The laws governing the market for fetal tissue are weak, in part because federal courts have insisted on their being weak. A pro-life group has brought new attention to this market with a series of undercover videos. Those videos showed Planned Parenthood officials talking about getting usable fetal organs, selling them, and setting prices for them. The obvious goal of the videos was to bring home the dehumanization and savagery entailed by our abortion regime. The callousness of some of those officials helped to illustrate the pro-life group’s point, and indeed elicited an apology from the head of Planned Parenthood. Pro-life public officials used the videos to bolster their case that the nation’s top provider of abortions should not count the government as its top source of funds.
Apologists for Planned Parenthood have seized on a secondary point—that the organization’s treatment of fetal remains has not been proven to break any laws—to strengthen their case that the videos have been discredited and that pro-lifers have been conducting a smear campaign.
Thus Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate:
What [pro-life politicians] are saying is a lie. Every single state to have investigated the Planned Parenthood baby-parts accusations has found nothing. The congressional search has also turned up nothing. The videos cited repeatedly by Fiorina and co. do not prove what they set out to prove. There is no factual or empirical basis from which to believe that Planned Parenthood sells fetal parts for money.
The first link takes you to a New York magazine write-up that in turn links to those state investigations—and, in some cases, “investigations.” The first sentence of the report on South Dakota reads, “The state Health Department says it hasn’t received any reports or evidence that the sale of fetal tissue has occurred in South Dakota since the department started regulating abortion facilities in 2006.” Oh, ok then.
Assume that all of these states went through an active and thorough inquiry, though, and Lithwick’s conclusion still isn’t correct. That we do not have proof of lawbreaking by Planned Parenthood does not mean we do not have evidence that it participates in the exchange of fetal tissue for money. Planned Parenthood, after the videos came out, announced that it would stop taking money for fetal tissue, which would seem to be conclusive evidence that it previously did so. As for whether this was merely “reimbursement,” we have the videos themselves, in which a Planned Parenthood official says that abortion clinics “can do a little better than break even” from this market, and another one says they can make “a fair amount of income.”
Lithwick’s assertion that pro-lifers are lying is wrong for an additional reason. Usually people use “lie” to describe when someone says something he knows, or has very good reason to believe, is false. That’s why “he’s lying” has more sting than “he’s getting his facts wrong.” Presumably it’s why Lithwick uses a form of the word eight times in her article. But she presents weak evidence that pro-lifers are getting their facts wrong, and no evidence that they are deliberately doing so.
Lithwick goes after Carly Fiorina in particular.
Carly Fiorina was quick to disclaim any kind of connection between her demonization of Planned Parenthood for its alleged profiteering from “baby parts” and the actions of Dear on Friday. Indeed, the real criminal here was not the man who killed three innocents in a clinic but the vicious left-wing media who dared attempt to find connections between Dear’s stated motives and his crime: “It is so typical of the left to begin demonizing the messenger because they don’t agree with your message,” raged Fiorina. “So, what I would say to anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion, or opposes the sale of body parts, is this is typical left-wing tactics.”
Here’s the video; you can decide for yourself whether Fiorina “raged” at any point in her comments. (Personally, I think that the use of this kind of verb instead of “said” is both bad writing and a cheap propaganda trick.) You can also see that Fiorina was asked specifically about whether pro-lifers are to blame for the Colorado Springs murders; she was certainly not saying that pro-choice journalists are in any sense worse than the murderer. Lithwick knows that perfectly well. Which means that there’s a word—a stronger one than “hyperbole” or “caricature”—for how she described Fiorina’s comments.