Was the Planned Parenthood videomaker "lying"?

I have been puzzled by what abortion advocates have meant by saying that the infamous PP videos are "lies," so when I saw someone promoting this view on Facebook, I asked directly what was meant by this. I was pointed to this webpage.

The page seems to center on two contentions:

1) The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) "selectively edited" the video to show the parts that made PP look worst.

Well, duh! This is a self-proclaimed advocacy group. Did abolitionists feature lots of stories of salves being treated kindly when they penned anti-slavery tracts? Do anti-fox-hunting groups feature foxes tearing out the throat of a little bunny when they make a video?

No, abolitionists highlighted the worst stories of slave mistreatment. Anti-hunting groups show hunted animals cowering in fear, or dying painfully. They are advocacy groups! Anyone who didn't already know we were being shown the worst bits (from PP's perspective) in the excerpted videos should call me, because there is a nice bridge near my apartment I would like to sell them.

And CMP did release the entire videos! This is more than some advocacy groups do.

2) It is a lie that PP profits from the sale of fetal body parts.

Here, the accusation seems to be that GOP candidates are saying this, which is not CMP's responsibility. (Although, of course, CMP may like it!) But what's more, it really amounts to verbal quibbling over what "profiting" means.

In the strict accounting sense, PP cannot profit from these sales, because PP is a non-profit, and cannot profit possibly from anything it does. In the accounting sense, profits are what is left over after a for-profit business pays everyone and everything (various accounts) else, and which flow to the residual claimants (the owner[s]): "Profit is an income distributed to the owner in a profitable market production process (business)." But a non-profit has no residual claimants, and thus cannot possibly profit, in the accounting sense, from its activities.

But in the ordinary sense of the word, a non-profit certainly can "profit," i.e., do better, from choosing one activity over another. Example: My college is also a non-profit. Enrollment has been down there, and there are classrooms sitting idle. If, at a meeting, I say, "We would profit from finding a way to put those rooms to use," unless there is an accountant present, no one is likely to object. Everyone will know that I mean: "We will do better by putting those rooms to use than we do having them sit idle." And this sort of profit can mean financial gains for employees of the non-profit: if my college president fixes the college's cash flow problems, his next contract most likely will be for a higher salary.

And, given the eagerness of Nucatola to sell fetal parts, it seems that she believes that PP will "profit" (sense 2) from the sales. As PP itself has said to its local clinics, these sales "will also be contributing to the fiscal growth of your own clinic." And Nucatola's several statements noting that PP is merely "covering its costs" just show that she is aware she is walking a legal fine line: after all, it would be a felony for PP to do more than cover costs with the sales! But any decent accountant could show her how to make sure that any particular sale only "covers its costs": just assign enough of the costs related in anyway to the sale to the sale in particular.

In short, if this article is the best case that CMP is "lying," there is not much of a case at all: they were acting in the exact same way that, say, a pro-abortion advocacy group would in creating its own partisan videos.


  1. It is no lie. Partial truths are not lies. That is the truth.

    But I don't think the Planned Parenthood controversy is going to change many people's minds. I've never found the subject of Planned Parenthood very interesting, so I don't know much about it beyond it being some kind population planning and eugenics bogeyman for some of the people who are out there, so I don't think controversies that plague it could get me to change my pro-choice position.

    I'm curious about your choice of the phrase "pro-abortion" instead of "pro-choice", though. Do you think that is a more appropriate term for them or is it simply what you happened to pick? I mean this in the most non-charged way possible. (I often default to the long winded approach and say "people who think abortion should be legal".)

    1. "Pro-choice" and "pro-life" are both marketing slogans. Everyone is for "choice" and "life" *in general*: "pro-abortion" and "anti-abortion" seem more accurate to me.

    2. Agreed. You know what the really strange thing about the whole PP 'debate', Gene? Apparently, the doofus in the comment thread on Facebook who was arguing with you would say that the individuals who investigated PP were immoral and 'awful people' because they lied. They didn't lie, of course. In fact, that is obvious to someone who watches the entire videos. The reactions that people give to the videos are basically litmus tests as to whether or not someone lives in an ideological fantasy land.

      But even if the people who made the videos lied and were disingenuous because they were misleading people, the 'force' of their apparent awfulness would seem to rest on whether or not the thing that they were lying about was important. Few people get their panties in a wedge over white lies. The content of the thing being lied about has to be both moral and important. Folks who have a faux outrage over the videos shown are indirectly giving up the ghost. They are admitting that there is something indecent about the selling of aborted baby body parts - otherwise, it would not be something that they would become so upset about. The selling of aborted baby body parts, then, seems to be indecent, disgusting, and profoundly immoral - otherwise, why would PP and their fellow abortionists become so outraged over the allegations?

