August 4, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, August 4, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Opposition to Planned Parenthood presented as emotional sensitivity as Senate vote fails
Yesterday an effort to defund Planned Parenthood failed in the United States Senate. It failed even as 53 senators, the majority of the 100 senators, voted in favor of the measure to defund Planned Parenthood in the aftermath of videos that demonstrated that the organization was involved in the intentional harvesting of fetal organs and tissues. In other words, harvesting the organs from babies that had been murdered in the womb. Even as 53 senators voted in favor of the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, the Senate did not achieve the 60 votes required for cloture – that is, moving the bill actually towards a vote on the Senate floor. And so, when 53 senators voted for, even as it represents a majority it’s not a sufficient majority in the Senate to of moved to actually defund Planned Parenthood.
It was largely a party-line vote. Of the 53 senators who voted to move forward with defunding Planned Parenthood, 51 are Republicans and two are Democrats. On the other hand, of the 46 senators who voted to defend taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood 45 are Democrats and only one – Mark Kirk of Illinois – is a Republican. This comes as a very significant disappointment for all those who believe in and defend the dignity and sanctity of every human life. But is not the end of the story. It is a significant disappointment . It’s very important to recognize that 99 nine senators – that’s how many voted yesterday actually put themselves on the line by name in terms of where they stand on this issue. That’s very important. The second thing we need to note is that this is indeed not the end of the story. Defenders of human life will be moving even perhaps as early as September in the Senate towards adding a very similar kind of proposal to an additional appropriations measure.Show Full Transcript
The most important issue in terms of yesterday’s vote in the Senate is that 46 members of that body, of the United States Senate, themselves in defense of the most barbaric practices that are being supported by taxpayer money – that is the federal taxpayer – to what Reuters reported yesterday is now $500 million a year. That’s a half million dollars a year of Medicaid contributions, and an additional $60 million a year in federal appropriations for what is euphemistically called ‘family planning services’
This story so important that it demands our continued attention. We need to note yesterday an editorial appeared at USA Today. The headline: “Planned Parenthood acts badly but don’t defund it.” That’s a very interesting signal being sent in the headline for the editorial. Introducing the editorial the paper stated,
“Undercover videos of top Planned Parenthood doctors callously discussing how best to collect fetal tissue and organs for research are enough to make most people, regardless of their views on abortion, squeamish if not horrified.”
Now, what I want us to note almost immediately is that USA Today’s editors are sending the signal that they found something distressing about the videos related to the harvesting organs from aborted babies by Planned Parenthood. But the next paragraph states,
“The videos raise troubling questions about how far Planned Parenthood doctors are willing to go to collect intact specimens, how broadly collection is conducted, why the cost would differ among affiliates, and whether the century-old group is treating this work with the respect and sensitivity it deserves.”
Now notice that in that first paragraph they signal the fact that the offense in the videos at least for many people is that regardless of abortion views there is a squeamish response. And now they say one of the questions is whether or not Planned Parenthood is “treating this work with the respect and sensitivity it deserves.” Let’s remember what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about intentionally targeting unborn babies in order to destroy them, dismember them, tear them apart in the womb but to do so in a way that would maximize the harvesting of usable tissues and organs for medical experimentation from those very aborted babies. Notice the word ‘squeamish’ and the word ‘sensitivity.’ The editors go on (and they deserve credit for this) to explicitly detail what was found in the videos, including the statements made by Dr. Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood about deciding to crush the baby above and below targeted organs in order to retrieve them in an intact state.
But as the editors come to the end of their their editorial, their main point is that even as Planned Parenthood has in the word of their headline ‘acted badly’ they shouldn’t be defunded. And then there is another very revealing paragraph in this editorial. I quote the paragraph:
“Although the effort to defund Planned Parenthood is unlikely to prevail, the videos, released over the past three weeks, have opened a new front in the abortion wars, forcing the public to confront the ugly reality of what abortion looks like,”
Here’s the problem with that paragraph: the ugly reality is not limited in any moral sense to what abortion looks like. The core issue, most important moral issue is what abortion actually is. No doubt there is an orchestrated effort on behalf of those who defend Planned Parenthood to try to present this issue as mere emotional sensitivity, as ethical emotionalism. As nothing more than an offense at seeing something that is inherently distasteful. The use of words like squeamish and sensitivity in this editorial are a very clear signal of that kind of effort.
