The third and fourth videos in the Center for Medical Progress’s series on Planned Parenthood dropped this week and the response, at least to the third, has been a bit different from that of the first two weeks. (As I write this it is only an hour after the release of the fourth video so it is too soon to say what the response to that will be, although one hopes it is closer to the first two given the horrifying things shown in the video.)
The outrage following the third video was slightly reduced, though it’s too early to say why, and there has started to be a bit of discussion on the right about the many issues connected to Planned Parenthood and the ramifications of defunding the organization. Given that we’re likely only a quarter of the way through this drip campaign from CMP, it’s worth making a few comments on how the response is beginning to shift and some of the reasonable issues being raised by folks on both the right and left about the ramifications of defunding Planned Parenthood.
First, there are many aspects to the issue but we shouldn’t be distracted from the main issue the CMP videos are raising.
There are many significant questions that pro-lifers need to address if we are to seriously threaten the current regime and take any meaningful steps toward defunding Planned Parenthood or, better still, ending legalized abortion in the United States. It certainly is essential that we be addressing these issues alongside our attempts to address the legal status of abortion in the United States. If we are simply trying to change laws without changing cultures then we really are engaged in little more than partisan politics and our best efforts will be largely for nought. Indeed, if we fail to address the cultural issues connected to on-demand abortion then we aren’t being truly pro-life. My friends Maralee and Brad have both made somewhat related points on this matter in their helpful posts.
These are not insignificant concerns, as I hope my comments above make plain. That said, the point we should be talking about right now is not necessarily all the related issues that these people are raising; those are conversations we need to be having continuously in our churches and neighborhoods. We should have been talking about them before #PPSellsBabyParts and we need to continue talking about them after this story disappears from headlines (which, of course, may be long before the end of the drip campaign).
The issue we need to focus on right now is that an organization that receives $500m per year in federal funding is quite obviously engaged in trafficking in the leftover body parts of aborted babies in order to generate greater profits. And let’s be clear, Planned Parenthood does good business in abortion. This incredibly conservative estimate has them making nearly $100m on abortion in 2010 alone—and the actual number (again, in just one year) could easily be double that.
This is the issue to press right now while these videos are being released and while the story is in the public eye. Yes, we need to be careful about creating social media echo chambers. (So be judicious in what you post and don’t turn yourself into a meme.) Yes, the call to be charitable in our speech still applies. (So don’t be a jerk when your non-Christian friends ask reasonable questions—and if you don’t have non-Christian friends asking reasonable questions that in itself should tell you something.)
But if we take our eye off the ball on this issue and let the reasonable related issues distract us from the key point we will waste the best chance we’ve had in some time to take a major step toward reducing the number of abortions in the United States.
Second, this ongoing story should teach us something about the virtue of preparedness.
One of the benefits of the current conversation about the Benedict Option is its concern with thinking about long-term possibilities rather than focusing on more short-term, immediate questions. Part of the reason for the concerns that some are now raising on the right is the fear that pro-lifers simply aren’t ready to deal with the fallout of defunding Planned Parenthood.
I’m not in a position to say whether or not those concerns are valid—I have friends who say we are and others who say we aren’t. The growth of Crisis Pregnancy Centers is a heartening thing and, hopefully, those organizations and others like them can continue to grow such that Planned Parenthood’s other non-abortive services won’t even be needed due to the availability of alternatives. That said, the key point here seems to be that many evangelicals who are deeply committed pro-lifers believe that we are not prepared to handle the potential success of our own legislative and political agenda.
Thus one of the many lessons of this ongoing story is that we need to be working seriously to build institutions and places that will be able to weather what storms might come in the future or, equally important, how to respond in the event that we actually might win something. If the fear that we can’t handle the defunding of Planned Parenthood is valid then it is a devastating indictment of how poorly evangelicals have used our years in the ascendancy and how desperately we need to learn about thinking institutionally and planning for the future.
Third, there is something self-defeating (and characteristically evangelical) about dismissing the possibility of defunding Planned Parenthood.
One of the main lessons of this story so far is that the GOP has no respect for pro-lifers. Of course, if you’re someone who cares about foreign policy, racial reconciliation, or environmental issues you won’t find this surprising as the GOP has consistently been on the side of the culture of death on those issues for some time now.
That said, there’s something much more stark when you see that callous disregard for life displayed on this issue. I think it’s inexcusable that we have sent so many men to their deaths fighting pointless wars abroad (and sentenced plenty more to a life of alcoholism and PTSD upon their return) but on the foreign policy point you can at least make arguments for why that war was necessary or why failing to act against that leader would have been even more harmful. I don’t buy them, but there are reasonable arguments that can be made.
But on the issue we’re dealing with here we shouldn’t struggle as much. These are babies being butchered to the tune of nine figures a year for Planned Parenthood. Not content with those profits, the organization’s leaders (like most well-off American capitalists, it should be noted) have looked for other ways to maximize their revenue without any regard for moral considerations or the limits of decency and sanity. They are selling the body parts of aborted babies. Their leaders are talking about it glibly over lunch and joking about wanting to get the most money possible because “I want a Lamborghini.” Saying “the organization these people lead shouldn’t get $500 million of public money every year” shouldn’t be treated as a complex, unreasonable demand. And it isn’t too much to expect the allegedly conservative party to support defunding Planned Parenthood.
The danger here—and it’s a danger with the BenOp talk as well—is that our attempts at realism can end up contributing to an overall pessimism amongst orthodox believers that does our side no favors. For the foreseeable future we will be bombarded with the message that we are the weird ones, that we are the ones on “the wrong side of history,” that we are the ones who need to get over our hangups and join the enlightened world in their rejection of all creaturely limits.
But if Christianity is true then this is all moonshine. It’s moonshine we need to respond to patiently and reasonably, as Matt Tuininga says here. That said, we must not adopt a defensive or fearful tone. We shouldn’t enter the conversation with a point to prove, in other words. Orthodoxy is normal. Orthodoxy is sanity and health and romance. What we need to do is fix that fact in our minds. If Christianity is true, then this current order is bound for a Babel-style collapse because that is precisely what it is—Babel. The shadow of that hideous strength is a passing thing and, as Samwise teaches us, “when the sun comes out it will shine the clearer.”
This doesn’t mean we should be unrealistic or naive about current realities. But it does mean that if we can take something like this remarkable work from the Center for Medical Progress and even in this find reasons to be pessimistic about our political prospects then there is probably something more in play besides a simple desire to be realistic about a given issue.