Abortion, forever lurking beneath the currents of American life, sometimes roars to the surface. In recent months, the rumble of political realignment and the siren of scandal have combined to reawaken the slumbering giant.
Buoyed by November's gains at the state and federal levels, pro-life legislators have unleashed a flurry of ambitious proposals. Legislation drafted in Nebraska, Kansas, and Ohio looks to topple Roe v. Wade by using new research on fetal development. In Washington, resurgent House Republicans hasten to fortify restrictions on federal abortion funding and to strip taxpayer subsidies from Planned Parenthood. The GOP also seeks to prevent last year's health-care overhaul from harming the unborn.
As these battles rage, new revelations have exposed, once again, a sleazier side of the abortion industry. First, a colossal grand jury report detailed the depredations of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. His alleged peddling of the painkiller Oxycontin put investigators onto the scent. His clinic reeked of cat urine. It was staffed by unlicensed apprentices, spattered with bloodstains, and cluttered with unsterilized instruments and a stockpile of fetal body parts. Prosecutors have charged Gosnell with murder for overmedicating a Nepalese refugee and snipping the spinal cords of seven fully delivered infants.
Yet Lila Rose, the intrepid young activist whose undercover operations have bedeviled Planned Parenthood in recent years, may have inflicted deeper wounds to the abortion industry than the Gosnell story. Her organization, Live Action, recently released covertly captured footage of clinic workers behaving very badly. The videos show a Live Action associate, disguised as the proprietor of an underage prostitution ring, requesting and receiving advice on accessing abortions, treating venereal disease, evading reporting requirements, and doctoring medical forms.
Unlike Gosnell's investigation, which duly appointed authorities conducted, many have questioned the ethics of Live Action's clandestine techniques. Many pro-lifers excuse the recourse to deception and cheer every exercise that exposes Planned Parenthood's depravity. Here and there, though, one hears groans of conscience, especially among conservative Catholic intellectuals like Robert George, Christopher Tollefsen, and Gerard Bradley. The strongest weapon in the pro-life arsenal, they argue, is truth. There are grave consequences when people tolerate deception. So, unease over Live Action's methods has embittered what might have been reckoned a sweet triumph.
In such debates, evangelicals can find habits both profitable and unrewarding. The heady mix of media spotlight, pro-life adulation, and fumbling pro-choice embarrassment intoxicates us, but Live Action's evangelical allies should discipline euphoria with rigorous introspection. We need to continue to contemplate the right relation of means and ends—not so much in the context of "bearing false witness" (the usual course), but rather through the more central theme of love: how our words and deeds reflect love of neighbor, born and unborn.
Most importantly, evangelicals ought to ask whether Live Action's flirtation with ethical shortcuts relies too heavily on a strategy to tarnish the abortion industry through explosive, headline-grabbing scandals. Weary of contending for a culture of life—despairing of the laborious, protracted struggle to transform hearts and minds—we long to deliver a single, crippling blow. We crave a millennial confrontation, a pivotal moment at which to announce that here, at last, is abortion's cancerous quintessence, the unveiling of which must discredit its apologists immediately and irreparably.
There is reason for this. Individuals, communities, entire nations—none repents of wickedness without a prick to the conscience. Where a million tightly reasoned arguments fail, one whiff of Gosnell's Philadelphia slaughterhouse, one glimpse of Planned Parenthood employees facilitating the exploitation of minors, just may succeed. Would that it were otherwise. But you play the cards human nature deals.
The pro-choice worldview cheapens the value of human life, and many of its backers treat actual human lives—expectant mothers and teenage sex slaves no less than unborn children—in despicable fashion. When this happens, we should not hesitate to condemn either the perpetrators or their principles.
But bombshells must not blind us to the routine, everyday scandal of abortion. For every scoundrel deliberately snuffing out innocent human life, there are hundreds of sure-handed specialists doing likewise. Their tools—immaculate or contaminated, wielded with surgical delicacy or barbaric cruelty—accomplish the same grisly result. What transpires every hour in meticulously hygienic clinics, at the hands of professionally licensed doctors, is an epic scandal. And nobody needs hidden cameras to see it plain.
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Reducing Abortion for Real | The current proposals to lower the abortion rate will only make things worse. (March 16, 2009)
Abortion Overreach | A Supreme Court decision again shows that the all-or-nothing strategy is not the way to go. (April 18, 2007)
How Serious Are Democrats? | Making abortion rare will take more than words. (March 16, 2005)
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