But I think there’s even something more ominous here. I think that many people responding to this from a pro-abortion position actually believe that this is only an issue of moral emotionalism. They really do not believe that there is any objective value or dignity to the unborn human life. And by extension we need to note that really means that they undercut any basis for the assertion of an objective value to any human life at any stage of development at any age or under any condition.
That same moral worldview was made clear yesterday in the pages of the New York Times in a letter to the editor from a man identified as Jake Fishman. Speaking of the videos he said that those who have released them and have commented on them in defense of human life are attempting “to make supporters of a woman’s right to choose feel guilty for permitting a “disgusting” procedure.” Fishman then went on to make the argument that other surgeries – countless surgeries, he said – can be perceived as ‘barbaric,’ again a word he put in quotation marks. An amputation, he said, or even open-heart surgery “where the surgeon has to break through the breastplate.” He went on to say all of these can be described in terms that would upset the casual reader. He goes on to say,
“Abortion may be unpleasant to talk about, but the Planned Parenthood representatives caught on tape are guilty of nothing except insensitivity. Distorting these “gotcha” videos to undermine an essential woman’s right is what is truly “disgusting.””
But notice that he explicitly says that the only thing the Planned Parenthood representatives may be guilty of is “nothing except in sensitivity.” There’s that word coming all over again. He also uses the words ‘disgusting’ and ‘barbaric.’ Disgusting actually twice in order to insinuate that’s not a real moral knowledge. Nothing real is reflected there.
We need to note something very important here. Those surgical procedures he mentions may be rather uncomfortable to see but they are intended to save or to enhance life. Perhaps to prolong it. Certainly not to terminate it. We’re talking here about a different of moral category. This is an entirely different act in moral terms, but it’s been collectively discussed here by the defenders of Planned Parenthood and by extension the defenders of abortion as if to argue that the response of squeamishness that may come upon observing an abortion or seeing the kind of videos of been released about Planned Parenthood may lead to a sense of moral squeamishness, but they insist very explicitly here there is no moral problem with the underlying act. Which as we need to remind ourselves once again, is the intentional strategic murder of an unborn human infant.
Hats off, by the way, on this account to John McCormack writing in the Weekly Standard who wrote,
“But let no one pretend that what’s truly morally relevant is whether or not Planned Parenthood “crushes” an unborn child to death in a particular way to sell her organs—it’s the fact that Planned Parenthood annually “crushes” hundreds of thousands of unborn children to death in the first place.”
That leads to another development. Yesterday, I was listening to a program on National Public Radio. The program is The Takeaway with John Hockenberry. One of his guests was Professor Alta Charo, identified as professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin’s law and medical schools. Responding to the Planned Parenthood videos, the professor acknowledge that the imagery is ‘disturbing’ – there’s that moral emotionalism again – but she also made the argument that it would be disturbing for most people to observe even the most simple surgical procedure. She says that nonetheless the impact of the videos is that they help to further stigmatize abortion in the public mind. She clearly defended Planned Parenthood – not just the organization, but taxpayer supported Planned Parenthood. And she defended the use of these fetal organs and tissues explicitly, saying that there’s nothing legally wrong with what Planned Parenthood was doing. As she went on to say, there was nothing ethically wrong with it as well.
But then she made a stunning statement. She went on to recount the very been two federal advisory committees that had looked into the ethics of using the tissues and organs from aborted babies in medical experimentation, and she went on to defend that the use of fetal tissues obtained from abortion in medical experimentation saying that there was no problem with the use of fetal tissue or fetal remains from a legal abortion. One of the things she pointed out by the way is that federal law – the prevailing law at present – says that the donation decision made by a mother in terms of her aborted baby must be separate from the abortion decision. Then she went on to make a statement that absolutely stunned me. She said (speaking of medical experimentation), “We take advantage of what we can regardless of the underlying act.”
Let me repeat that statement: “We take advantage of what we can regardless of the underlying act.” So the underlying act in this case is the strategic targeting of an unborn child for destruction. That underlying act, she says explicitly, when it comes to abortion should not prevent the ethical and legal use of the organs and tissues from the aborted baby. That’s an amazing statement.
