My first job out of college was at Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. I ran the Emergency Contraception Hotline. EC was still by prescription only so all day long I would take calls and fax out prescriptions. I liked to tell people I prevented more abortions in that year than most people do in their entire life.
I learned a lot that year about Planned Parenthood the organization, about their mission, about the women they serve. I also learned a lot about abortion services and the women and men who provide them through Planned Parenthood.
These were the most dedicated, most compassionate, most authentic people with which I have ever worked.
Recently, The Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, released “sting” videos in which they falsely portray themselves as representing a company that procures fetal tissue for medical research and engage with employees from Planned Parenthood about these sales.
The highly edited videos are used to argue that Planned Parenthood is profiting from these sales. The full footage shows the employees repeatedly stating they do not make money off these exchanges and they only cover their costs.
The argument that Planned Parenthood profits off abortion is as old as Planned Parenthood itself and it is completely and totally false. Human beings are complex and human beings run Planned Parenthood. I have no doubt that there have been mistakes and that decisions have been made that neither I nor 100% of Americans agree with – just like any other organization on the face of the planet.
However, the idea that Planned Parenthood is a vast money-hungry conspiracy to increase abortions is totally and completely ludicrous. Eighty percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides are preventative, which means 8 out of 10 women served by Planned Parenthood are being helped to PREVENT a pregnancy and by extension an abortion.
If you believe that somehow Planned Parenthood is lying about these numbers – in DIRECT violation of federal law and without their well-funded and incredibly passionate opponents noticing, then I have a bridge to sell you.
Now, if you have a problem with Planned Parenthood providing abortion services AT ALL, then that is another discussion.
The other thing I learned during my time at Planned Parenthood is that women are not going to carry a pregnancy they do not want. Period.
My boss used to say, “If I had a nickel for every woman who came in here with a cross around her neck and said, ‘I don’t believe in this but I can’t have this baby.’ I’d be RICH.” (Side note: she was NOT rich. See previous argument.)
There are two discussions to be had about abortion. Pragmatic and philosophical.
First, the pragmatic reality of abortion.
Abortion has existed since the beginning of time. It will continue exist until the end of time.
If you are uncomfortable with that, I’m sorry but it is the reality. You cannot legislate an end to abortion. We have tried. Other countries have tried. And, as far as I know, there are no abortion-free countries.
We can do our best to serve hurting populations and work to end poverty and prevent rape and incest and all the other terrible things that exist, but abortion will continue.
All you do by making abortion illegal is make it difficult and, therefore, dangerous.
So, we must deal with the reality of abortions – hopefully, by making them in the famous words of Bill Clinton “safe, legal, and rare.”
Planned Parenthood does that, which is why I will continue to support this organization.
Second, the philosophical debate surrounding abortion.
My friend recently shared a Rachel Held Evans post on the religious difficulties surrounding the abortion debate.
I have long argued that the pro-choice moment does itself no favors by ignoring the moral complexity of this issue. Any woman who has ever been pregnant or carried a baby to term would never argue that the fetus inside her is merely a clump of tissue – no different than a liver or kidney.
I certainly wouldn’t.
However, I also wouldn’t argue that that fetus is the same as a six-month-old baby or a teenager or a fully grown adult. I can’t draw a hard line in the sand as to why I feel like that. I don’t have a definitive moral or philosophical answer as to when life begins and I’m comfortable with admitting that.
Because I don’t believe the point of philosophy or ethics or religion is to give us a math equation to solve difficult issues like abortion. I believe we are entrusted with these tools as empathetic, sentient beings to do the best we can to grow and learn and cast a little bit of light on the dark parts of life itself.
And the pro-life moment does itself no favors by ignoring the complexity of my position and arguing I don’t value life.
Because, let me be very clear, I support Planned Parenthood and I support a woman’s right to have an abortion, but I have also stood on the banks of the Ohio River and scattered the ashes of my 16-week-old fetus and I will NOT be lectured to about the value of life.
I will NOT.
These issues are complicated and I think the one way in which the pro-choice movement gets it right is that there is one simple fact that cannot be debated. The fetus or zygote or baby or clump of cells or whatever you want to call it exists within the body of another life – the life of the woman carrying it.
By elevating HER choice and HER decision above all else, we acknowledge that no one is better equipped to deal with the complex moral and philosophical issues surrounding abortion than the woman choosing to have one.
Are there issues of age and consent and information that we have to deal with? Absolutely.
However, the idea that you know better than her is problematic to say the least.
The idea that a male legislator could decide the reproductive future of women he has never met is as upsetting to pro-choice advocates as the deaths of aborted fetuses is to pro-life advocates.
By acknowledging that both sides HAVE A POINT, perhaps we could change the debate.