Selling the Unborn

A series of undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress in July has brought renewed attention, in chilling and often gruesome detail, to a seldom discussed aspect of the abortion industry: the procurement of and trade in fetal tissue. The C.M.P. footage reveals Planned Parenthood executives and physicians discussing the processes and pricing used for obtaining fetal tissue from abortions, at times in flippant or casual ways.

Responding to the videos, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., archbishop of Boston and chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, suggested that the C.M.P. exposé should “direct our attention to two larger issues”: abortion itself—“a direct attack on human life in its most vulnerable condition”—and “the now standard practice of obtaining fetal organs and tissues through abortion.”

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“Both actions,” he said, “fail to respect the humanity and dignity of human life,” contributing to the “throwaway culture” frequently deplored by Pope Francis.

A powerful narrative has been emerging of late from within the pro-choice camp, moving from the “safe, legal and rare” formula of the Clinton era into an abortion-positive position: research that suggests—dubiously—that women do not regret abortions; abortions captured live that portray it as an essentially carefree medical procedure; Twitter campaigns to “normalize,” even celebrate the experience. The intent of these efforts is to silence what flagging cultural conscience remains over the morality of abortion. But C.M.P.’s hidden-camera operation tears off the rhetorical veneer and exposes abortion and the gruesome commodities market it feeds for what it is: an obliteration of human dignity.

In the cultural field that enwraps Planned Parenthood’s mission, the sanctity of life has to be completely nullified in order for the work to proceed at all. Why should anyone be surprised when other comparably smaller imaginative leaps—the commodification of human flesh, for example—accompany the process of total dehumanization?

The political discussion, and Planned Parenthood’s explanations and defenses of its practices, have focused on the legality of fetal tissue sales. As important as that question is, it is tangential to the more significant moral challenge raised by the commodification of the bodies of aborted human fetuses. From this perspective, whether Planned Parenthood is receiving $75 per specimen or $1,000 or only $5 is beside the point. 

Planned Parenthood is being compensated for treating the body of an aborted fetus as a source for parts, and they are responding by maximizing the value of a scarce resource. The great moral tragedy is that what makes these tissues uniquely valuable—the fact that we share with the fetus a common humanity—is precisely what is being denied in the process of obtaining them through abortions.

In the first C.M.P. release, a doctor tries to make ethical sense of Planned Parenthood’s role in bringing fetal remains to market. She explains that many women are “happy to know that there’s a possibility for them to do ‘this extra bit of good.’”

No doubt many women, faced with the difficult circumstances that led them to have an abortion, are relieved to hear that some apparent good can be achieved by donating tissue from the abortion for research. But the videos make very clear—even to those who do not believe that abortion is wrong—that behind the scenes, once an abortion is completed and the “donation” is being processed, Planned Parenthood is no longer motivated by the wishes of its client. It is instead focused on accommodating the needs and goals of the tissue procurement company and the demands of its market. 

When a technician looks for marketable tissue, there is no longer any discussion about the needs or rights of women seeking abortions. There is no longer any discussion of a woman’s autonomy in choosing to donate tissue from an abortion or the viability of a fetus. There is no longer consideration of the person, either the woman or the unborn. There is only a dismembered 11.6-week-old fetus in a pie plate, its body already destroyed, now being scavenged for further value in order to “see how much we can get out of it.”

If that disgusts you, it ought to. The videos demonstrate, without any buffer, the faulty moral logic used to justify abortion. The physical and emotional revulsion we feel while watching these videos is evidence of the movement of our conscience telling us that these are not just collections of tissues, but persons with livers, brains, hearts—and souls.

But these disturbing images ought also to lead to a larger question: not only how to avoid and outlaw the practice of harvesting fetal tissue for profit, but of what consideration and compassion we owe the child and its mother both, beyond offering the illusory comfort of “donating” the body of an unborn child she feels unable to welcome into life.

