Two-Headed, Four-Legged Women

Last week a shocking video was released which showed the Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, casually discussing how to perform abortions so that the murdered baby’s body parts can be preserved and sold for medical research. A second video was released today by the Center for Medical Progress which features another of Planned Parenthood’s top doctors, Dr. Mary Gatter, apparently negotiating over the price of organs harvested from aborted babies.

This is truly horrific material, even if we should not be surprised given what we already know about how the abortion industry operates. So much could be said about the ethical and political dimensions, and most of it has already been said by others more eloquent than me. (I particularly appreciated Brit Hume’s short but hard-hitting commentary.) However, I do have one observation to add to the discussion, which I haven’t yet come across elsewhere.

It’s common for defenders of abortion to claim that until a fetus is viable (i.e., the point at which it could survive outside of the mother’s womb) it isn’t a human being in its own right; it’s just a part of the pregnant woman, and therefore the woman has the right to do whatever she wants with it, just as she has the right, e.g., to tattoo her arm or give away one of her kidneys. There’s a great deal wrong with this argument, not least that ‘viability’ is very slippery concept and the point of viability for a fetus depends largely on what medical technologies are currently available. How could the answer to a metaphysical question — When does a fetus become a full-fledged human being? — depend on the current state of medical science? Surely the answer to that fundamental question shouldn’t depend on whether or not certain obstetric technologies have been developed and are available for use.

But leave those objections aside for now. Let’s also grant that the fetuses being discussed by these Planned Parenthood abortionists haven’t reached the point of viability (which is also disputable; my understanding is that a significant proportion are late-term abortions). What the fetus-is-part-of-the-woman argument implies is that the various body parts being discussed in these videos — livers, lungs, hearts, brains, and all the rest  — are really the pregnant woman’s body parts. On this way of thinking, the ‘surgery’ is actually being performed on a two-headed, four-armed, four-legged, two-livered, four-lunged, two-hearted, two-brained woman. She’s just having half of her organs removed.

So ask the question: Why doesn’t Planned Parenthood offer that line of defense? Why don’t the defenders of Planned Parenthood argue that the doctors in the videos are actually discussing the removal of adult women’s body parts? Why not argue, for example, that the brain being removed and sold for medical research is really a pregnant woman’s second (spare?) brain?

I can think of several reasons why we haven’t heard this defense. First, it appears the women who were getting abortions weren’t aware that the body parts were going to be removed and sold; they didn’t give their informed consent. Secondly, the doctors in the videos didn’t speak in those terms at all. They gave no indication that they believed the body parts being discussed were really the women’s organs. (The truth is: they knew better.) Thirdly, to any right-minded person the suggestion that the PP doctors were only doing organ-removal surgery on two-headed, four-legged women sounds utterly absurd and perverse. Yet isn’t that what the fetus-is-part-of-the-woman argument implies?

Among other things, then, the Planned Parenthood videos expose the moral and metaphysical bankruptcy of one of the most popular defenses of abortion.