Trafficking in fetal remains

by Jay Johansen
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An anti- anti-abortion editorial

In 1999 evidence came to light that abortionists were selling body parts from aborted babies for use in medical research, transplants, or whatever other uses one might have.

An editorial has been published in various newspapers around the country titled, "Extremists trafficking in fetal remains", by Lynn Morgan, who is described as a professor of anthropology. If I may summarize, she says that there is really no issue here because, first, she doubts that such sales are really taking place, and second, even if they are, such sales are already illegal, so there is nothing to debate. Thus, she concludes, this is just an effort by "anti-abortion zealots" to "exploit fetal remains for propaganda purposes".

Her point is apparently to spin a little irony: pro-lifers accuse abortionists of profitting from the sale of baby parts (in cash), but in reality it is the pro-lifers who are profitting from it (in propaganda value). But along the way, her logic is a bit faulty.

Are abortionists selling unborn baby's body parts?

Life Dynamics, the organization that has done the most to bring this affair to light, has accumulated an enormous amount of documentary evidence to substantiate their charges. I have before me a collection of over 60 papers that they have obtained that document sales of fetal body pars. Most of these are matter-of-fact descriptions of body parts wanted with descriptions of how they are to be prepared and shipped. Several helpfully give a Federal Express account number that can be billed for the shipping charges. Perhaps the most chilling is a price list from a company called "Opening Lines", that simply lists body parts and prices, like "Livers ... $150", "Ears ... $75", "Eyes ... $75", "Brain ... $999", etc, with a conventional disclaimer at the bottom, "Prices in effect through December 31, 1999". Furthermore, they even found someone who had been involved in some of these transactions and who now had a change of heart and was willing to speak out about it.

Dismissing the evidence

Against this, Ms Morgan offers the curious rebuttal that all this evidence should be ignored because "all the information cited was provided by an anti-abortion outfit called Life Dynamics", and that Life Dynamics "trains anti-abortion activists and devises new strategies to turn the public against abortion". Apparently we are supposed to conclude that because this information was publicized by an organization that opposes abortion, that therefore the evidence can simply be dismissed. But seriously now: Would we really expect a pro-abortion organization to publicize information that would embarass themselves? Who else would publish information damaging to the abortion industry except someone who opposed abortion? Even if someone who was truly undecided on the issue came out with such information, I can't help but wonder if Ms Morgan would claim that the very fact that they had publicized it proved that they were anti-abortion and therefore biased. Will Ms Morgan insist that the same standard be applied in evaluating information about other controversial issues? If a civil rights group publicizes information about incidents of discrimination, should their evidence be ignored because they are a civil rights group and therefore "biased"? Should we refuse to believe any evidence about racist acts unless it is vouched for by the Ku Klux Klan? Really now.

Sure, I readily concede that the fact that someone has a strong opinion about an issue should lead us to demand evidence to back up their claims, and not just take their word for it. If, say, the National Banana Growers Association were to claim that eating bananas cures cancer, I would surely take one look at the claim, another look at the name, and ask to see some evidence before I simply accepted this. But while it would be naive to simply believe such a claim without seeing any evidence, it would be equally foolish to reject such a claim without looking at the evidence just because the people giving it are not neutral observers. Life Dynamics was apparently well aware of this, because they went to considerable efforts to accumulate a pile of documentary evidence and eye-witness testimony. (Before I start getting angry responses from banana growers that I am maligning their industry, let me hasten to clarify that I just invented this as a hypothetical example.)

By the way, the bio of Ms Morgan mentions that she edited a book about abortion. Was this book pro-abortion? If so, does this mean that anything she writes about abortion should be likewise ignored, because she too is "biased"?

Other rebuttals

Morgan's only real response to the evidence itself is this:

First, she asks, "Why did the one technician interviewed ... tell her story to Life Dynamics but not to the mainstream media?" But surely the obvious reply is that the mainstream media were not interested in covering this story. For example, the paper in which I saw this editorial, the Dayton Daily News, knew about this issue for many months. Even if they heard about it nowhere else, I know that Dayton Right to Life showed them the documentary evidence and urged them to cover the story. They apparently declined to do so. To the best of my knowledge, the first time they mentioned it was when they printed this editorial claiming that the whole story was pretty much fabricated. I wonder if this didn't puzzle their readers: surely most of them didn't know there was a story until the paper "explained" that there wasn't. Of course the Dayton Daily News was not the only media outlet to bury the story: most of the national media said absolutely nothing about it either.