      We are now, however, in a moral quandary. Even if someone agreed that the videos were made up, lying, disingenuous, or otherwise false, they would have to explain why we consider the selling and distribution of aborted 'fetuses' and their body parts to be immoral, or something worthy of outrage, while at the same time we consider the actual act of abortion to be morally hunky dory. Why would it be bad to sell a 'fetuses' arms, legs, and other body parts to someone, but totally fine to actually kill this 'fetus'? What on earth is going on here? Nobody becomes angry when we use cows and animals this way; if 'fetuses' really are just gobs of developing meat, then why would we even care about their usage after the fact that they are dead...?

      The answer is simple: abortionists do, in fact, have a sense that something sacred, something dignified, is being misused and treated in a profane way. But if it is profane and undignified to treat aborted 'fetus' parts in certain ways (i.e., we can't treat them like we treat animals, for example) then why is it okay to actually kill them?

      The enormous cognitive dissonance must reverberate through their jaded skulls like a giant tuning fork. No wonder they shout at you so much - they are trying to drown out the voice of their own conscience.

    3. I'm glad to hear someone else voice the same opinion on that. Unfortunately, even "pro-abortion" and "anti-abortion" are problematic as well, since someone can affirm the right to an abortion while believing it to be immoral or generally inadvisable. "Pro-right-to-abortion" meanwhile is just a mouthful =/

    4. How could abortion be wrong, but not wrong enough to prohibit it?

    5. I was going to say, Bharat, that "anti-abortion" is not problematic, but then I realized that it suffers from the same ambiguity that "pro-choice" does in that one can be against abortion but believe it should be legal (i.e., "I disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend your right to say it"). Those are still better than the much more polarizing "pro-murder" and "anti-choice".

    6. Alex, Samson gives a good example. You might think people have a right to freedom of speech but think that certain things that people say are immoral. Likewise, you might think people have a right to their body but think that certain uses of this right are immoral.

      What makes it understandably confusing is that there's the argument that you can't have a right to a wrong, but I think it still makes sense if the actual right is at a more fundamental level that happens to involve a number of choices (some bad, some good) that can follow from that.

  2. Samson's example was not good at all. And neither one of you have been answering my question: how can abortion be wrong, and yet legally permissible? See, I don't think that either one of y'all is understanding what I am saying. If abortion is wrong, it is presumably wrong in a very serious, very special way. It isn't like the wrongness of lying, which can be seriously wrong only when some certain consequences come into play. If it is wrong, it is wrong because it destroys a developing human - and this isn't something that can be reconciled with a 'wrong but legally permissible' view. Nothing is very wrong but legally permissible. Abortion, if it is wrong, is very, very wrong. You might disagree with me; if that is the case, I would like to hear your argument, not some moral hand waving.

    1. Let's say I know a person whose death would benefit me financially. He calls me and says, "Gene, I am thinking of killing myself. Can you come over and talk to me."

      I respond, "No: the world would be well rid of you," and hang up, hoping he goes ahead and I get the money coming to me on his death.

      I don't *think* what I did is a crime in most places (I'm not a lawyer!), but it is *very* wrong.

    2. Gene, I understand the analogy that you are trying to draw here. But there is a *dis* analogy between our two cases - one involves doing nothing, but the other involves doing something! This is why we attribute special moral properties to actions versus not doing anything. Typically, this is where Doctrine of Acts and Omissions comes in. But abortion does not fit your analogy because it involves *doing* something that enables the bad thing to happen in a *direct* way. There is an importance in not doing something and causing harm versus actually causing harm by doing something!

      Again, no one is thinking about abortion very carefully. Stepping back, it is prima facia wrong to kill a developing person - and a fetus is, biologically as a matter of fact, a developing person! We can go back and forth in the argument game, but being that utilitarians, Kantians, and other moral philosophers have not come to prove even the most obviously wrong cases as morally wrong in all instances (take a peek at R.M. Hare's argument that not all slavery is wrong), we will just be running around in circles.

      This is an exact example, Gene, of liberal argumentation trying to use argumentation to muddle otherwise clear moral thinking and intuitions on the matter.

    3. Alex, all analogies have disanalogies! Otherwise they would be identities.

      You made the statement "Nothing is very wrong but legally permissible." I was trying to correct that statement. If you extend it past just that correction, and imagine I am claiming "Abortion is exactly like promoting someone's suicide"... well, why in the world would you think that was what I meant, when I said nothing remotely like that?

    4. Gene, I know that all analogies have disanalogies. I was trying to point out a relevant disanalogy between abortion and 'not doing anything' with regards to suicide. I thought that you were arguing on behalf of Samson, because your reply was under my reply to him, and he took up the view that some things are very immoral but legally permissible, and he included abortion in this.

