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A Few Thoughts on Abortion and the Planned Parenthood Videos

planned parenthood

I’ve been asked to give my take on the Planned Parenthood videos.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood’s mission, to provide healthcare to women, I am 100% in their corner. Providing abortions is a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services, and defunding Planned Parenthood would have a deleterious effect on the health of poor women. Attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are driven by religious belief and bad science. We live in a secular state, one that supposedly separates church and state and one that values science; yet, when it comes to abortion, the debate is framed by religious claims that result in skewed interpretations of science.

Strident pro-lifers, based on their religious beliefs, say that abortion is murder. I have written about this before in a post titled 25 Questions for Those Who Say Abortion is Murder. The abortion-is-murder view is irrational and is a denial of what science tells about fetal development and life. Just last week, Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and a candidate for President, said he supports personhood for zygotes (see Personhood USA). That’s right, Huckabee wants constitutional protection conveyed the moment a man’s sperm unites with a woman’s egg. This means that Mike Huckabee, along with those who support personhood for fetuses and believe abortion is murder, think that the following should be considered a person protected by the constitution and those aborting them are murderers:

3 day old human embyro
Three Day Old Human Embryo.
4 week old fetus
Fetus at 28 days
human fetus
Fetus at 56 days, 1/2 inch long

Fact: 63% of abortion take place within eight weeks of pregnancy.

This is what a fetus looks like at 12 weeks:

12 week fetus
Fetus at 12 week

Fact: 89% of abortions take place within 12 weeks (first trimester) of pregnancy.

When I look at the science along with the aforementioned photographs, I see potential life. I don’t see a person, one deserving constitutional protection. (Please see Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contractions.) All the religious posturing and moralizing in the world won’t change my view on this matter. Why? Because it is rooted in scientific fact and reason.

As the fetus continues to grow it moves from being potential life to actual life. Usually this is around weeks 20-24. Fetuses can and do survive when born prematurely, and it is for this reason I support greater protection for them under the law. The state has a vested interest in protecting human life, not potential life. I do not agree that abortion after viability should be a decision made between a woman and her doctor without any regard to the fetus. Once viability is reached there is a third party — the baby — who should have rights. Not absolute rights, mind you. There are times, due to health concerns or fetal abnormality, that is it medically prudent to terminate a pregnancy after viability. Since the overwhelming majority of abortions occur before viability (98.8%) or post viability as a result of health concerns or fetal abnormality, I see no reason to oppose abortion.

Why is it that pro-life groups rarely use the aforementioned photographs to make their case? Why do they always graphically display fetuses aborted late in a pregnancy? Shock value. I wonder if some who say abortion is murder would think differently if they were presented with a picture of a zygote and not a picture of a full term fetus?

The recent videos concerning Planned Parenthood are disturbing. The group behind the videos are using highly edited footage, releasing them over a long period of time in hopes of maximizing the damage, inflaming passion, and bolstering the campaigns of pro-life candidates for President. (Please see People of the American Way post  The Activists and the Ideology Behind the Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood.)

Despite my opposition to the group behind the videos, I do find the videos troubling. Is Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that they are selling at cost various fetus parts to researchers, but no in the sense that it isn’t a huge revenue stream for Planned Parenthood. What Planned Parenthood is doing is legal, no different from harvesting organs for transplant.

I am sure someone is going to say, but Bruce, look at how nonchalant the Planned Parenthood people were on the videos. I agree, this is troubling, but is their crassness any reason for the government to defund Planned Parenthood or for abortion to be outlawed or criminalized? Of course not. Again, I go back to the science. Like it or not, in most cases, the aborted fetus is a blob of developing cells. Since these developing cells are potential life, not human life, why shouldn’t researchers be permitted to use these cells and developing organs to find cures or treatments for diseases that are afflicting and killing humans?

I think the crassness displayed on the videos is troubling, but explainable. Take doctors. Doctors are around sickness and death every day. Imagine a group of doctors sitting around a table talking shop. How do you think the discussion would go? A bit of morbidity, humor, and deflection? This is their way of coping with the work they have been called to do (and yes, I think many of the people who work in abortion clinics have a sense of calling, a deep desire to help women in a time of great need). The same could be said for coroners, morticians, homicide detectives, crime scene investigators, CDC investigators, and crime scene cleaners. As someone who lives with the ugly specter of death lurking in the shadows, I have a gallows sense of humor about death. Some family members and friends are appalled by my humor, yet it is how I cope with the reality that death is stalking me and will ultimately seize me as its prey. People who are around death often use humor to cope and often seem detached from their work, and I think that is exactly what is shown on the Planned Parenthood videos.

