It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
A short time ago a shell organization associated with Operation Rescue hatched a brilliant plan. These geniuses would use hidden camera footage to prove that Planned Parenthood was in the business of selling fetal tissue for profit.
Their plan failed because it was delusional from start to finish. No worries, in the world of right-wing media, failure is the foundation on which “Mission Accomplished” is built. They declared victory, released their videos, and assumed no one would notice that the videos didn’t support their case.
It is nearly impossible for reasonable people to engage in a debate over abortion. Under the best of circumstances abortion is a challenging subject because it represents two fully legitimate civil rights in conflict with one another.
Worse, the pivot point for that conflict – the moment when “life” begins – is an inherently philosophical matter, beyond any empirical resolution. On the question of abortion we are forced to wrestle with competing rights of the utmost sanctity which can only be mediated through an entirely subjective process. Every realistic policy option in this debate entails a compromise of rights deeply felt by someone with good justification.
Into this realm of ambiguity floats an army of malignant fundamentalists, unburdened by the uncertainties that accompany humility. Determined to demolish any space that may have existed for reasoned debate, they are intent on imposing their will through fraud, distortion, or even violence. Yet again, by ignoring a complex reality in pursuit of a comfortingly simple narrative, the right wing deception machine has stirred up all the usual sound and fury among all the usual people. Their efforts will further isolate the Republican Party from the national mainstream while placing any reasonable policy debate on abortion even farther out of reach.
Informed by their delusions about abortions and the people who conduct them, those who filmed these dull lunch sequences were braced for breathtaking revelations. They did their best, with selective editing, to create something remotely interesting. In the end, the videos contain the following insights which you are meant to find shocking:
1) Women sometimes have abortions.
2) Those women have the option to donate fetal tissue for medical research.
3) Donor organizations have the legal right to accept payment from researchers to cover their costs.
4) Some people who work for Planned Parenthood are willing to have detailed conversations about abortion over lunch.
That’s it. Watch the videos over and over again. Play them backwards. There’s nothing else in them.
The activities the Planned Parenthood representatives discussed are not merely legal in the sense that “there’s no law against that.” Their activities have been formally standardized and regulated by a specific federal law passed in 1993, supported by major figures on the Republican right. Nothing anywhere in the videos runs afoul of that law or any other. The only crimes featured in those videos were committed by the people who illegally filmed them.
Why did prominent, hyper-conservative Republicans support the legal framework Planned Parenthood is using for these donations? Because it’s an outstanding idea.
Tactics of abortion extremists highlight a particular problem for Republicans. By further encasing the GOP base inside a delusional bubble removed from any of the complexity, nuance, or ambiguity that bedevils life in the real world, these tactics make constructive, intelligent debate on complex issues simply impossible. They chain Republicans to unpopular positions from which we are unable to achieve either a victory or a compromise.
In the absence of any framework on which to build constructive engagement on abortion rights, we get stalemate. That stalemate could be broken with efforts toward some sensible policy solution, but that’s not the goal of the GOP’s abortion fetishists. Their genius plan is to break the stalemate with increased polarization. Needless to say, it isn’t working and it isn’t going to.
After forty years of increasingly desperate and even violent anti-abortion activism, public opinion on abortion remains right where it was when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Roe v. Wade. More than 80% of the American public opposes the absolutist abortion position being forced onto Republican candidates by abortion activists. That’s an enormous majority. You can’t assemble an 80% consensus in favor of chocolate ice cream.
It gets worse. A solid majority of Americans under-55 identify themselves as “pro-choice,” roughly the same percentage that has held that position for decades. That includes a third of Republicans. Picking a fight on ground you are bound to lose is a suboptimal strategy.
These Breitbart tactics are fantastically self-destructive. It’s one thing to be unpopular. It’s another thing altogether to be an unpopular asshole. Now, the same idiots who interrupt town hall meetings to rant about Benghazi or Jade Helm or death panels can spice up their gibberish with half-baked references to fetal body parts. Another win for sound and fury.
There is good reason to be repulsed by abortion, just as there is good reason to be repulsed by cancer surgery. Like abortion, cancer surgery is gruesome and bloody and miserable to look at. No one’s vision for their life includes the hope of experiencing either procedure. Only an idiot would respond to the misery of cancer surgery by banning it because it’s icky. It makes much more sense to make cancer surgery less necessary by fighting cigarette smoking and encouraging people to eat vegetables and so on.
While abortion fetishists wander around under giant banners of mangled fetal tissue, other people are slowly making progress toward ending abortion. We know how to reduce the incidence of abortion – educate young people on how their bodies work and how to make choices about reproduction. Thanks to these efforts, championed let’s remember by Planned Parenthood, rates of teen pregnancy and teen birth, the twin harbingers of lifetime poverty, are approaching historic lows. Abortion rates are tumbling right along with them.
Technology is also pitching in with cheaper, more effective methods of birth control and pharmaceutical options for safely ending a pregnancy when the fetus is little more than a few dozen cells. If we embraced a basket of strategies that gave women more knowledge and power over reproduction, abortion would gradually shrink to the margins of our society. So why does the so-called “pro-life” movement oppose all of these measures?
This is the most important statistic in the abortion debate: Abortion comprises about 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities.
Almost everything else Planned Parenthood does reduces the need for abortion. Through its heavy emphasis on women’s health, contraception, and education, Planned Parenthood has probably prevented more abortions that any other organization in the United States. That 3% figure is very important for understanding why abortion opponents hate Planned Parenthood so very much.
Planned Parenthood is not a target because of the small fraction of their energy devoted to abortion. For the mullahs guiding the “pro-life” movement, nothing inspires more horror than a woman making her own sexual choices. They will not accept any political measure that would limit the frequency of abortion unless it would also limit the range of life options available to women. Anti-abortion activists would hate Planned Parenthood just as deeply if it stopped performing abortions this afternoon.
Planned Parenthood is not a target because of 3% of their activities. Anti-abortion activists hate Planned Parenthood because of everything it does and stands for.
That’s what makes the anti-abortion lobby a dead weight around Republicans’ necks. That’s why abortion opponents have failed to gain an inch of ground in public opinion in forty years of effort. That’s why this video stunt, along with whatever stupid tactics these people adopt next, will only make it harder to elect Republicans.
Someone will have to bend on the question of abortion rights. Anyone who actually believes that the GOP is going to breach the Blue Wall through abortion extremism should not be trusted with a position of authority. Hell, you probably shouldn’t leave them to watch your kids or take care of your dog.
These videos ‘signify nothing.’ They are merely one more force separating the Republican base from political reality. We have to find an alternative to the politics of ‘sound and fury.’ There simply is no public consensus to support an absolute position on abortion. This issue needs to recede from the center of Republican policy before the party can once again achieve national relevance.
“Let me endure your wrath, if ’t be not so.”