A Wilberforce Moment: A Response to the Planned Parenthood Controversy

By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder & President, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice

By now many Americans, at least those who access social media or follow the news media, have heard of the controversy over Planned Parenthood’s recent videos that went viral on the internet by capturing conversations by Planned Parenthood personnel about the sale of organs and other parts from aborted babies. No matter what side of the abortion debate one may be standing, the clips of these medical and other professionals talking nonchalantly about baby parts and their availability should rattle everyone, even the most avid abortion rights supporter. The videos depict an exchange that is likened to the illegal organ trafficking that is happening globally. More so, they depict a severe insensitivity to human life and a level of moral callousness that is difficult to comprehend. We need to state, plainly and directly, that what is happening in those videos is wrong. But we also need to go beyond our statements, and do something about it. Afterall, our government funds Planned Parenthood, and we the taxpayer pay for it, in more ways than one.

The great political theorist Edmund Burke famously stated “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And the passionate abolitionist William Wilberforce stated that “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” The remarkably compassionate Mother Teresa adds, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.” These great words from these great leaders are certainly inspiring, but they also need to be deeply penetrating to our moral core. Should not this realization of an obvious disregard for both the aborted babies and for the babies’ biological parents rights and knowledge prompt us as the good people of America to do something? Are we to look the other way, instead of setting about the work of addressing this concern.

President Obama has been steadfast in his support of Planned Parenthood and related funding. But should he still be such a staunch supporter despite knowing what was revealed in the videos? Is funding Planned Parenthood such a political priority that he (or we) can disregard the illegality and depravity that the videos indicate? Is the defense of this organization the only way to support a woman’s right to choose. And is such a right more important than upholding morality and legality more generally?

Certainly there are a number of political figures, particularly Republicans, who are moving ahead with legislative action to respond to this controversy. But the various efforts thus far are not making much headway. That is because this matter should not be promoted as a Republican issue (or for that matter a Democrat issue). Whenever human life is disregarded in the manner it was in these videos, it should be a concern for all of our elected representatives, and society in general, regardless of political party. No matter whether a particular party supports abortion or not, the sale of organs, particularly without notice or assent of the parent and without any other regulation is not only a major public health concern but touches on a range of policy issues for science, medicine, business, and criminal justice.

Some have argued that the remains of these aborted babies are important for scientific purposes. Several recent news articles have discussed these purposes. There is no doubt that human tissue and organs can be very useful to scientific research. However, the pursuit of scientific discovery does not validate otherwise inhumane practices. Isn’t that essentially how bioethics came to be? As much as I support science and scientific discovery, I would caution anyone allowing anything simply in the name of science. That proverbial slippery slope would not only justify various ethics violations but also various potential abuses of other people – and not just aborted babies. As Mother Teresa once stated, “The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion because if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between.” At minimum, one could argue that the parent has rights to the remains or to the determination of what happens to the remains of their aborted babies.

Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson recently started a petition to defund Planned Parenthood. As a neurosurgeon who has provided medical care for children, he states his outrage over these videos. But where are other physicians and the medical community on this issue? Why are they not equally outraged? What happens to the Hippocratic oath in the context of abortion? What happens to medical malpractice and regulation in the context of baby organ sales? Where is the watchful eye and leadership of the AMA?

What the Planned Parenthood videos reveal is significant about the organization, but how we respond to the controversy is significant in what it reveals about our society. When William Wilberforce began his 20 year campaign to end slavery within the United Kingdom, slavery had been actively pursued for centuries by the UK. But after years of fielding facts after facts of the inhumanity of the practice, England could no longer condone something that was otherwise profitable and acceptable within that society. As soon as they recognized the practice as wrong, they had to move beyond profits and perspectives and outlaw slavery as unjust. Couldn’t we do the same about these practices of Planned Parenthood? Regardless of whether one supports abortion rights or not, moral standards are imperative to this or any other practice that involves human beings of any age and in any context.

This is a Wilberforce moment. Something must change. The President, our representatives, and our community can not watch these videos and then continue to say they didn’t know. And since they now know, they can not continue to allow it.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.