The four undercover Planned Parenthood (PP) videos released so far have shocked everyone in America still capable of being shocked. The eight or ten yet to come may reveal even greater outrages – which is why StemExpress (a company that does “research” using dismembered babies it buys from PP) and the National Abortion Federation (nervous, for some reason, about footage of their meetings) have hastened to sympathetic California judges to block further releases. Our political class, R’s and D’s alike, are mostly doing what they always do: nothing. PP has hired a PR firm that’s begun subtly threatening media outlets – who don’t really want to look too closely anyway, not even at the money trail. In short, unless a large number of us wake up and do something, even this nationwide horror will probably leave things pretty much as usual. I’m hoping that at least some state governors start real investigations. Soon.
But on top of the sheer anger and frustration, I’ve been fixated by one part of the PP story. We know that the politicians and PP management have, for various reasons, made pacts with the devil. What haunts me, though, is the clinic workers – to the eye, ordinary people and not moral monsters or political hacks – who have become literally blind to what they’re doing. If the deliberately carved up body of a baby spread out under your nose does not fill you with horror, what has happened to you? How do you sift through the parts for lungs, hearts, livers, and not react to tiny hands and feet, and – no doubt – sometimes a baby’s face.
It’s a horrifying new variation on the old joke: who you gonna believe, me or your own lying eyes?
Simply to denounce these workers as amoral and heartless may in fact fail to see the real problem: How is it that people very much like ourselves can get to the point where they do such things? For a long time, abortion defenders claimed that fetuses or the “products of conception” were basically just clumps of cells that you could just choose to eliminate as you could a wart. Then ultrasound came along (actually it was already available when the Supreme Court gave us Roe v. Wade in 1973, but real science has never played much of a role in the abortion debate). Now sonograms are so common that you have to go out of your way not to know that what’s in the womb very early looks like – because it is – a baby. You don’t get hearts, lungs, and livers – human organs – from blobs of cells.
We’re at a loss how to explain this, so we grope at historical comparisons like the Nazi camp guards or the Soviet Gulag. But America created these horrors and grew dead to them in peacetime, when we thought we were becoming more humane, increasing opportunities for women, expanding freedoms under a regime nominally controlled by ourselves. A long series of incremental changes in thought and vision led to this stone blindness. There are large swaths of America now that accept – without looking further – the rightness, even the goodness, of abortion the way people once unconsciously absorbed Christian faith and morals.
It’s not the first time a whole age was delusional. But the gruesomeness is so palpable now that you think of Jefferson’s remark on slavery: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”
All this adds to the even more widespread feeling that something has gone horribly wrong with America. In the 1970s, which is when the Sixties really got going, we went through similar chaos, incompetence, moral turpitude. It passed for a while, but is now back with a vengeance. African-Americans are rightly furious over mistreatment by police, but that seems just one part of a larger dysfunction that has engulfed us all now. And the political fixes available seem, at best, likely only to slow our decline.
Yet we must not, MUST NOT turn away. There’s much talk these days about the “Benedict Option,” withdrawal from evil society to preserve virtues and prepare the way for a better future. It’s true that we need to take some distance from this society if we hope to remain sane. But if there were not constant public pressure on groups like PP, things could get far worse, fast.
Pope Francis’s counsel to “raise a ruckus” (hacer un lío) is exactly right. That’s what the ladies in Buenos Aires used to do to protest the “disappeared” during Argentina’s “dirty war.” We – every one of us – have to up the game now, pull in that reluctant friend, make someone who wants to avert his gaze face what’s going on. No euphemisms. No excuses. No no-shows. A society that allows – underwrites with tax dollars – an outfit like PP has let the barbarians inside the gates. Our president, a cheerleader for this barbarism, has asked God to bless PP.
But I disagree with one of the pope’s positions. At the beginning of his papacy he said in an interview that pro-lifers cannot just keep “insisting and obsessing” about life issues. I’ll confess – formally, if necessary – that I’m obsessed about these recent revelations, as with nothing before related to abortion. Obsessions can be pathological, but a person “obsessed” with human trafficking or global poverty, as the pope and now the Vatican seem to be, may only be responding proportionally to great evil.
The Spanish conquistadores under Cortéz were not exactly model Christians, but when they saw humans sacrificed to the Aztec deities – still-beating hearts ripped out and bodies thrown down the step of the pyramids in Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City) – those rough soldiers did not turn away, as if it were none of their business. It had to stop, and they acted, even though they were only 500 in a city of as many as 300,000.
“Insisting” that we not sacrifice our children to the Baals and Molochs and other dark gods is not wrong. It’s simply what we Christians – and anyone of good will – must do.