What Planned Parenthood has is an optic problem. They allowed themselves to be snookered by ideologically driven religious nut jobs who want to make abortion, along with birth control, illegal. Planned Parenthood needs to do a better job of vetting whom they are talking to. They also need to put some of their workers and executives through sensitivity training. We say that getting an abortion is a monumental decision for a women. If this is true, then our behavior and demeanor should reflect this, not unlike our response to someone who is dying and has decided to stop medical treatment.

I am sure those on either side of this issue will disagree with me and that’s why I have been hesitant to write about it. My position on abortion is informed and quite developed, so I don’t waste my time arguing about it. I recently had several dust-ups on Facebook with people who think anyone who is pro-choice or supports Planned Parenthood is a sick, vile, evil, murderer. Rather than continue to read such drivel, I unfriended 30 or so people, including family members (and yes, I tried to educate them before I unfriended them).

I find it interesting that the same people who are so ardently pro-life are very same people who are pro-war, pro capital punishment, anti-homosexual, anti-same sex marriage, anti-immigration, and anti virtually anything that has to do with care and compassion post-birth. It seems the only life they care about is the one in the womb. These same people say they are anti-abortion, yet they oppose free birth control and standardized sex education, two things that we know reduce the need for an abortion. There’s one word for people who think like this: hypocrite.



  1. Avatar
    Carolyn Patrick

    You mentioned in your post that “we live in a secular state, one that supposedly separates church and state . . .” I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. I wonder if this is the position you took when you were a preacher. If not, what viewpoint did you take? I assume you have changed your opinion on that issue over time. I am wondering how you came to “see the light” (pardon the pun).

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser


      Actually, as a Baptist I believed in a strict separation of church and state. I saw the state and church as two separate spheres with equal power.

      For a time, I was a culture warrior. I viewed political issues like abortion, homosexuality, etc as moral issues. Later in life, I returned to my anabaptist roots and distanced myself from the culture war. While I still preached on moral issues, I thought Jesus was the answer and not politics.

      I have been quite surprised by the almost universal abandonment of separation of church and state by Evangelicals. 40 years ago, believing in a strict separation of church and state was the norm among Evangelicals. Gaining political power caused Evangelicals to abandon what was once considered a foundational belief.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Speaking as a pro-choice advocate here:

    I haven’t seen the PP videos, and I doubt I’ll bother. They’re overall an excellent organization and provide very much needed services.

    I would also suggest that getting an abortion might be a monumental decision for some women, but not all. Some women are in situations where it is clearly, unequivocally, the absolute best choice for them. No monumental to the decision. We need to respect those women, and not assume that they “didn’t take it seriously enough”.

    My not-so-humble opinion on late-term abortions: nobody dithers around until their third trimester and says “meh, I don’t want this baby, get rid of it”. There really have got to be health issues involved, or else a radical change in circumstances for the mother that bode very ill for herself and her potential baby. If we were a sensible nation, we would have services and safeguards in place so that the latter situation wouldn’t occur. Until that happens, I can’t in good conscience support restrictions on abortion. The amount of good it might do is far offset by the potential for evil.

    Since I’m pontificating, I’ll add one more thing: at the heart of many abortion debates is the notion that somehow a child’s life is more valuable than an adult’s life, because they are “innocent”. This notion just sends me into low earth orbit. I’m convinced that all human lives are equally valuable. All humans have the ability to contribute to society. An old woman, who at first glance is just a drain on society, might be making a profound difference in the life of a neighbor child. A lifelong prisoner, seemingly without value, might provide the key bit of support that changes the life of a fellow inmate for the better. We don’t know. And to say that a child — a bundle of potential yet unrealized — is inherently more valuable than it’s mother is just breathtakingly judgmental in the face of a total lack of evidence. Using innocence as a value marker for humans is horribly misguided.

    (grabs soapbox and wanders off)

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      Carolyn Patrick

      Like you, I haven’t seen the PP videos and don’t plan to. Thank you for articulating so well a philosophy to which I subscribe thoroughly. How can anyone say that a fetus is more important than it’s host?! You ended your statement rather apologetically. Please don’t apologize! There are millions of us out here who are your sisters and brothers in our beliefs regarding abortion.