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Bill Mazzella
2 years 3 months ago
"Planned Parenthood is being compensated for treating the body of an aborted fetus as a source for parts, and they are responding by maximizing the value of a scarce resource." I see. Throw the fetus down the drain or in the waste bag which is fine by you and others. PP makes no money on the deal. Sad that America and the Catholic bishops are riding this political football again.
Paul Ferris
2 years 3 months ago
"Throw the fetus down the drain..etc" indicates a false choice. The bishops and laity, who are against abortion, not on political but moral grounds, believe there should be no fetus to "throw down the drain at all" because there should be no abortions. I tried to watch video five but could not get through it because as this editorial states, it was disgusting. If it was edited I would not want to see anymore than was presented. (see full comment above)
Mike Evans
2 years 3 months ago
Later reports indicate the video was contrived and edited to show PP in the worst possible light. To make this a cause celebre and foundation for killing PP funding for so many services they alone offer to poor women is crazy.
Lois Kerschen
2 years 3 months ago
There are no services offered by PP that are not offered at many other places. Please go to www.democratsforlife.org for a list of the Community Health Centers that provide more services, including mammograms which PP does not offer, often at lower cost or free, and outnumber PP by 9,000 to 700. The videos are not contrived, and the unedited versions are easily available on the Internet. Don't go by hearsay; find out for yourself.
L J
2 years 3 months ago
Considering PP claims killing babies (i.e. abortions) is a very minor part of their business ("services"), I find it incredibly odd that they are apoplectic about ending their funding due to abortions! Stop providing abortions and provide all of those other "wonderful" female services that would make all women incredibly at risk for not getting manicures, acrylic nails and peroxide hair re-dos Get over it. PP kills babies just like the US Government killed black Americans in the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment, hid it, lied about it, covered it up with idiotic excuses and no one batted an eye for decades about it.
Lisa Weber
2 years 3 months ago
Treating fetal tissue obtained in abortions as a commodity is quite similar to how human bodies are treated after death - as a source of spare parts. When we treat the human body as a machine in need of replaceable parts, we lose some of our reverence for life. We talk of the positive aspects of treating the body as a collection of useful tissues without spending much time talking about the cost.
Peter Castaldi
2 years 3 months ago
The tragedy of abortion is "abortion" - a Mother finding herself in a situation where she decides ending the life of her child is her best option. "Pro-life" is a euphemism for taking this hugely personal and difficult decision and placing it in the legal system as if a judge could bring more knowledge and wisdom to this decision than a mother, her doctor, and whatever religious counsel she seeks. The law establishing that the fetuses resulting from this decision can be used under legal controls in the search for cures to disease is a separate matter, a bringing of some good from the tragedy of a mother finding the end of her child's life is her best decision. Let us not confuse the tragedy of abortion with the hope of medical research. We as Christians should best see of all people the possibility of good coming from tragedy, a resurrection following crucifixion. Peter Castaldi
Lois Kerschen
2 years 3 months ago
The other comments show little relationship to reality. "Between a woman, her doctor, and her god" is slogan only, but it is not what happens. The woman goes not to her family physician or to a minister but to an abortionist whom she doesn't see until she is on the table and with whom she is unlikely to have any discussion. Fetal/embryonic tissue has shown no value in research while adult cells have resulted in dozens of advances. Since 95% of abortions have social or economic causes, then solutions can be found. There are no medical reasons for abortion, as the AMA testified before Congress, with a few rare exceptions when the medical team must determine, as in does in any triage, who is survivable. Therefore, there are solutions for every problem pregnancy, as Pregnancy Resource Centers prove every day. Women need love and support, not abortion. Killing is never an answer, and the death of a child is never just a "difficult decision." It should be unthinkable to take a child's life to ease the parents' problems -- a permanent solution to a temporary problem when the child isn't even the problem, but other factors are.
Paul Ferris
2 years 3 months ago
The videos should come with a warning:" any person with a modicum of respect for human dignity will find video five disgusting." "Throw the fetus down the drain..etc" indicates a false choice. The bishops and laity, who are against abortion not on political but moral grounds, believe there should be no fetus to "throw down the drain at all" because there should be no abortions, I tried to watch video five but could not get through it because as this editorial states, it was disgusting. If it was edited I would not want to see anymore than was presented. I have been told in the past that as a man I do not know what I am talking about or have no right to speak on the issue of abortion. When I hear this I usually refrain from discussing the issue further just as I avoid discussions of gun control with second amendment worshipers. I also believe that a woman should decide whether to have a child or secure an early abortion in the case of rape or incest. In these two cases the moral guilt will not be on the woman but on the men who have committed their heinous acts. When a mother's life is threatened by a pregnancy then she should also have the last word. These cases are rare and should not open the door to millions of abortions in this country and throughout the world. I also believe that there would be few abortions if men would own up to their responsibilities to father the child they were essential to conceive. Planned Parenthood....an oxymoron if there ever was one...needs to stop using my tax dollars for its operations. If it claims as I do not believe that none of its funds go to abortion, then still it is clear that money is fungible which means that the money it gets from the taxpayer supports its operations so money does not have to be raised from private donors for other than abortions. I consider my political opinions closer to democrat, feminist, and liberal positions than republicans and regret that democrats often include pro-choice in their rhetoric.
Bill Collier
2 years 3 months ago
I think America's editors have gotten it right: "If that disgusts you, it ought to. The videos demonstrate, without any buffer, the faulty moral logic used to justify abortion. The physical and emotional revulsion we feel while watching these videos is evidence of the movement of our conscience telling us that these are not just collections of tissues, but persons with livers, brains, hearts—and souls." I don't always agree with him, but NYT's columnist Ross Douthat made essentially the same point in an op-ed a couple of weeks ago titled "Looking Away from Abortion": http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/26/opinion/sunday/ross-douthat-looking-away-from-abortion.html?_r=0
Bill Collier
2 years 3 months ago
The series of CMP videos have prompted at least one commentator to reassess whether he is pro-choice anymore: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/10/i-don-t-know-if-i-m-pro-choice-anymore.html#
John Loughlin
2 years 3 months ago
Perhaps we could avoid using the technical term 'foetus' and speak instead of the unborn child or baby.
Bill Mazzella
2 years 3 months ago
It is also disgusting that the church has permitted Catholic women to go through living hell with its prohibition on contraceptives. Fortunately, Catholic women have learned to ignore this wrong teaching and realize that contraception is not wrong in itself. On the contrary PP has helped many women prevent pregnancy so that their lives would not be inextricably mired in poverty and despair. For the Hierarchy and America to feed on this video, where nothing wrong is done continues the hypocrisy whereby the anti-abortion movement is trumped so that the herculean blunder by the church leaders on birth control could be hidden in the background. The irony is that the leaders know that contraception is morally correct. But they will nott admit a mistake was made as if nobody knows that. To use Planned Parenthood while women continue to be abused by the church magnifies the error. .

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