Again, she said “we take advantage what we can regardless of the underlying act.”
We need to note what is ethically, morally at stake here. We’re talking about a statement made by a professor in the law and medical schools of the University Wisconsin that the underlying act should not in any moral sense prevent the use of these tissues and organs and medical experimentation. We need to note that we’ve confronted this kind of argument before. In the aftermath of the second world war, there were those who used a similar argument to defend the use of the data that had been obtained in the Nazi medical experiments – the notorious experiments undertaken by Nazi doctors. Horrifying and unspeakable medical experiments undertaken largely on Jewish victims of the Holocaust – those who were in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In 1947, faced with the horror of what had taken place in these Nazi medical experiments, doctors adopted what was known as the Nuremberg Code. A code of ten principles formulated as a direct ethical response to the Nazi medical experiments.
We need to know however, that there have been those since 1947 continuing to the present who have argued that it is ethically permissible to use the data from the Nazi medical experiments. They have argued from a position of moral utilitarianism. They’ve argued that there is utility to the data that would lead to potential good in terms of medical treatments or breakthroughs in medical knowledge. It will be wrong they argue to disregard this medical data simply because of the underlying acts. But there has been an enormous moral backlash to this, and rightly so.
There is no way we can simply fall back on this kind of utilitarianism and argue that this data should be used because that makes us complicit with the medical experiments of Nazi Germany. There is no way to disregard the barbarity, the horrifying reality of the underlying act. And that’s what we need to note in terms of the arguments being used right now in this current controversy. There is no way to justify the use of these tissues without making ourselves and everyone involved complicit in the underlying act. An act – we have to say it again – that is the murder of an unborn child.
Boy Scouts allow gay troop leaders, signalling persistent pressure from culture
Next, the Boy Scouts have been in the news. It was on 27th of July that the governing board of the Boy Scouts of America voted to remove that organization’s ban on openly gay adult leaders. Now, this is yet another change in the Boy Scouts’ policy. It was back in 2013 that the Boy Scouts of America changed the policy to allow for openly gay youth. And what we need to note is that in 2014, when the current head of the Boy Scouts of America took office (former Defense Secretary Robert Gates), and this was in May 2014 in his very first speech as president of the Boy Scouts of America said that even if he would personally of supported allowing gay troop leaders he announced he would “oppose any efforts to reopen the discussion during his tenure.” He went on to say, as Jena McGregor of the L.A. Times make clear, that such an effort could provoke a “formal permanent split in this movement.” He went on to say that neither side would be likely to survive that split.
And then, as McGregor writes,
“And yet, just 12 months later, Gates made a speech in which he said exactly the opposite: The Boy Scouts of America faced a threat to its very being if it did not reconsider its national ban on gay leaders,”
He said that, as you’ll recall from The Briefing, back in May. But the decision was actually made and made public on July 27. And on that date the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would remove its ban on openly gay adult leaders, and also its ban on openly gay employees of scouting organizations.
There was a religious exemption that was announced. That was an exemption would allow scouting units that were sponsored by religious organizations to continue to abide by their own convictions when it came to the election of leaders, that is, of the local scouting units. Adult leaders. This does not extend to issues of scouting employees, and as we need to note very carefully, this is not an exemption that will last.
There’s a lot going on here. For one thing there’s been this full assault upon the Boy Scouts of America that had had a policy, and until recent years and not allowed openly gay Scouts not to mention openly gay adult scout leaders. But all that changed when the Boy Scouts caved to this cultural onslaught and changed its policy. When the organization announced that it was removing its ban on openly gay Scouts, it announced that it was leaving the ban on adult leaders in place. But no morally serious person believed that that policy was sustainable. The evidence of that came on July 27, and of course it was signaled in the speech given in May by Robert Gates.
But we need to note that this full assault upon the Boy Scouts is evidence of how moral revolutions take place. Institutions like the Boy Scouts are very important to a culture to American culture. And the Boy Scouts of had a very cherished place in terms of American public life. There have been millions and millions of boys and young men who had their lives shaped for the positive in terms of experience as a Boy Scout. But if you’re going to push a moral revolution you’ve got to address organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and use whatever moral coercion you can muster in order to change the policy that organization in order to make very clear the trajectory of the moral revolution. That’s why the Scouts were targeted. That’s also why they caved. It was a very successful attempt at moral coercion.
