The revelation that Planned Parenthood is selling body parts from children that they have aborted in their clinics is shocking, even though it is hardly surprising. Pro-lifers have argued for years that Planned Parenthood is less concerned with the lives of the women that they claim to “help” than they are with making a profit. They are concerned, quite obviously, not at all with the children whose lives they end. If local Planned Parenthood affiliates can maximize their profits by “accepting money” in return for “fetal tissue donations,” why wouldn’t they? The butcher, after all, makes his meat scraps into sausages—and unless he’s a sociopath, he holds the pig in higher regard than the average Planned Parenthood “doctor” does the baby.
First things first: I have in the past been quite critical of the use of deception to obtain incriminating audio and video of Planned Parenthood staffers and volunteers. I stand behind all of those criticisms today; the tactics used by the Center for Medical Progress are just as wrong as those used by Live Action and other such organizations. Even on a purely pragmatic level, Planned Parenthood can—and does—deflect criticisms of their own actions by pointing to the use of such tactics. Holding ourselves to a higher standard may make exposing Planned Parenthood somewhat harder, but nobody ever promised that fighting for the truth would be easy.
That said, despite the best efforts of the boneheaded activists from the Center for Medical Progress who kept interrupting her with lame attempts to prod and even sickening jokes, Planned Parenthood Senior Director Deborah Nucatola provided a pretty straightforward and damning account of the trade in human body parts. The “banality of evil” hardly begins to describe her easy, matter-of-fact discussion over a luncheon of salad and wine.
That should be a massive clue that there’s something much broader and even more disturbing here than the simple details of what Planned Parenthood is doing. There’s no reason to believe that Nucatola is particularly perverse—a present-day Josef Mengele, as many pro-lifers on Facebook are saying. Rather, she and all of the abortionists at all of the Planned Parenthood affiliates involved in this grisly trade are meeting a pre-existing demand among medical researchers. They’re simply doing what capitalists do, once capitalism is divorced from moral considerations. Economic materialism is no better when we apply the word capitalism to it rather than socialism or communism.
The techniques that Nucatola describes using to maximize the value of the various body parts are, as the Center for Medical Progress points out, covered by the partial-birth abortion ban. Planned Parenthood knows that, yet they keep on performing such abortions. But again, this goes deeper: The medical researchers who are purchasing these body parts aren’t unaware of how they are being harvested. They know, too, that Planned Parenthood is violating the law, and they don’t care. There’s money to be made from their research; the possibility of profit is worth the minuscule risk that the federal government might actually enforce the partial-birth abortion ban.
Forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, that ban is the one significant victory at the federal level that the pro-life movement has ever had—and, at its best, it might have saved a thousand or so lives each year, out of the 1.3 million children aborted annually. Now, we see that it probably hasn’t even done that. That, too, is hardly surprising: There are no political solutions to cultural problems, and the destruction of the unborn is very much a cultural problem rather than a political one.
Scott P. Richert is editor at large for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and Publisher for Our Sunday Visitor. He holds an M.A. in political theory from the Catholic University of America. He has been published in, among others, The Family in America, This World, and Humanitas. He is the Catholicism Expert for About.com.