Fighting Abortion by Just Means: It’s Right *and* Smart

In one of several “You are an evil idiot for daring to question Live Action’s tactics” comments, this tough-talking reader gives me a dressing down in no uncertain terms for suggesting that there are better ways for Live Action to do its work without lying or tempting anybody to agree to mortal sin:

Good point Mark. Why don’t you go to an Abortion clinic and say: “Hey, let me record on video an actual abortion procedure, you know, the severed heads ans feet, the bloody torsos and limbs, so the women can see what an actual abortion looks like and they can decide freely”. Of course, their answer would be: “By all means Mark. We are in the Truth business. We don’t care about money at all. Our main concern is the woman’s health”

I’m being sarcastic by the way. Your article is dull and weak to say the least.

The clinic workers are not being tempted by LA’s guys. They are doing what they always do: murder. And most important: the Live Action guys are not forcing anyone to do or say anything. As far as I can see,  those “doctors” and workers are more than  happy to share their monstrous activities.

Ending abortion requires EXPOSING it. And the only way to do it is by doing what the Live Action guys are doing. Abortion advocates and abortionists have the upper hand against poorly prepared catholics because abortion is never a “real” thing. The baby is always put aside. No images of the actual horror. We catholics need to stop being afraid of “hurt someone else’s feelings”, that’s the “church of nice” and  the “church of nice” is the real sin here.

Yes.  Well.  Devastating.

Meanwhile, for people capable of doing more than jerking the knee, here’s the thing. Blank denialism notwithstanding, “I want to abort my baby.  Please help me” is indeed both lying and tempting somebody be an accessory to the sin of murder. These things are not merely “not nice”.  They are, according to Holy Church, sins. More than that, they are totally unnecessary (as sin always is) in order to achieve Live Action’s goals. As we discussed yesterday, there is indeed a legitimate place for exposing evil in the prolife struggle–but without lying or tempting people to agree to mortal sin.   The tactic is not only evil in itself, it bears fruit in all sorts of metastasizing evils as defenders of the tactic twist themselves into pretzels to come up with rationalizations for it.  It endangers the souls of conflicted clinic workers.  And worst of all, it’s both unnecessary and counter-productive.  For despite Captain Hammer’s devastatingly sarcastic suggestion, it would be possible for Live Action to achieve essentially the same ends in a way that comports well with the Church’s teaching, and which could actually work to both expose evil *and* work for the redemption of clinic workers rather than simply enticing them to continue more evil for the sake of some good footage.  Here’s how it works:

As I mentioned yesterday, LA is under no obligation to divulge that they are recording conversations.  They are simply under an obligation not to lie or tempt.  So instead of “I’m pregnant and want an abortion.  Please help me get one” they need only say “I’m pregnant.  What services do you offer me?”  and continue from there.  No lie is told (assuming the LA agent is pregnant, of course).  No request for an abortion made.  No sob story calculated to persuade a clinic worker with a troubled conscience that maybe he is doing the right thing after all by resolving to muscle down his qualms and help this woman kill her child.  The conversation can proceed as before, without any lies or temptation happening at all.

Why is this better?  Well, for starters, it does not put pressure on the troubled clinic worker to come through with a commitment to help with an abortion for the sake of some Youtube gold footage.  This woman’s story powerfully shows us why we really need to consider that.  Indeed, such a tactic can actually highlight for the clinic worker that he is the one actively doing evil and not merely passively responding to a sob story.  How?

Well, if Live Action chooses to leave the ball in the clinic’s court, not seeking an abortion but merely asking “What do you offer to do for me?” then it becomes much more clear that Planned Parenthood is the aggressor here if the clinic people start pressuring the Live Action agent to abort in order to “make a sale”.  Then you really do have some devastating footage, and it’s all obtained on the up and up.  It’s not only the right way to do this, it’s the smart way to do it.

