What began as a YouTube video spreading across mostly conservative websites has gained some attention from mainstream media outlets. That video is, of course, of a Planned Parenthood executive admitting to selling body parts (or, as Planned Parenthood clarified, “tissue” for research), which is not only explicitly illegal, it’s highly unethical. I’ve written enough about abortion on this site that, I believe, there’s simply no refuting the absolute immorality of the act. By every scientific standard, from conception to birth, what exists inside a woman and grows within her is a human being.
After all, we wouldn’t say that in donating a limb, lung, or leg that we’re donating the woman’s limb, lung, or leg. Everyone, regardless of their leanings on pro-choice or pro-life, admits that what’s being sold by Planned Parenthood was formerly the fetus, not formerly the mother. It’s not her body we’re selling, it’s the fetus’ body we’re selling; so to say a woman can do what she wants with her body, while true, is inapplicable in the abortion debate as the fetus isn’t a part of her body (in the same way that her skin, or arm, or heart is a part of her body).
But what is true is that the fetus is entirely dependent upon the mother for existence. Up until about 7-8 months (thanks to modern medicine), a fetus must depend upon the mother’s body for sustenance. It is here where many attempt to make the ethical argument for bodily autonomy: The mother is autonomous from the fetus, therefore even though the fetus is a human being, and human beings are entitled to rights, those rights cannot trump the autonomy of the body. In other words, at the very moment you impact my body I can kill you.
I’ve written about the contradictions conservatives show in being pro-life while supporting anti-life actions, but liberals aren’t any better. See, abortion is ultimately an argument that arises from individualism. One cannot, within the bounds of reason, sanity, and science, argue against the humanity of the fetus or embryo. It is a human being and there is nothing magical about vaginas (or C-sections) wherein a fetus is sprinkled with fairy dust and comes out a new creature, a human being. From conception to birth, from infancy to childhood, from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to adulthood, from adulthood to elderly, we’re dealing with a human being. Human beings, by virtue of being human beings, hold innate value; if we did not, then a majority gets to decide who has value and who doesn’t, and if history is any indicator allowing the majority to decide who is valuable and who isn’t always ends in horrible things.
The only real defense for abortion – other than appealing to the practical outcomes, such as healthcare, woman’s future, and so on, which though real concerns are not arguments for choice as they’re arguments against a horrible system – is to appeal to the autonomy of the individual. But who among us is actually autonomous? Who among us can say that we live in a vacuum where our decisions do not impact the world, where we can live in complete isolation without aid from anyone else? The idea of individual autonomy is a leftover value from the Enlightenment, and it’s a horrible value, one that acts as a centerpiece for Randian Objectivism, modern conservatism, modern liberalism, and pretty much any daft frat boy roaming a college campus. The idea that as individuals we are autonomous is just stupid on the face of it, but somehow it’s held as a sacred and divine right when it comes to abortion (and only to abortion).
Think about it: Does a business owner have a right to do anything and everything he wants with his company? After all, if he’s an autonomous individual, why should he be held accountable to his employees (in treating them fairly)? Why should we, as a society, care about the poor, or bombing other countries, or about any societal obligations if we are autonomous individuals? We can’t say, “Do what you want so long as you don’t harm anyone,” because abortion harms a distinct, different, and wholly other individual. In the end, we must acknowledge that we do have ethical obligations to others, and the closer the relationship (especially our involvement in creating that relationship), the bigger those obligations become.
See, Americans are individualists when it’s convenient. Americans are apt to speak about being fulfilled in a marriage, but hardly ever in fulfilling a marriage. An American might defend a woman’s right to her own body when it comes to abortion, but criticize that same body if it gets too fat for our tastes. We believe we have a right to do what we want with our bodies, but by God you better not smoke in my vicinity. When you smoke in public, your actions towards your body impact those around you; when you get an abortion, your actions towards impact the fetus within you. In both cases, your choices negatively impact another human being.
Our obsession with an individualism of convenience allows us to never question which sweatshop made our clothes, never allows us to question the treatment of workers, never allows us question abortion. By ignoring our societal obligations we continue to rob human beings of life, both in the womb and even outside of the womb (do you think we were thinking about the common good when we bombed the hell out of Iraq?). “So long as there is life, there is hope,” so the maxim goes. But if we consistently destroy life for our selfish desires, no matter how noble we think those desires might be, then what hope do we have?
So yes, what Planned Parenthood is doing is quite disgusting, but it simply adds to the already horrendous act of abortion. It’s quite sad that a group that offers other good services – needed services – to women feels it must engage in such a horrible act. Some attempt to say that, “yes, but abortions only account for a fraction of what they do!” But who cares? If abortion is the taking of a human life, does it matter what percentage it accounts for? Abortion in and of itself is wrong and it’s quite difficult to make a strong argument in support of abortion. Again, the only legitimate arguments boil down to the health of the mother, the cost of healthcare, the sacrificing of the mother’s career, placing the child in perpetual poverty, and so on; but all of these deal with procedural failures on the part of our society and speak nothing to whether it’s right or wrong to kill a fetus.
In the end, we really need to look at ourselves and ask if this is a society we want. Do we really want a society where not only we allow the killing of other human beings, we allow the profiting off of their body parts? Do we want to live in a world where life isn’t valued, but harvested? Such a world is dark and disgusting, but such a world has existed in the past, and we condemn previous generations for allowing that world to exist. Shall we be condemned as well?