Why Even Pro-Choice Americans Should be Upset with Planned Parenthood

Published July 23, 2015

The Week

The Center for Medical Progress recently published undercover videos that appear to show Planned Parenthood officials talking about selling organs from aborted babies. Predictably, the story quickly divided along political lines in our never-ending war over abortion. Pro-lifers saw it as yet another example of the horror of abortion; pro-choicers rose to Planned Parenthood’s defense.

When the first video was published last week, Planned Parenthood responded to the allegation that it was selling fetus organs for profit with a complete denial; they do it pro bono for science, and they just charge for their costs.

Then the Center for Medical Progress released a second video on Tuesday, showing an official haggling over the price of the organs — why would there have to be a negotiation over price if Planned Parenthood just charges for its own costs? — and joking “I want a Lamborghini.”

The videos also show that what Planned Parenthood euphemistically calls “tissue” is actually organs. On consent forms, women are asked to donate “tissue,” even though it’s a heart and lungs they’re actually handing over. Those forms are, then, at the very least, incomplete and misleading. And there are laws about getting proper informed consent for patients.

Come to think of it, there are also laws about selling organs for profit (it’s illegal). This seems to be what Planned Parenthood engages in; otherwise its officials wouldn’t negotiate over price, they would simply state the cost and ask for reimbursement. And this brings to light an important, overlooked aspect of the story, which should be troubling even if you do not find abortion morally problematic.

The videos suggest that Planned Parenthood doctors change how they perform abortions, sometimes even steering women towards different procedures, to get intact organs or more valuable older organs.

As The Federalist‘s Sean Davis noted, in a post eviscerating The New York Times for its skewed coverage of the video:

In one portion of the video, [Planned Parenthood official] Gatter explicitly says that she’s willing to ask one of her organization’s abortionists if he’ll ignore a “violation of patient protocol” in order to alter the abortion procedure without the patient’s explicit consent. The alteration, Gatter says, is necessary to increase the probability of harvesting an organ she can later sell. Gatter then waves away the issue of violating patient protocol by saying it’s a “specious little argument” against using a different abortion procedure than the one agreed to by the patient. [The Federalist]

As Erica Grieder pointed out, given how vulnerable women can be at the time when they seek an abortion, particularly a late-term abortion, and given the information asymmetry between a patient and doctor, “informed consent” to one procedure over another means little.

This is part of the problem. Planned Parenthood presents itself as an organization dedicated to serving and advocating for women. And yet, these videos have shown that Planned Parenthood, possibly routinely, misleads women about medical procedures.

Even if you hate pro-life politics, if you’re someone who wants women to get good, reliable health care, shouldn’t you be concerned about the fact that one of the largest women’s health care organizations does that sort of thing?

This is the depressing thing about politics. The us vs. them nature of it all makes you stick up for the people on “my side” when they’ve done something wrong, because otherwise the bad guys win. It’s all-too human. Whether it’s Catholic bishops closing the ranks on child abuse, or politicians writing their own laws, or military officers covering up sexual abuse and rape, we all see it, and when we’re not involved we see how gross, how wrong, how deluded, and how ultimately self-defeating that sort of behavior is — until something bad happens to someone on our side. Then we’re so blinded by the need to not let the bad guys claim a victory that we refuse to air our dirty laundry in public.

In this case, it seems clear that Planned Parenthood is behaving unethically — and you don’t have to be pro-life to say so.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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