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  • ModerateMom17

    Do the right thing and let God take care of the results. Not a hard concept. Why is that hard for people to get? Truth is always going to ultimately be more successful by the very nature of what truth is.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      Do the right thing and let God take care of the results. Not a hard concept. Why is that hard for people to get?
      Doing evil so that good may result is tempting because good sometimes results when evil is done. The Devil comes in pleasing forms.

  • Debbie Sterbin Sercely

    Mark. Stop it. You are not the Jackass Whisperer.
    Captain Hammer and his compadres are not going to be persuaded by your silly appeals to reason, logic, and the Teachings of Holy Mother Church.

    • chezami

      That’s true. They won’t be. But people on the fence, who sense that Live Action is on to something in wanting to expose evil, but who also sense that there is something wrong with the way they are doing it, will catch on when they see the distinction between employment of reason and the sort of knee-jerk folly that gets trotted out to defend this stuff. I don’t write to persuade Captain Hammer. I write to persuade people who will listen.

      • Peter Holmes

        Mark, you know I and many others agree with you. The arguments are impossible to ignore and you put them clearly and forcefully. I think, however, you don’t do yourself any favors engaging in the above sarcasm slap-down. For one thing it doesn’t actually advance anyone’s understanding of the truth and it serves to provoke people to get their back up rather than take your points seriously. Apply your own argument re: LA and PP. Just because someone is very likely to be an irrational angermuffin does not mean you should provoke him/her to anger with sarcasm that does not add to your point.

        Keep up your honest and unabashed commentary on these matters 🙂 It is valuable. 🙂

        • chezami

          Fair enough. I’m only human and the habit some Deeply Christian Readers have of using me as a punching bag is not something I always put up with perfectly.

          • Scotty

            Nothing wrong with holding up a mirror to an obnoxiously unhelpful sarcastic combox inquisitor.

          • Rebecca Fuentes

            I can’t believe you’ve had the patience to repeat this so many times already. I’ve been reading you make this argument (and making it and making it) for a few years now at least.

        • Imp the Vladaler

          Look, this is just what Mark does. I don’t always agree with his polemical tactics but he’s been going at it for what, ten years now? I figure he knows what he’s doing. If you disagree with Mark, there’s a good chance he’s going to yell at you. So what? Put on your big boy pants and take the yelling with the approachably scholarly explanations of Catholicism.

          I will admit, though, that when Mark gets a little cranky, I often think “Well, he’s got the ‘Catholic’ part down. I just hope that one of these days, Mark gets to the ‘and Enjoying It’ part.”

          • said she

            I’m enjoying it.

    • Mark S. (not for Shea)

      Jackass Whisperer. That’s awesome. Where can I sign up to train to be a Jackass Whisperer?

  • kirthigdon

    It’s interesting and sad that the most controversial things on this blog are always Mark’s pro-life and pro-truth commentaries. There are always people upset about the possibility that the death penalty won’t be used enough, that wars against assorted bad guys won’t be waged enough and that abortionists won’t be lied to and tempted enough. With respect to the last, which is done in the name of exposing what abortion is really like, I am quite pessimistic. The problem is not that people don’t know the reality of abortion; it’s that they don’t care. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect the best we’re going to get in the Gosnell case is a hung jury and maybe an acquittal. Hardened hearts will not be appealed to by more of the same information obtained by deceit. We need more prayer and fasting.
    Kirt Higdon

    • @kirthigdon
      I think people do care. People have been badgered into being pro- abortion for so long that they now believe that that is the morally right thing to be. They also believe the lies about the development of the fetus.
      I have heard the arguments about whether to show pictures of aborted fetus’ or not and, having been a secondary school teacher of RE for many years I would rogue in the majority of cases I would say we don’t need to.
      We just need to use new technology to show the development of a fetus; it’s rational proof itself. The majority of young people question abortion on those grounds alone.
      Don’t give up hope. The US is an inspiration; you have fought the fight so passionately for so long. William Wilberforce faced many setbacks in his attempts to abolish slavery. I’m sure he felt despondent to. But we have God on our side, so we will win. The gates of hell will not prevail against us

  • Imp the Vladaler

    As I mentioned yesterday, LA is under no obligation to divulge that they are recording conversations.