Second, she writes that Life Dynamics "named two companies allegedly engaged in illegal trafficking, but both had packed up and disconnected their phones before reporters or legislators could talk to them. The evidence is shaky at best." I must admit that I find this line of reasoning absolutely baffling. Two companies are accused of engaging in illegal activities. Before the media can interview them or the authorities can investigate, they pack up and leave town. And Ms Morgan therefore concludes that this is proof that they are innocent and the charges are baseless?? Surely if they did nothing wrong, or if it was even debatable, they would have stuck around and given statements to the press about how innocent they were, maybe even talked about bringing law suits for libel. Suppose it had been the other way around: suppose Life Dynamics and made all these accusations, and then when reporters showed up to interview them, they found the office abandoned and everyone disappeared. Would this be taken as proof that their charges were true?

Why Congress shouldn't be holding hearings

Finally, Ms Morgan says that the whole subject is irrelevant because selling body parts is already illegal. She specifically ridicules the idea of Congress holding hearings on the subject, saying that there is nothing to discuss: if anyone is really doing this, they should simply be prosecuted. Well, I'd be the last to insist that Congressional hearings do a lot to solve any problem, but it is not at all clear why the fact that something is illegal makes hearings on the subject irrelevant. Congress routinely holds hearings on the drug problem, on racketeering, on official corruption, on all sorts of things that are illegal. Presumably the goal of these hearings is not to decide whether the thing should be made illegal, but rather to investigate questions like "Are the existing laws working?" or "What can be done to make the laws more effective?".

In this case, there is plenty of evidence that body parts are being bought and sold despite the laws against it. There are many questions that it is quite legitimate for Congress to investigate: First, of course, would be, Are the charges true? If they are, is this a widespread problem, or just a couple of isolated incidents? Are law enforcement authorities equipped to handle the problem, or should something be done to improve enforcement? Etc.

One might also note that in this case there was a very specific legal question to be discussed: It is illegal to sell human body parts, but there is no law against charging for services related to the handling of body parts. For example, if you donate a kidney for transplant, it is illegal for the recipient (or anyone else) to give you money for your kidney. But there is no law against the doctor charging for his services in performing the transplant, or against a shipping company receiving money to transport the kidney from the hospital where it is removed from you to the hospital where it is transplanted into the other person, etc. Is this a loophole? Some abortionists defended themselves by claiming that they were not selling body parts, but rather selling their services in "harvesting" and preparing these body parts.

Why is it effective propaganda?

Ms Morgan tries to make pro-lifers the villians of the story with the claim that they are trying to use the sale of the body parts of unborn babies for "propaganda". Now let's think about this for a moment. How can she think this has such great propaganda value for pro-lifers, unless she implicitly concedes that, if in fact the charges are true, that this is something outrageous and offensive? And what would make it outageous and offensive, unless we are talking about killing human beings and selling their body parts for money? If this is just a "glob of tissue" as pro-abortionists have been insisting for decades, how would there be any propaganda value in revealing that it is being bought and sold? If a reporter came out with an "exposé" revealing that women were being paid to donate their hair to make wigs, would anyone be excited about this? Could it be used as propaganda by an "anti-wig" or "pro-hair" movement? It's hard to imagine. Why not? Because hair is just a part of a woman's body and she is not harmed by selling some of it. Any attempt to make a scandal out of this would leave people asking, So what?

Ms Morgan's fear that pro-lifers will use the sale of fetal body parts for propaganda must make us wonder: Does Ms Morgan herself believe that fetuses are, in fact, babies, and that cutting them up and selling them for parts is something ... disreputable? Perhaps she is afraid that people who hear about this will conclude that an unborn child is not just a "part of his mother's body". After all, if there was any question about that before, the fact that abortionists routinely talked -- among themselves -- about his "eyes", "liver", "brain", and so on clearly prove that this is not just a "glob of tissue". Globs of tissue do not have body parts that can be sold. Living creaturess do. And killing a human being so that you can sell his body parts for profit is simply wrong, regardless of how old he is.

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Posted 10 Jan 2001.

Copyright 2001 by Pregnant Pause
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