      You were right to correct the claim 'nothing is very wrong but legally permissible.' What I should have said - what I have been meaning to say - is this: abortion, if it is wrong, is wrong in a particular way, and things that have these particularly immoral properties should never be legal. Typically understood, we say that things are illegal to the extent that they are immoral in a particular way, either in terms of severity or content. That is what I was trying to convey. I hear the response 'abortion is wrong, but I don't think it should be illegal' everywhere, and it sounds bizarre to me. Pushed to a corner, I have had some ethicists give me very strange reasons for why this statement can be supposedly tenable (think of the functionalist perspective on what constitutes a human being, or saying that causing harm is the only metric we have for judging an action to be illegal).

    5. Lots of things are wrong but legally permissable. And should be permissible. I think prayer is immoral, but would object to banning this.

    6. I agree with you here Gene. Even on the terminology thing.

    7. No, Alex, I try to be precise: if I was arguing for Samson, you would know it (I hope). I was just addressing that one statement.

    8. Gotcha, Gene. Well, I'll just check with you before I make unmerited assumptions, then =)

      Ken: Gene hasn't even made an argument for why abortion isn't immoral. He is saying that some very immoral things are not illegal. My lack of precision in language - I assumed that folks were understanding what I was getting at - caused him to do this. The statement 'nothing very immoral is illegal' is false.

      But if you do think that abortion is immoral but should be legal, you haven't engaged in any of the thoughts that I have left here. For some reason, I am not surprised.

    9. Ken did not say whether he thinks abortion is wrong.

    10. You don't leave thoughts Alex, you leave words. Gene and I engaged those.

      I would say some abortions are illegal. They correspond to a first approximation to the ones I would consider immoral. I accept you disagree, but don't think your judgment dispositive. (I hope that will not auto correct to disposable.)

  3. "You don't leave thoughts Alex, you leave words."

    Ken, I don't think that you want to go the way of ad hominem attacks on here. Your comment 'I think prayer is immoral' is easily one of the stupidest moral claims that I have *ever* heard someone say. (Do you like Peter Singer, by any chance?)

    Here is what I have been saying:

    If abortion is wrong, it seems to be wrong in a special way that precludes it from being both wrong *and* legal. It is wrong in a special way because if it is wrong, it is wrong presumably because it is killing a developing human. And killing developing humans is prima facie wrong. I stated that there are two attempts to get around this - one is that killing developing humans is not wrong, because they aren't really 'human', at least not in a 'special moral sense' and thus are not members of the 'moral community', as some philosophers would put it. This is the functionalist view of personhood, and it gives qualifications on what features are considered important in order for someone to attain personhood and become a member of the moral community with full rights - including the right to life. This view has notorious problems, to the extent that any attempt to define what constitutes a human being will end up giving some people who are literally regarded as inhuman (people in coma's don't count on some functionalist perspectives; infants don't count, either; people who are sleeping don't even seem to count; the mentally disabled, etc etc). So this view should be tossed out the window. The attempt to precisely define 'what constitutes a person' is about as difficult as the attempt to define 'what constitutes a chair'. Historically, definitions have been unable to define the objects that we experience in a robust way - and the definition of what constitutes a human being is no different. Also, the attempt to define - and therefore determine - who has access to our moral communities and therefore who has access to rights-claims is both arbitrary (why choose only features X, Y, and Z? Why not other features? What features must an individual have in order for him to be a member of a moral community?) and hugely begs the question. It begs the question because it assumes that an individual needs to have certain abilities in order to have access to a moral community. But the whole debate about abortion is largely based on *who* gets access to being a member of the moral community! If someone says 'well, a person who fits X, Y, and Z features gets access to this moral community', he has not answered this question - he is merely asserting pure doxa. This is especially apparent when we realize that functionalist perspectives on what constitutes human personhood have enormous problems.


  4. (continued)...

    The second way that some people have attempted to justify abortion as being moral is by appealing to utilitarianism. Perhaps, if we kill these developing humans early enough, they won't feel any pain, and therefore, abortion is moral. But even if you go the utilitarian route, you will still have powerful utilitarian arguments to consider. To wit: the pleasure and happiness that an individual will have is far greater than the small amount of suffering and inconvenience that a woman carrying a 'fetus' will have to endure before this individual is born. For a powerful discussion of this, see Don Marquis, 'Why Abortion is Immoral'. Further developments of Marquis' argument have resulted in an even stronger position against abortion.

    Samson: I know that Ken wasn't saying that thought that abortion was wrong or not. He stated that some things can be wrong, but not illegal. Because he replied to my post which questioned the coherence of saying that abortion is wrong but could be legal, I think that it was reasonable for me to infer that he thought that abortion might be wrong, but still legally permissible.

    Those are my thoughts - whoops, I mean, 'mere words'. The ball is in your court, now, Ken.