Planned Parenthood’s reaction to the release of a clandestinely recorded conversation about the sale of fetal body parts was highly revealing. After protesting that it did nothing illegal, it apologized for the “tone” of one of its senior directors.
This was again demonstrated by the release this week of a second video showing another official sporting that same tone, casual and even jocular, while haggling over the price of an embryonic liver. “If it’s still low, then we can bump it up,” she joked, “I want a Lamborghini.”
The Planned Parenthood revelations will have an effect. Perhaps not on government funding, given the Democratic Party’s unwavering support and the president wishing it divine guidance. Planned Parenthood might escape legal jeopardy as well, given the loophole in the law banning the sale of fetal parts that permits compensation for expenses (shipping and handling, as it were).
But these revelations will have an effect on public perceptions. Just as ultrasound altered feelings about abortion by showing the image, the movement, the vibrant living-ness of the developing infant in utero, so too, I suspect, will these Planned Parenthood revelations, by throwing open the door to the backroom of the clinic where that being is destroyed.
Remember. The advent of ultrasound has coincided with a remarkable phenomenon: Of all the major social issues, abortion is the only one that has not moved toward increasing liberalization. While the legalization of drugs, the redefinition of marriage and other assertions of individual autonomy have advanced, some with astonishing rapidity, abortion attitudes have remained largely static. The country remains evenly split.
There is more division about the first trimester because one’s views of the early embryo are largely a matter of belief, often religious belief. One’s view of the later-term fetus, however, is more a matter of what might be called sympathetic identification – seeing the image of a recognizable human infant and, now, hearing from the experts exactly what it takes to “terminate” its existence.
The role of democratic politics is to turn such moral sensibilities into law. This is a moment to press relentlessly for a national ban on late-term abortions.
The Washington Post Writers Group