The Guardian reported last week on a study done by the National Abortion Federation tracking threats of violence against abortion clinics. Apparently, the number of threats in 2015 rose dramatically from 2014 (94 identified this past year, as opposed to one identified in 2014).. They attribute the rise in threats to the undercover Planned Parenthood videos released by the Center for Medical Progress last summer. The article goes on to quote people they found online who said terribly violent things about abortion providers – enough to make the hair stand up on the back of any sane person’s neck.
While I don’t want to bash the Guardian, we can’t appropriately respond to this without pointing out the poor journalism employed here. It’s very cheap to use random Facebook comments to make your point. Most people are pretty rational, but there’s always a few that aren’t – and they are easy to find on Facebook. Most people are nonviolent, but there are some that are. Frankly, the study seems hardly noteworthy – I was surprised that “the surge in violent threats” was only ninety-four. I worked at a conservative magazine for a year and remember getting violent phone calls and online comments about our writers with some regularity. Just last week I got a phone call from a crazy person to my personal phone – it happens. The Guardian sunk to sensationalism with this piece, and that’s a bit disappointing.
But since they brought it up – violence and threats of violence are never consistent with being pro-life. At Save the Storks, we stand against abortion and against violence of all kinds. It’s a shame there was any kind of increase of violent threats, no matter how small, against abortion providers.
But there’s something more important going on in this article than its poor journalism or even the violent threats it observes. It subtly makes an argument that is common in mainstream culture and easy to mistake for good sense – when in fact it is both false and completely illogical.
The argument goes like this: if you make these big accusations against Planned Parenthood or any abortion clinic, like “they are selling baby body parts” or “they are killing babies” people will get violent. Obviously it’s bad for people to get violent, therefore it’s bad to make accusations like that, and you shouldn’t do it.
This reasoning is littered with assumptions and it’s conclusion is a lie. And we need to call the media out on it.
If children are in fact being killed and their body parts are being sold for profit, is it right to lie about it just to stop someone else from making a violent threat? Absolutely not. If such a terrible thing were happening, there would be no circumstances under which we could be justified in lying about it. The assumption the Guardian is making is that of course those things can’t be true – of course abortion isn’t murder and of course Planned Parenthood isn’t breaking the law – therefore of course we shouldn’t say these things, especially considering that they may incite a few crazies to violence.
Intellectual virtue is necessary for us to make any political or social progress on the question of abortion. We will gladly reason and debate – we will come to the table prepared to discuss when life begins, what constitutes a reproductive right, what is the responsibility of doctors, and every other bioethical issue relevant to the conversation.
But we will not tolerate these subtle assumptions that tell us to lay off the truth-telling because someone might get hurt. We need to hold journalism to a higher standard, especially in such a heavy conversation as this.
The videos that the Center for Medical Progress released began an important conversation. If some people handled what they saw poorly by acting out in violence, that is a terrible thing, and we don’t support that. But that does nothing to nullify what we learned about Planned Parenthood from those videos or our responsibility to do something about it.