7 August

Lessons from America’s Culture Wars

The present furore in the USA over Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal organs has now claimed its third casualty. After Louisiana and New Hampshire, Alabama has now become the third state to withdraw funds from Planned Parenthood. Although this is unlikely to impact on the number of abortions performed in the UK, there are some important features in the surrounding debate that are worth considering.

Importantly, the videos at the centre of the outcry drastically damage the idea that Planned Parenthood’s motivations are primarily compassionate. Notwithstanding its defence that monetary sums discussed refer only to transport and storage costs of fetal organs it is clear in the videos that the clinicians see these organs as ‘just a matter of line items’ up to and including a complete and intact aborted child. In this instance the inhumanity of the unborn seems to be taken as a basic assumption.

Of course, human cadavers have played an important, and sometimes controversial, role in medical research for centuries. But the controversy (and importance of the issues) surrounding use of human corpses always presumed the humanity of the subjects used in research. What makes these videos so chilling is the apparently wilful way in which Planned Parenthood officials, and so many advocates of the ‘right to choose’, have taken up a position of no regard for their moral significance.

Defenders of legal abortion have rallied to Planned Parenthood’s support maintaining that no law has actually been broken, and they are probably right thus far. But their haste hides a fear that many people with no strong position on the abortion debate are actually ‘pro-life’ insofar as they accept the humanity of the unborn child.

The trivialising of the bodies of unborn children is what makes this story so upsetting, and has no doubt been an important consideration for news editors interested in obtaining higher ratings for their pieces on the subject. It is, however, precisely this position upon which advocates of abortion must rely in order to sustain their argument for abortion to be a matter of free choice. If the unborn child really shares in our humanity, he or she must also share in our rights, and chief among these the right to life.

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