March 18, 2011


Planned Parenthood and deception

When we editorialized about “The Pence Amendment” in the March 4 issue of The Criterion, we alluded only briefly to the charges against Planned Parenthood.

We quoted U.S. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, who said in a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives, “Planned Parenthood continues to face allegations of fraud and failing to report abuse.”

We didn’t have space in that editorial to say more than that. However, it seems likely that those allegations were an important factor when the House voted to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood by a vote of 240-185.

As was reported in the Feb. 11 issue of The Criterion, those allegations came as a result of three undercover videos released by the pro-life organization Live Action. Those videos—recorded in New Jersey, Virginia and the Bronx, N.Y.—showed Live Action investigators playing the roles of a pimp and his prostitute at Planned Parenthood centers trying to get information about how minors they supposedly brought to the United States as sex slaves could obtain abortions.

Parts of those videos were shown by the media, especially by Fox News. If you didn’t see them, they are available online at They show that the Planned Parenthood staffers were more than willing to help the people in their offices, and seemed not at all concerned that federal and state offenses, including sex trafficking and statutory rape, were apparently being committed.

Naturally, Planned Parenthood was quick to dissociate itself from its staffers, and fired the staff member in New Jersey. Then, though, instead of thanking Live Action for calling this matter to its attention, it lashed out at it for conducting “sting” operations.

The videos were released on Feb. 1, Feb. 3 and Feb. 8. Since then, the Internet has been burning up with comments on both sides of the abortion issue, and Planned Parenthood has been campaigning hard to keep its federal funds flowing.

Another reason why we barely alluded to this in our earlier editorial, besides lack of space, is because some people in the pro-life community question the morality of the deception that was used in the videos.

Is it permissible to lie in order to achieve a good result? Isn’t that like saying that the end justifies the means?

Some prominent Catholic moral theologians and ethicists say that it is not permissible. Germain Grisez, a longtime ethics professor at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., said, “Catholics should regard such activity as morally and legally unacceptable.” And William May, a moral theologian at the Culture of Life Foundation, told Catholic News Service that one may not use lies, even to expose evil, though one may use ambiguous statements.

On the other hand, Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, said that Live Action’s operation was “very clearly right” because “our innate moral common sense” must combine with clear definitions of general moral principles in concrete situations.

Philosopher Andrew Haines, the president of the Center for Morality in Public Life, said that we cannot justify outright lying and must stay away from consequentialism—using any means to achieve a good end. However, he said, there is a difference between deception and outright lying, and it could be argued that Live Action was being charitable in trying to expose the truth.

All those experts were quoted by Ann Carey in an article in the March 6 issue of Our Sunday Visitor.

Carey also wrote that the moral teachings of the Church are nuanced. For example, “The Church teaches that one may take the life of an aggressor in self-defense or to save the life of another person. Thus, some commentators reason that lying to an aggressor intent on doing evil to you or another person is not sinful, and would be more loving toward the aggressor than to kill him in defense of yourself or another person.”

Carey noted, too, that Vatican officials engaged in deception during World War II by routinely providing false papers to assist Jews and Allied servicemen trapped in Nazi-occupied Italy.

We are not going to solve this theological controversy—on which the Church has never articulated a decisive teaching—in this editorial.

We did, though, want our readers to be aware of it. However, we agree with one statement made by Andrew Haines, one of the philosophers quoted above, that “something about Live Action’s efforts just feels so right.”

—John F. Fink

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