Abortion: “Loopholes” and Attitudes

Earlier this week, Dr. Scott Gottlieb wrote in the Wall Street Journal about “Closing the Planned Parenthood Loophole.”  In his article (which was accompanied by a photo of a 12-week fetus), Dr. Gottlieb argued that the 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act should be amended to delete the word “solely” from the requirement that the doctor performing the abortion certify that “no alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy was made solely for the purposes of obtaining the tissue.”  That “solely,” Dr. Gottlieb argues, allows Planned Parenthood (or another entity providing fetal tissue from abortions for the sake of research) to claim it is in accord with the letter of the law, while clearly flouting its spirit.

Well enough.  But Dr. Gottlieb also spends considerable effort to claim that the research requiring newly-acquired fetal tissue is uncommon, or can be done with embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, or fetal cells that are already available.  (Presumably, induced pluripotent stem cells could also be used.)  “The market for fetal tissue is limited… [and] the demand for the tissue isn’t that high.”  So, toughening the laws in this regard would have “little consequence” to research that is supposedly “essential.” 

So why not just ban the use of newly-acquired fetal tissue for research, if the need is low or even non-existent?  The Journal has also recently reported on proposed state laws that would do just that.  A proposal in Wisconsin has apparently rankled the dean of the medical school there, who pronounces such a law “bizarre…it will turn the lights off on research.”

I guess I’d like to see an accounting of all the critical research that would be shut down.  Until then, I’m inclined to agree with Dr. Gottlieb.   At a minimum, ethical boundaries encroached by using newly-aborted fetal tissue for research should be avoided if there other ways to do the research.

Elsewhere, Thomas Edsall of the New York Times thinks that horror over Planned Parenthood’s practices is just a Trojan Horse for opposition that should include contraception, if pro-life advocates are being consistent.  He refers to the “Republican Conception of Conception,” as if when conception occurs is a determined by political opinion, not biological fact.  Silly me:  I was rather convinced this past June by Dr. Maureen Condic’s demonstration that a new human organism is formed in the quarter of a second after sperm meets egg.  (You can order the audio online here.)

But Edsall’s error—a rather sophomoric one, in my opinion—is to claim that if one advocates public policy limiting or banning abortion, one must also advocate policy banning contraception.  To be sure, a moral concern for life from the moment of conception should give one pause about certain forms of contraception, such as the “morning-after pill,” the IUD, and maybe standard oral contraceptives.  But one may hold moral concerns about these but still be willing, as a practical matter in a pluralistic society, to take the partial step to limit abortion, and certainly to limit what is done with the aborted baby.  Such steps would be in the right direction.

What Edsall is really up to, of course, is avoiding the issues at hand: abortion, the use of it as a means to an end (procuring tissue), and the practices that should horrify us all, as Tom Garigan reminded us earlier this week.

Further to that, I insist that anyone who takes the “pro-choice” position read and take to heart Dr. Richard Selzer’s essay, “Abortion,” in Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery.  Pages 153-160.  Then I defy you to defend Planned Parenthood’s conduct, especially if you are a physician.

Written in 1974, folks.  1974.  Exactly what “pro-choice” wisdom has been gained in the ensuing 41 years?

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