy has become a shorthand for the controversy over abortion more generally seems to have actually had a positive effect for Planned Parenthood, and not just a negative one: pro-choice people have felt compelled to defend the organization, sidestepping the specific question of the leaked videos in favor of a more general commitment to abortion rights.
Politically, the Planned Parenthood controversy has become a main point of contention and division between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress. For example, the recent threat of government shutdown, which was only narrowly avoided, hinged primarily on Republican opposition for federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Now, the facts would seem to indicate that the organization does not receive federal funding for abortions, and also that abortions constitute only a small fraction of the services provided by the organization.
But for present purposes, this is not the point. The point is that the controversy has enabled Republicans to make abortion rights a major point of political contention once more—which, of course, has also obliged Democrats to defend abortion rights. As Meckler and Balhaus have written:
“The attacks [on Planned Parenthood] help Republicans rally evangelicals and social conservatives in Iowa and a batch of Southern states that will hold primaries early next year. Democrats paint Planned Parenthood’s opponents as being hostile to women’s health, a message that has appeal with suburban voters” (paragraph 8).
Again, this drawing of the lines suggests that the president of Planned Parenthood may in fact be correct regarding her belief that abortion rights very much will be on the agenda during the next election. Regardless of the fact that the controversy is not about abortion rights per se, this is nevertheless how the issue has become reflected within the context of the political arena.
It must be acknowledged, however, that there is in fact a moral logic that ties together the issue of abortion in general with the issue of the sale of fetal tissue in particular; this is not a connection that has been constructed only by politicians or for political reasons. From the perspective of anti-abortion advocates, abortion itself is tantamount to murder, and the practice of abortion is thus a good example of how people have become desensitized to the sanctity of human life.
It is precisely such a desensitization that can be clearly seen in the leaked videos regarding Planned Parenthood. So, the case could be made that there is a moral connection between the two matters. Of course, pro-choice advocates could claim that this connection is spurious. However, to do this in a plausible way would require them to show either why abortion is acceptable while the sale of fetal tissue is not, or why what is shown in the videos is not as morally gruesome as it obviously seems. But this would seem to be a specific conversation that people are not interested in having at this time.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of the recently leaked videos regarding Planned Parenthood. The essay has described the situation, considered it within the context of the history of abortion, discussed Planned Parenthood’s response to the situation, and finally reflected on the political implications of the situation at hand.
A key point that has been made here is that as far as both politicians and the general public is concerned, this controversy has come to be seen not as a specific issue regarding the sale of fetal tissue but rather as a broader referendum on the practice of abortion in general. Although this conflation has glossed over some specific questions, the general moral logic of the situation justifies this move.
Brockes, Emma. “Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards: ‘In This Election, Roe v Wade Is on the Ballot.” Guardian. 8 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. news/2015/oct/08/cecile-richards-planned-parenthood-roe-v-wade-republicans>.
Cabaniss, Will, and Joshua Gillin.. “PolitiFact Sheet: 8 Things to Know about the Planned Parenthood Controversy.” Politifact. 5 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. know-about-plan-national/>.
Calmes, Jackie. “Video Accuses Planned Parenthood of Crime.” New York Times. 15 Jul. 2015. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. parenthood-of-crime.html?_r=0>.
Meckler, Laura, and Rebecca Ballhaus. “Candidates from Both Parties Take on Planned Parenthood Controversy.” Wall Street Journal. 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. .
Mendoza, Jessica. “How the Planned Parenthood Controversy Affects the Abortion Debate.” Christian Science Monitor. 2 Sep. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. .
Percy, Walker. “A View of Abortion with Something to Offend Everybody.” New York Times. 8 Jun. 1981. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. .
Supreme Court of the United States. “Roe v. Wade.” Legal Information Institute, 1973. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. .
theSkimm. “theSkimm’s Guide to the Maybe Government Shutdown.” Author, n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. .