    Well, maybe. There are some jurisdictions where conversations cannot be recorded without the consent of all parties. Although this isn’t the law that I would choose, it’s promulgated by a legitimate authority and I have no reason to conclude that it’s an unjust law. Thus obedience to this law would seem to be required.

    This is why I’m have a problem with the idea that deception and withholding of information is totally fine as long as you don’t actually actively tell a lie. There’s a lot of deception that tiptoes very, very close to lying.

    It’s not normal, socially acceptable behavior for people to have their words and pictures recorded, then uploaded for millions to see on the internet. Anyone who would do such a thing to me would not be my friend. So we all – reasonably – assume that the people we interact with are going to behave according to certain norms. For that reason, I have a problem with secretly deviating from those norms. It might not fit the strict definition of a “lie,” but making someone stand for hours might not meet the strict definition of “torture” either.

    I’ll repeat something I said yesterday: if you ran up to a cop and said, breathlessly, “there’s a man beating his son on the playground!” the cop would rush over to stop the beating. But then when the cop accused you of lying to him when he discovered that the “beating” involved scoring more points in a game of basketball, you wouldn’t have a defense of saying “every word I said was true. I did not lie to you. I am under no obligation to clear up your misconceptions about the definition of the words that I’m using.”

    Don’t lie, gang. Don’t deceive, either, unless you’re prepared to answer the questions “who would Jesus deceive,” or “who would Jesus surreptitiously record?”

  • jcb

    One thing I see again and again in this discussion is that some people seem to think that because abortion clinic workers habitually cooperate in murder, inciting them to cooperate in murder doesn’t really harm them, since it leaves them in the same moral state they were in before.

    I don’t know whether this is a legitimate confusion over basic moral theology, or a fig leaf to cover a more basic refusal to see abortion clinic workers as people who are not maximally evil and to whom we have moral obligations.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I’m curious: Has anyone ever tried the methods of Jesus in changing people’s minds about abortion? Rathern than utilizing gestabo and Troyskyist tactics, why not try some kindness and love? You may just convert the sinner, and if not, at least you’ll heap some burning coals on his head.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      Exactly. Jesus didn’t go to prostitutes and say “I’m a man. What services do you offer me?”

      • chezami

        Given that the methods of Jesus included asking demons “What is your name?” and allowing them to reveal themselves (“I am Legion”) and given that Paul said to “have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness but rather expose them”, I think a case can well be made that Live Action’s *ends* are just. It is only the means I quarrel with.

    • Lisa O

      ***try some kindness and love*** to change minds about abortion.

      Great idea. I think I’ll whip up a tuna noodle hotdish and bring it by the Planned Parenthood. That should convert them, especially if I add chopped up dill pickles.

      I’m curious what exactly The One Who Likes to Capitalize has in mind.

      Secondly, what would the One Who Likes to Capitalize say about the church’s lying to Nazis in the course of smuggling Jews out of Germany?

      “Deontology leads to death.”

      • chezami
      • Imp the Vladaler

        Well, they might think that you were trying to poison them. But I do like the idea of being kind to your enemies. As did, you know, Jesus.

      • ivan_the_mad

        “Secondly, what would the One Who Likes to Capitalize say about the church’s lying to Nazis in the course of smuggling Jews out of Germany?”

        You must be new here. Welcome to the blog.

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        I would hardly call a tuna noodle hotdish an act of kindness. Sounds more like a declaration of war.

        • Ha! Good to see I’m not the only one who considers tuna noodle casserole an abomination.

          • chezami

            I kinda *like* tuna noodle casserole. *Sniff*.

            • I’m not surprised. You are a cultural marxist, after all. :>

              • chezami

                Hm. I see your point.

