I Don’t Know if I’m Pro-Choice After Planned Parenthood Videos

For the last 30 years, I’ve supported abortion rights. This year may be different.

08.10.15 5:00 AM ET

The only thing I hate more than talking about abortion is writing about it. It’s no accident that, in 2,000 columns over a quarter-century, I have never—ever—written about abortion. I’ve avoided the topic like a root canal. 

But that is getting harder to do with the release of what are now five gruesome, albeit edited, undercover videos by The Center for Medical Progress depicting doctors and other top officials of Planned Parenthood discussing, and even laughing about, the harvesting of baby organs, as casually as some folks talk about the weather.

It’s jarring to see doctors acting as negotiators as they dicker over the price of a fetal liver, heart, or brain, and then talk about how they meticulously go to the trouble of not crushing the most valuable body parts. This practice is perfectly legal, and for some people, it is just a business. With millions of abortions each year in America, business is good.

Who could forget Dr. Mary Gatter, council president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Medical Directors, when, in Video #2, she tells undercover investigators that it isn’t about the money—before she zeroes in on dollars and cents? 

“Let me just figure out what others are getting, and if this is in the ballpark, then it’s fine,” Gatter said. “If it’s still low, then we can bump it up.” 

Then, going for broke, she added: “I want a Lamborghini.”

I want a shower.

Most recently, in Video #5, Melissa Farrell, director of research at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Texas, talks cavalierly about the cost of extracting “intact fetal cadavers.” It is, Farrell says coldly, “all just a matter of line items.”

This raises the possibility that no one wants to discuss—that some of the aborted fetuses exited the womb alive and they were either killed or left to die, their “cadavers” intact. Also in the latest video, Abby Johnson, the former clinic director of that same Planned Parenthood office, said her branch made about $120,000 a month selling aborted fetus tissue and organs.

All for the sake of research, no doubt. Make that a long, hot shower with lots of soap.

The videos were produced by The Center For Medical Progress after a 3-year investigation into Planned Parenthood. While many Democrats—most notably, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest—claim that they haven’t seen the videos so they don’t have to comment, others on the Left admit to having seen them.

Hillary Clinton, who recently came to the defense of the organization as doing a lot of good in the field of women’s health, called them “disturbing.”

David Daleiden, head of The Center for Medical Progress, issued an unsurprisingly stronger statement: “Planned Parenthood’s system-wide conspiracy to evade the law and make money off of aborted fetal tissue is now undeniable. Anyone who watches these videos knows that Planned Parenthood is engaged in barbaric practices and human rights abuses that must end.”

I agree with that assessment, and I’m pro-choice. At least I thought I was until recently. These days, each time, I express concern, outrage, disgust, or horror over another video—which should come with warnings that they may produce nightmares—some supporter of the organization responds by attacking me and insisting that I was never really pro-choice to begin with. 

Defenders of Planned Parenthood are trying to deflect criticism away from the organization and onto those who produced the videos. In the minds of true believers, those are the real culprits—guilty of releasing illegally obtained and “heavily edited” videos with the intent of destroying a valuable organization that provides essential health services to millions of women. The organization has hired an expensive Washington, D.C.-based PR firm to do damage control, and the firm quickly tried to pressure television networks to stop airing the videos. 

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In California, in a highly unusual preemptive strike, the state Supreme Court and a federal district court have both issued narrowly-crafted temporary restraining orders to stop The Center for Medical Progress from airing more videos before a hearing can be held this month.  

And in the Senate, a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and transfer the $500 million in federal funds it receives annually to women’s health clinics and other organizations was defeated when it failed to get the 60 votes needed to achieve cloture and move to a vote. Within hours of the defeat, supporters of Planned Parenthood sent out emails urging donors to “stand with” the organization in a craven attempt to use the failed vote to generate even more money in fundraising. 

After all this, I still consider myself pro-choice, as I have for the last 30 years. I staked out this position during my freshmen year in college. Even then, I understood the abortion debate was a tug-of-war between competing rights—those of the mother versus those of an unborn baby. I sided with the mother. And I tried not to think about the baby.

All this was happening in the 1980s, which was a particularly tense time in the abortion debate. Americans were at each other’s throats. Protesters picketed the offices of abortion providers. Clinics were bombed or set on fire. Doctors who performed abortions were being threatened. The Moral Majority, Operation Rescue, and the Republican Party seemed an intolerant lot. I couldn’t imagine siding with them, so I lined up on the pro-choice side. 

I arrived there for a simple reason: Because I’m a man. Many will say that this is not a very good reason, but it is my reason. Lacking the ability to get pregnant, and thus spared what has been for women friends of mine the anguishing decision of whether to stay pregnant, I’ve remained on the sidelines and deferred to the other half of the population.

Over time, I made refinements—going along with waiting periods and parental notification laws at the state level, and coming out against the barbaric practice known as partial birth abortion. 

As I’ve only realized lately, to be a man, and to declare yourself pro-choice, is to proclaim your neutrality. And, as I’ve only recently been willing to admit, even to myself, that’s another name for “wimping out.” 

At least that’s how my wife sees it. She’s pro-life, and so she’s been tearing into me every time a new video is released. She’s not buying my argument that, as a man, I have to defer to women and trust them to make their own choices about what to do with their bodies. To her, that’s ridiculous—and cowardly.

“You can’t stand on the sidelines, especially now that you’ve seen these videos,” she told me recently. “That’s bullshit! These are babies that are being killed. Millions of them. And you need to use your voice to protect them. That’s what a man does. He protects children—his own children, and other children. That’s what it means to be a man.”

I didn’t like the scolding, but I needed to hear it. For those of us who are pro-choice, the Planned Parenthood videos are a game changer. As to whether that means I’ll change my view, I’m not sure. I’m on the bubble. Ask me in a few weeks, after the release of more videos.