Even as the compromise position allowing openly gay Scouts but not openly gay adult leaders was unsustainable (and again it was proved just in recent days), the exemption granted to religious organizations is also unsustainable. It’s a policy that will not long continue. It was a matter of immediate expediency. Indeed efforts are already underway – legal efforts – already publicly announced to force the Boy Scouts to remove this religious exemption.
Now keep in mind that 70% of all local scouting units are sponsored by some religious organization. About 17% of all boys and young men currently involved in scouting are connected with the Mormon church and with units sponsored by the Mormon church. By the way, it was very clear, it became very embarrassing to the Boy Scouts in the aftermath of the vote on July 27, that they had thought that the Mormon church would stay on board with the decision. And yet almost immediately after the announcement was made Mormon authorities indicated that they were going to reconsider forming their own organization in response to the policy change announced by the Boy Scouts. We also need to note once again that this kind of cultural moral political coercion against the Boy Scouts isn’t going to stop.
In an article published the day after the Boy Scouts voted to remove their ban on openly gay adult scouting leaders, Michelangelo Signorile wrote that the Boy Scouts was setting what he called a dangerous precedent.
“By allowing the religiously-affiliated troops to still ban gay adults, the BSA is making a religious exemption seem like a reasonable compromise when in fact it is allowing the very people who would discriminate to keep discriminating.”
That’s the kind of argument you can count on hearing. And the Boy Scouts of America, I would argue, has removed any ability to counter that argument on the basis of principle. They have already violated principle in terms of what they had changed in the policy for openly gay Scouts and now openly gay adult leaders. It’s only a matter of time, as we might quote justice Antonin Scalia, until the other shoe drops.
In that light we should note an opinion piece that ran in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel in which Gary Stein wrote,
“The Boy Scouts of America have finally ended their prejudiced ban against openly gay adult leaders and employees.
“Too bad some religious groups went to keep the discrimination in place.
“Sorry, but the Boy Scouts did the right thing. The year is 2015, folks. Religious beliefs belong in your house or worship or your own home.
There again you see the restriction of religious liberty. It’s a redefinition of religious liberty away from the Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. Instead Gary Stein writes,
“Religious beliefs belong in your house of worship or in your own home.”
That’s a statement very similar to one made by New York Times opinion writer Frank Bruni, who wrote similarly that religious liberty should extend to what takes place in a church, in a home, and in the heart. In other words both of these writers say there should be no public significance whatsoever to religious conviction.
R-rated comedies persist despite box office woes, exposing values of Hollywood
Finally, an article that appeared yesterday in the front page of the arts section of the New York “Times. It’s by Brooks Barnes. Here’s the headline: “R-Rated Comedies Lag in Sales.” Her very interesting opening statement;
“Raunchy comedy is having a rough run at the box office.”
It is a very revealing story. It tells us that R-rated comedies, in particular the new “Vacation” movie, they’re doing rather poorly in terms of the box office this summer, and that’s caught Hollywood by surprise. It’s very clear, the article says, that there had been a spate of recent R-rated movies that just aren’t doing very well.
But there’s an even more revealing statement made later in the article, where the reporter’s trying to explain why Hollywood keeps producing these raunchy comedies even when the public’s not going to them. Here’s the statement;
“Hollywood’s top comedy writers and directors also tend to want to push boundaries: It’s not cool to dream up PG-13 or PG jokes and scenarios.”
That tells us a great deal again about how moral change takes place in a culture. It tells us that the so-called cultural creatives, including those identified here as Hollywood’s top comedy writers and directors, tend to be embarrassed by conventional morality. They’re embarrassed to produce a story, a joke, or a narrative that isn’t raunchy. That doesn’t gain an R rating.
As I said, that’s an incredibly revealing statement. It reveals the fact that there many in Hollywood who would be downright embarrassed to be caught writing something that isn’t raunchy. The story also reminds us of a very important moral principle: what makes us laugh tells us a great deal about ourselves and our worldview.