      • Kate Cousino

        Have you read any of the accounts of ex-clinic workers who became pro-life? Without exception, every such ‘converted’ clinic worker I’ve read of was first softened by the kindness of one or more pro-life people who treated them as a person deserving of love.

        Assuming you know that the employees at your local Planned Parenthood like tuna hotdish, you could do much worse than to feed their bodies as you attempt to feed their souls.

        I think we forget sometimes that, in the spiritual battle surrounding abortion, those clinic workers are the casualties, even more than are the children they kill.

  • ivan_the_mad

    Huzzah. Just means aren’t just (wakka) right and smart, they have the added bonus of not being intrinsically evil. For what indeed does it profit a man to gain the world if in so doing he should lose his soul?

  • John H

    Mark, where in the videos did the Live Action associate say, “I want to abort my baby. Please help me.”? I didn’t catch that line. It could be this person showed up, went through some basic pregnancy tests, and then simply discussed options available and asked questions about those options. Where is the lie in that?

  • Truly, fighting abortion by just means to me is providing food, clothing, and shelter for desperate unwed mothers. I suggest this organization if you are in the Pacific Northwest:

  • vox borealis

    OK, but I have a related question. Conceding that Live Action’s tactics were flawed from a Catholic perspective (and as I have commented before on other posts, I agree with Shea’s position on this), is it likewise sinful to make use of Live Action’s videos? That is, the videos are powerful, and certainly many a solid, orthodox Catholic website (I’m thinking of Creative Minority Report and Patheos’ own Public Catholic) posted the most recent video. Sure Live Action’s tactics may turn off some, but there is little doubt that the videos, showing the ease with which abortionists offer the most appalling services and make promises to, in effect, break the law, will also win over some to the Pro Life side. The videos may resilt in Planned Parenthood being defunded here or there.

    Now mind you, I am *not* advocating “the ends justify the means.” I agree that he tactics used to elicit the information from clinic workers were sinful. But the information obtained is powerful testimony and potentially very valuable in the political fight. Is it, however, sinful, to make use of this information because of the way it was obtained originally?

    Like I said, I mean this as an open question.

    • Andy

      My concern about using the videos from LA or in fact from just about any source is the ease with which video can be edited. I fear that in the future the state will alter videos to create “airtight” cases. This is not to impugn any particular group – it is more a comment about the ease of creating false evidence using videos.
      In the case of LA and the way that they “got” the videos I fear it seems to be an ends justifies the means argument. I do not think that we should use “evidence” from a tainted source unless it is corroborated many times over. I fear that in our legal system, and I fear it in political systems as well.
      As far as sinfulness to use the videos – I don’t know. I have my own thoughts, which tell me that it seems sinful, but I am not a moral theologian by any stretch. I feel it is a sin because it leads others to think that telling a lie to get what is wanted is OK, and that may lead people to lie.

    • chezami

      I don’t know that I’d say it’s so much immoral as imprudent. My main question is, “Since they are self-confessed liar who believe that you can lie in order to achieve a good end, why should I trust that they are not likewise lying to me by, say, editing the video to create a false impression? PP has claimed they have done exactly that on previous occasions. How do I know they are wrong? Because I really don’t like PP? That’s the problem with using lying as a tactic. It turns you into a liar and liars are hard to trust.

      • vox borealis

        I get the imprudent argument, but let’s say hypothetically one or more of the films prove to be accurate representations (i.e., not doctored or edited or faked)? What in that case? I guess it’s a variation on the “Nazi science” hypothetical question: would it be ok for researchers to use the results of scientific experiments performed immorally many years ago? Is it ok for archaeologists to study antiquities that were obtained illegally at some time in the past? That sort of thing.

        • chezami

          Assuming the films were accurate, I don’t see what would be wrong with using them, as with the Nazi science stuff. You committed no immoral act obtaining the information. You were simply presented with a fait accompli: good data in finished form. It’s like asking if its immoral to view the pyramids since they were built by slaves. No. It’s immoral to have slaves.

