Yesterday, one of the House Judiciary Committees held a hearing regarding the conduct of Planned Parenthood shown in the videos released by The Center for Medical Progress. The concern Witnesses include James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel of National Right to Life; and Gianna Jessen, and Melissa Ohden, both of whom survived attempted saline abortions.
Testimony was also provided by Priscilla Smith, director of Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice. Smith had previously represented late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart before the U.S. Supreme Court when he challenged the federal partial-birth abortion ban. During the hearing, Smith testified that, based upon her review of the federal laws concerning partial-birth abortion and fetal tissue donation laws, “there is simply no evidence in these misleadingly edited videos of a violation of either of these laws.”
Smith’s testimony is typical of what little media reports there have been regarding these videos. Her testimony displays two fundamental flaws which have not been addressed: (1) the claim that there is “no evidence” that Planned Parenthood has broken and laws; and (2) that violations of the law are the only standard by which we, as a nation, should be considering what is shown in the videos. These two flaws evidence a greater apathetic attitude that has become prevalent in our culture.
Evidence of a Crime
The first issue raised by Smith in her testimony is whether there is evidence of violations of federal law. Smith, conveniently perhaps, sidesteps the intent to answer merely the the literal question. The question is not whether what is shown on the videos violates the two laws. Admittedly, the videos released to date do not show a literal exchange of cash for aborted fetal tissue. Neither do the videos show a baby born alive during an abortion being killed.
The real reason why these videos matter is because they indicate both prior conduct and on-going conduct that, at least, suggests illegal activity by Planned Parenthood. Despite claims that these videos are misleading and heavily edited, no one has been able to point out a portion of the conversation where a Planned Parenthood employee indicates that they don’t want any money for helping to supply aborted fetal tissue. There is no part of the video where a Planned Parenthood employee is surprised that someone is interested in purchasing aborted fetal tissue. At a minimum, there is a familiarity with the business of supplying aborted fetal tissue. Statements by Planned Parenthood employees indicate that they have had or currently have similar arrangements; the undercover “buyers” were not novel.
Are these videos sufficient to prove in a court a violation of federal law? On the face of it and based on what has been released to date, probably not. Are these videos, however, sufficient to warrant further investigation? Absolutely.
This claim that there is simply “no evidence” that Planned Parenthood is breaking the law is misleading, at best. The immediate response ought to be to wonder where one has looked for proof. If you don’t look, it is easy not to find anything.
In a similar vein, Planned Parenthood’s letter to Congress on August 27,2015 claiming that several states had “investigated” and found “no evidence” of wrongdoing is a straw man. It is true that several states asking Planned Parenthood whether it had violated any laws or whether it had sold aborted fetal tissue in their state. These same states accepted at face value Planned Parenthood’s statement that it had not. This is akin to a police officer asking a suspect if he robbed the bank, and merely accepting his assertion that he had not without speaking to any witnesses, taking any fingerprints, or searching the suspect. Not much of an investigation here.
Legal Standards vs. Moral Standards
Perhaps the greater question that Smith’s testimony raises – and ought to be of importance to legislators and to Catholics generally – is whether we ought to be satisfied with laws that permit what is described and shown in the videos. Even if, after a thorough investigation, it is shown that Planned Parenthood was not in violation of any laws, this should not end the inquest. The actions described in the videos are appalling and should not be tolerated in our society.
Law “is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good.” Civil law must have its root in and be in accord with natural law. Law must be at the service of humans, and, therefore, must assist all humans in achieving their ultimate end. This ultimate end is heaven, that is, to become saints. Above all, law must safeguard the quintessential value of human dignity, particularly the right to life, both at the beginning of life and at the end of life. When the law departs from this fundamental purpose, it is unable to safeguard human dignity.
If the law, as it currently stands, condones actions which would permit the desecration of deceased fetuses for the financial benefit of those causing the death of the fetuses, then the law must be modified for it fails to honor the unborn human being. If the current law permits the killing of a fetus that survives an abortion procedure, then the law must be changed. This sentiment was shared by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the start of the hearing on September 9. Goodlatte said,
“The conduct exposed by the undercover videos may help inform Congress on how to enact better laws, or to see to it that current laws are better enforced, to help innocent life nationwide.”
Smith’s testimony, however, presumes that any action which is legal ought to be accepted. This presumption is preposterous. Under Hitler, concentration camps and annihilation of Jewish people was legal. No rational person would agree that the laws in Nazi Germany reflect a proper moral order. Yet, as Smith’s testimony reflects and as is trumpeted by the media, this presumption goes unchallenged.
The Rationality of Irrationality
Sadly, what is seen is symptomatic of something greater missing in our society. We have become accustomed to quick assertions without much thought to whether it makes sense. We seem ready to accept arguments on important issues and decisions without pausing to see if it is rational. How often we hear rhetoric similar to that presented by Priscilla Smith during the Congressional hearing without reflecting on whether it is actually rational. How often we see statistics quoted without pausing to consider if they are accurate and reflect reality.
We need intellectual honesty. What does that mean? It means using words in their true meaning, not twisting our English language to make things appear to be different than they are. It is cultivating a mind which is willing to engage in a reasoned dialogue and rigorous debate of the important issues. We need to train ourselves to analyze statements and thoughts rationally. Society should not fear such honesty. That which is true can withstand the rigors of intellectual honesty. What cannot stand is that which is false.
For a nation which prides itself on autonomy and upholding the freedom of individuals to choose, we appear to not realize that, in not engaging in intellectual honesty and utilizing our rational minds, we are impeding our freedom. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational.”