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    I can understand being personally against abortion, meaning you feel you could not have/perform an abortion. I can understand being against late term abortions, I can understand these from their perspective. What I can’t understand is the seeming lack of interest in why a woman would want an abortion beside their standard reasoning of “convenience.” What made me pro-choice was actually taking the time to research and find out why women have abortions. When I was a strong pro-lifer I honestly never took the time to think about it. I just thought that if people wouldn’t have premarital sex then abortions wouldn’t be needed. Now I know differently. Children deserve to be brought up in a home where they are wanted, loved and provided for. If a woman says she doesn’t want a child or doesn’t want to be pregnant, believe her. Yes, I have read about abortion procedures and it is not something I find pleasant but childbirth and childrearing should be the result of a free choice. And yes, I hope for a world where women do not experience as many unwanted pregnancies.

    On a side note, I have been to Planned Parenthood and it was easy to get in and out, the staff was very nice and seemed to care about me as an individual. Now, I have to cross state lines to get to one, which isn’t bad because I live only miles away from the border but the next closest one actually in my state is 30 min away. Very disappointed in my state since they made the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Yes, I have money saved and private insurance so technically I could have my choice to go somewhere else but I like going there for reasons stated above.

    Btw, Bruce, have you seen the documentary “After Tiller”? I thought it was very well done piece on late term abortion. Yes, I had ethical disagreements at different points but it made me think and made me realize at some points I didn’t have a good solution. Good watch.

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    “These same people say they are anti-abortion, yet they oppose free birth control and standardized sex education, two things that we know reduce the need for an abortion. There’s one word for people who think like this, hypocrite.”

    I would like to go along with you there Bruce……but…..I prefer the phrase “just plain stupid.”

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    Regarding the sometimes callus attitudes some professionals have when it comes to their jobs, a good friend of mine is an assistant county prosecutor here in Minnesota. Attorneys and cops develop a rather gallows sense of humor as well.

    Here’s an example:
    “What do prosecutors and cops call a murder suicide?
    Answer: A happy ending. ”

    Again grim humor is a coping mechanism in some tough and stressful situations.

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    Aram McLean

    Not to mention, the Anti-Choice groups use props that aren’t actually truthful. I’m not sure how it is now, but back in the day (like around 20 years ago thanks to my mother being very anti-abortion) they would, for example, hand out models of one-month-old fetuses that were far bigger and more developed than a one-month-old fetus actually is. I only recently learned that my notion of how a fetus looks through its different phases was highly skewed from this false information when I was young.

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    “Pro-life”, “Abortion Is Murder”….Stated by people who believe god killed thousands with a flood….stated by people who follow a god who sent his son to die for them. Oh the irony of it all!

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    This group ” The Center for Medical Progress ” is using an effective though highly misleading bait-and-switch tactic in their propoganda campaign. While most late term abortions are not for birth control, and are typically by people who want to be parents but end up with test results for some fetal abnormality or a risk to the mother’s life or health. So they show case these atypical events in an effort to paint all abortions with the same broad brush. This group doesn’t care at all about the truth, as their highly edited tripe demonstrates. I suppose there is a vapid demographic out there that believes the person wasn’t making a sarcastic jab at the highly leading questioner about wanting to, “buy a Lamborghini ” I guess that is all they need to succeed.

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    My father-in-law is a retired anesthesiologist, and about as conservative as they come. But he is also vehemently pro-choice, because of his experiences as a medical resident in Detroit in the early 1960s. When he was giving my husband the “facts of life” as a teenager, he told him stories about how things really were in the so-called “good old days” when abortion was illegal.

    On a near-daily basis, women and girls would show up in the ER back then, bleeding to death or dying from massive septic infections, brought on by back-alley abortions. The youngest he remembered was 13; the oldest was a woman in her 40s who already had 10 children at home. He also remembered that some doctors and nurses would turn their backs on those women and girls and refuse to help them. One doctor even told him that “Women who murder their babies are wh*res who deserve to die.”

    Many of these women and girls were poor, many were women of color. But there were also white, middle-class girls from “nice, Christian families.” Some “respectable” parents of these girls would plead with the doctors to put “ruptured appendix” or something like that on their daughter’s death certificate, and many doctors obliged. They knew, after all, that if it was discovered that their daughter had died of an abortion, it would destroy the parents’ standing in the community.

    Some middle-class women and girls were more fortunate, according to my father-in-law; there were people who could give you the names of a couple of doctors who would perform abortions for the right price, and parents (or boyfriends) would pay big wads of under-the-table cash to have the procedure done in relative safety, after hours in a medical office. That was also what the rich men did; either that, or they sent their inconveniently pregnant daughters, mistresses and wives on “vacations” to Sweden or other places where abortion was legal. It was only the poor, the unfortunate and the desperate who had to turn to the back-alley butchers.

