Friday, February 25, 2011

The Necessity of Integrity for the Pro-Life Movement

Critique of Live Action by Christopher Tollefsen

As my husband said to me a few days ago, Live Action may produce some short-term results but their actions will also produce a re-action amongst pro-choice opponents, the extent of which we just don't know. Live Action's methods of deception and lying to gain information that could disable Planned Parenthood may bring about irreparable harm to the pro-life movement. Who will be able to trust us now, if we have resorted to devious means to achieve our ends? What else will we do in order to save lives? Shoot an abortionist? Why not? The reasoning would be that one death would prevent so many others.

It is tempting to refer to the “pimp” character in Live Action’s videos as an “actor.” But this is misleading. Actors perform for willing and aware audiences who realize they are watching a fiction. The “pimp,” rather, lied, repeatedly and pervasively, in his conversation with the Planned Parenthood worker: he presented himself as other than he truly was, and his purpose in doing so was clearly to deceive.

Of course, the makers of the Live Action video could argue that the end—the good sought—justified a morally problematic means. But such a form of argument is a centerpiece of those arguments for abortion which acknowledge the “special respect and value” owed the unborn child, but which still justify his or her destruction for the sake of the consequences. “Do no evil that good may come about” should be central to the pro-life movement’s ethos.

Nor can it be said that Live Action’s behavior towards the Planned Parenthood workers was loving. Under most circumstances, to speak the truth to another just is a demand of love. But under all circumstances, to seek to deceive is to create a relationship with another based on falsity, and this seems inevitably to be unloving. While often undesired, it is a paradigmatically loving thing to do to make known to another the moral wrongness of what they are doing. Indeed, those who protest and pray outside abortion clinics are acting lovingly in speaking the truth. But to encourage wrongdoing through falsity does no good for the deceived agent.

So, while the increased scrutiny of Planned Parenthood is a good thing, and will conceivably lead to the even greater good of a general defunding of this morally bankrupt organization, I can take no joy in Live Action’s approach. They seem to have “fought fire with fire,” combating deceit and lack of charity with more of the same. The pro-life movement must be better than that, always, and it must be willing to engage in self-criticism when it fails to meet its own exacting standards.

Christopher O. Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. His latest book, co-authored with Robert P. George, is Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (Doubleday, 2008). Tollefsen sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.

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