I’m trying to come to grips with what that video meant. That cold video, with those cold words. I understand it rationally. I’m trying to understand it emotionally.
I wasn’t really surprised by the video of the doctor that works for Planned Parenthood talking about the donation of organs and the cost-covering compensation expected in return. I picked up on her language of “tissue donation” right away and thought that they’d be covered legally for what they were doing (which was pretty much confirmed). I think there might be some room to investiage practices based on some minor comments about clearing the break-even point or about possibly altering the procedure to preserve certain organs (though it also seems that she was saying she wouldn’t do that).
I really hoped the story wasn’t true. But I also asked on Facebook, “Why wouldn’t you be ok with this if you were pro-choice?” Sure enough, on Twitter, it was easy to find people saying, “Pssh. This is tissue donation. No big deal.” It is entirely in keeping with the logic of abortion, after all. These are “products of conception” (not even fetuses anymore), not people. Why not capitalize on all that potential in their flesh?
I walked around and thought the past couple of days about the best way to read the people who do this kind of thing and the people that support it. I think that a lot of us that oppose abortion are horrified by this video, which is in keeping with the logic of our position. But I think we take our horror, our anger at this sort of thing and we use that to read the worst of intentions and motives into those with whom we disagree. You can search the Planned Parenthood hastag on Twitter and see lots of references to Nazis and stuff. And when Nazis have entered the discussion, the discussion is over. It just makes you feel better to use that kind of verbal hand grenade. When you fail to remember that at the center of an abortion is not just a baby, but a woman, those verbal hand grenades create shrapnel. Women enter that procedure room for an a variety of reasons which I cannot empathize with for a variety of reasons, most of which start with the fact that I’ll never be pregnant. I would hate for our anger at abortion to leech out as anger towards a woman in that room. I think pro-life/anti-abortion folks lead with anger over abortion and only realize too late that women feel that the anger is aimed at them. It’s not. Or at least it shouldn’t be. We have to figure out how to talk about this a bit more carefully. A bit more clearly.
The truth is that I don’t believe the doctor in the video or in any Planned Parenthood clinic (or similar), are evil arch-villains who sit in their black, high-backed chairs, finger tips pressed together, cackling manaically about their plans for doom. I want to assume the best of them because I know that, on polarizing issues, we often don’t do that for one another. I think that people like this doctor want to help other people. I think they want to help women in poverty who are more likely to be mired in poverty due to unplanned pregnancy. Or shamed because of unplanned pregnancy. Or traumatized. I think those doctors are thinking about the women in front of them. I really do belive that. I think the babies on the screen are not viewed as real humans. They are organisms. Invaders. And they dispose of them.
I can’t really be angry at them. It’s hard for me to be angry at anyone in this.
I am sad, though. So sad.
I’m actually sad for the doctor in the video and the many others who try to help women. I’m sad that doctors, gifted people who are in a profession of healing, can so clinically and easy describe the ending of life. I don’t understand the logic, of course. We all know that we don’t think the same about this. But I feel more than frustrated at disagreement. I feel sad for people who can so casually say, “I crush them here and here so I can harvest their organs,” people who can talk about arm tissue and brains and livers like elements to be dissected in high school biology. I understand doctors look at the human body differently. But these doctors have made it mundane to tear a body apart.
That makes me sad.
It makes me sad that people are so devoted to the idea of abortion and everything it symbolizes (freedom for women, the ability to determine your own course), that they cannot even for a moment pause and admit, “That sounds terrible.” It seems like being pro-choice means you have to shut down any response to the realities of abortion and just…. go with it. Defend it. In a sense, I applaud them because this is logically consistent. But we have now arrived at a place when we are talking about fetal organs and shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Meh.” I can’t muster up anger for people like that.
I’m sad because our historical memories seem so short. This unshakeable confidence that we’re moving towards “the right side of history” so inexorably that we must be making progress because… you know… we’re right now and not back then. There’s no pause to recognize that people have always been confident that they’re right about everything they do. People felt perfectly justified in cramming Africans into ships, killing half of the hold, and then parading the survivors around like cattle. They rolled their eyes at people who couldn’t see that, obviously, black people are not people like white people are people. “They’re like us, but not really, they’d say.” Those weren’t idiots. Those weren’t crazy people. Those were people just like you and me. But we seem unable to see the fact that we talk about fetuses like slave traders talked about slaves. “What is the worth of their bodies and how might I dispose of them when I don’t need them?” It’s not like slavery was the end of that sort of thing. People in the South did it for decades beyond. We justified internment of Japanese citizens for flimsy reasons. We still justify some pretty awful stuff with drones over numerous countries.
You hear so many people decrying the inability to move along with progress, but I hear so many of those same people failing to acknowledge that the propensity for self-justifiication lies within all of us, not just the people of the past or “those crazy right-wingers over there.” We all have this propensity. And it’s powerful.
Shouldn’t there be some pause to question ourselves at moments like these? Is this really ok? Is it ok that we brush aside fetuses because of their sub-human properties but then market their flesh for their humanness? Could we be like our forefathers? Are we justifying ourselves all over again?
I rarely see this kind of questioning. And it makes me sad. The “right side of history” narrative is so hopeful, but I think it ignores the truth that history repeating itself isn’t a law, but it’s also not an empty observation. We humans tend to believe we’ve outgrown the sins of our fathers. And whenever we become most convinced of that, we tend to run headlong into the same things they did. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. We just can’t seem to stop ourselves from going ahead and doing it anyway.
So I’m sad. I’m not angry, really. I don’t think I’m better than anyone. I don’t think a Nazi genocide rant will help anything. I’m glad that people want to help other people. I’m just sad that we can so callously pave that road with literal blood and guts.
And I am sad for those babies. I’m sad that, even in their death, they aren’t valued for their true humanity. They are measured up and compensated for according to some reimbursement scale. Even in their death, they can’t be treated like humans, though a simple DNA test will confirm that they are, indeed, as human as you or me. But they are small and silent and so, they are disposable at every point.
My comfort is not that history is as inexorably just as everyone likes to believe these days. My comfort is that Justice comes from outside history to the inside of history, ultimately to fix history. If I just believed in the hope of dying and floating around on a cloud for all of eternity, I think I’d be pretty hopeless. But the fact that I belive Jesus’ phyical feet walked on dirty earth after he died means that Jesus hasn’t stopped saying, “Let the little children come unto me.” And justice may be a byword in our day and most days in history, but there is a Justice-bringer who can remake even the most desecrated of bodies. We do not weep as those who have no hope. We are not sad without reason to rejoice. Ultimately, we have hope that a God who strode into history will not abandon us to it. He will remake the story. He will fix it.
One day, our vision will be corrected. What we remembered as shadow and dance on an ultrasound screen, as “products of conception” with organs to price, will one day be renewed like all of the rest of history. Even their brutal end will not erase the truth woven into every drop of their blood. And millions of people who the world has never really known will dance all over the Grave. We’ll one day see their faces. And we’ll finally be whole together. We’ll finally be fully alive.
Let that day come quickly, Lord Jesus. Let it come soon, lest we sell the rest of our humanity down this silent river.