The following comes from a January 21 Federalist article by Daniel Friedman:
The Center for Medical Progress videos caused Democrats and Republicans to retreat to respective ideological corners. Lawmakers in both parties communicated only with their bases. That was no shock. Abortion, more than every other social issue, is an issue lawmakers love to fight over, not legislate on.
With Roe v. Wade enshrined, Congress has limited power to change abortion law. Their incentive, on display this week, is to show supporters they agree with them. The point is to fight publicly, not to win.
But the fact remains: the nonchalance about abortion and the sale of fetal tissue should disturb most people. For that reason, the videos offered a starting point—a chance in Congress and living rooms for political conversations that advance understanding of why the group receives support from some of the population and animosity from another. But that required granting the opposing view some legitimacy. It required acknowledging tradeoffs. We missed that chance. Many share fault.
Those who support allowing abortion were not swayed, because the videos were presented in a way that makes them easily ignored. A boatload of studies on cognitive dissonance show most people ignore information that conflicts with their existing strongly held views, and look for information that discredits the conflicting view.
Seen in that light, abortion critics erred by promoting the relatively weak argument that the videos show Planned Parenthood officials engaged in illegal organ harvesting, rather than unseemly conversation and immoral actions, legal or not. Once defenders of the group decided the claim of illegal activity wasn’t true, they tuned out, dismissing the controversy as a frame job.
The sale of fetal tissue, while outrageous to people who oppose abortion, is easily rationalized by abortion rights advocates. If the fetus died in what they consider a legally defensible procedure, using the tissue for research is morally comparable to organ donation.
But arguing about what isn’t in the videos is in part a way to avoid talking about what is. Focusing on arguably dicey editing and the less controversial health services Planned Parenthood offers might have its place. But it is a way to avoid grappling with the undeniably difficult fact the videos present: Even if you support women’s right to choose it, abortion involves moral conflict.
Planned Parenthood’s defenders dodged a responsibility to consider the clash of values that their views entail. Their position is that the right of mothers to choose to end pregnancies outweighs the cost, which is the killing of human fetuses, or babies. Abortion foes could acknowledge their alternative cost-benefit calculation. They place a higher value on protecting the unborn than on women’s autonomy over their pregnancies.
You cannot embrace one value without sacrificing the other. You pick. It’s not a pleasant choice for anyone. Yet much political rhetoric reflects an assumption that there is no trade-off involved.