  • Julio

    Hi Mark! I am a high school girl attending Saint John Bosco High School. We have been having a discussion about Live Action. I liked your article btw. Anyway, my class was wondering if you thought that undercover cops were lying then since they take on a fake identity? Thank you

    • chezami

      Hi Julio:

      There is a distinction between lying and withholding information. So if a cop dresses in plainclothes and doesn’t mention he is a cop, he is not lying, just as I am not lying to you by not mentioning what I had for dinner last night. I don’t owe it to you to tell you everything about myself and neither does a cop owe it to a potential criminal to tell him everything about himself. So it *may* be that a cop lies (I suspect it’s likely, but then I’m not a cop so I wouldn’t know). The question is, do cops constitute the template for the Christian life or does Jesus? The fact that cops lie does not prove that lying is good. Cops also enforce immoral laws sometimes, as well as arrest innocent people. The Catechism is very clear; “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned”. If a cop lies, he’s wrong to do it (though he may not be very culplable, if at all, due to ignorance).

      • Julio

        Hi again Mark! Thanks for the response! The action is lying. What do believe the intention of Live Action to be? I know to save lives but wouldn’t also deception be part of the intention? Do you think lying is a mortal sin?

        • chezami

          Hi Julio:

          Live Action seeks a good end. That’s not in doubt. What is in doubt is the *means* to that end. Sin generally consist, not in people wanting an evil end, but in wanting a good thing by wrong means. It’s not wrong to want money, but it is wrong to get it be stealing. It’s not wrong to want to save lives, but it is wrong to tempt people to kill in order to do it. In answer to your question, lying is sometimes a mortal sin (and lying in order to tempt somebody to agree to an act of murder is, I think, gravely sinful too). But most lies are probably venial sins (as in “No. That dress doesn’t make you look fat” or “I think you sing beautifully, Uncle Fred.”)

  • Julio

    Hey Mark! I am a high school girl from Saint John Bosco! We have been having a discussion about Live Action and your article in class. I liked your article btw. Our class though would like to know your opinion on if you think an undercover cop is wrong for lying then?

    • Julio

      please ignore! I see your response thanks

  • I agree that Live Action’s methods are morally problematic. Mark is right about this.

  • newenglandsun

    I had a question. I ran across this on New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.

    “When they are brought about for social reasons, they are called criminal abortions; and they are rightly condemned under any circumstances whatsoever. “Often, very often,” said Dr. Hodge, of the University of Pennsylvania, “must all the eloquence and all the authority of the practitioner be employed; often he must, as it were, grasp the conscience of his weak and erring patient, and let her know, in language not to be misunderstood, that she is responsible to the Creator for the life of the being within her” (Wharton and Stille’s Med. Jurispr., Vol. on Abortion, 11).

    “The name of obstetrical abortion is given by physicians to such as is performed to save the life of the mother. Whether this practice is ever morally lawful we shall consider below.”

    They seem to make a distinction between two types of abortion. But if the first type it seems to suggest that the means of which the woman became pregnant was an act of consensual sex. What about rape? For instance, if a woman (especially in poverty) is raped or the entirety of society lets her down and giving birth to the child would essentially destroy her life, would this be viewed as criminal abortion or obstetrical abortion?

    They also state:

    “The good effects of our acts are then directly intended, and the regretted evil consequences are reluctantly permitted to follow because we cannot avoid them. The evil thus permitted is said to be indirectly intended. It is not imputed to us provided four conditions are verified, namely:

    “That we do not wish the evil effects, but make all reasonable efforts to avoid them;

    “That the immediate effect be good in itself;

    “That the evil is not made a means to obtain the good effect; for this would be to do evil that good might come of it — a procedure never allowed;

    “That the good effect be as important at least as the evil effect.All four conditions may be verified in treating or operating on a woman with child.”