    Too many of the pro-lifers I know wax nostalgic for the “good old days when life was sacred and women didn’t have abortions.” They are either completely ignorant, or they are in denial, or they are bald-faced liars. Making abortion illegal will not stop it; it never has, it never will. Real, comprehensive sex education; free birth control; paid family leave; and free or heavily subsidized child care would prevent a lot more abortions than overturning Roe v. Wade. But oh no, we can’t have that….we might be forced to acknowledge the women are actual human beings, and not just baby incubators.

    If abortion was outlawed again, many women who might have aborted will instead have their unplanned, unwanted babies; some will put them up for adoption (which is not the magic answer the pro-life side touts it to be.) A few may even turn out to be decent moms who raise decent kids. But many will bring their kids into a world of poverty, drugs, violence and chaos, and many of those kids will be neglected, abused, beaten, raped, starved and tortured to death. Those that survive will become the next generation of criminals and psychopaths.

    Meanwhile the privileged daughters, mistresses and wives of the rich will simply go to Canada or Europe to have their abortions. The poor and desperate will risk death with rusty coathangers on dirty kitchen tables, or will try unregulated drugs and methods from the internet. And many of them will die.

    And the so-called “pro lifers” simply don’t care. They only care about embryos and fetuses; they do little to nothing to help the millions of unwanted, neglected and abused children we already have in this country. And as for women, they would appear to agree with the doctor who told my father-in-law 50-plus years ago: “Women who murder their babies are wh*res who deserve to die.”

    • Avatar

      This, so much this! It’s not a crusade to save innocent lives that we are seeing, it’s a drive to push women into second class status by denying them control over their own bodies.

      Otherwise, concise, thorough, medically accurate education on reproduction would be the norm. Long Acting, Reversible Contraception “LARC” would be free and so would sterilization for those wishing. There would also be truly family friendly policies at every level, making an accidental pregnancy a manageable thing.

      It’s not happening because it’s not, and never, was about the babies.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Greetings, Autumn and howitis. Kind late for me to post here, it being 2021. But I feel I should, because I was born in the era before Roe v. Wade. Plus, my grandmother and her third husband were involved in the ” illegal operation ” business back in the 40’s and 50’s. In our city, the Vice Squad took kickbacks to look the other way, Both from the procurers and abortionists alike. For the sake of having a large military and tax base, big families were useful, and condoms or diaphragms and spermacides were hard to get, even for married couples. If this weren’t the case, one could get them in a bar, nightclub, or any other public place. Even just a few years ago, there was a proposal to at least place dispensers for contraceptives in the bars and nightclubs, to cut down on unwanted pregnancy and yes, the abortions or births resulting from not having a convenient spot for grabbing what you needed before the sex that day. People are often spontaneous what it comes to sex, especially when you’re drunk, high, or young. It makes sense, right ? Well, the powers-that-be shot down this problem solver. Why ? Oh, the Catholic Church in L.A. complained, along with the usual anal conservatives. The abused and abandoned( in dumpsters)babies and children swamping the foster care system doesn’t move these people to allow birth control, and abortions are around $ 500 or more. Insurance may not cover it either. Free birth control placed everywhere, even stores,parks, beaches, would end such tragedies. After all, America does have the highest rated of unwanted pregnancy and child abuse in modern nations. High crime rates corresponding to that. Prices in markets are forbidding. Yet, the government will pay for childbirth. Not birth control. Why is that ? It’s absolutely true the wealthy will pay the fees or leave the country to get the abortions, leaving the poor to bear the brunt and supply the cannon fodder. Thanks to drug use and the Hyde Amendment, children are born to the least welcoming parents,making abuse rates so high, since 1977. Abortion didn’t create this. Drugs and expensive abortion prices did. Please lobby for contraceptives in businesses’ restrooms, in your state.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I have to say that if you can live outside the placenta you aren’t a fetus anymore. No matter how small the fetus is, painkillers or anesthesia should be given to them so they don’t feel pain or know what is happening. I wonder why fentanyl isn’t given in an IV to the fetus to knock them out, or the equivalent. Preventing suffering is the idea behind abortion, after all. And if it’s also true that 99% of people wind up in hell anyway, why on Earth promote pregnancy then ??

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Bruce Gerencser