Is it Wrong to Lie to Planned Parenthood?

The past few weeks have seen the release of a series of undercover videos, created by a group called Live Action, which styles itself as “a new media movement for life”.  The videos were taken as part of an undercover “sting” — they sent actors, pretending to be pimps who were prostituting minors,  into Planned Parenthood clinics to see what advice they would be given.

The results of these videos is horrifying.  Time after time, the Planned Parenthood workers, without any apparent qualms, conspire with the “pimp” to facilitate his sex abuse of young girls, and even coach him on how he can continue to exploit them.  These disgusting scenes are no surprise, of course, to anyone who is familiar with the activities of Planned Parenthood.  That evil organization is part of the sex industry — it corrupts the morals of minors through “sex education”, it facilitates immorality by disseminating contraceptives to minors, and it helps to eliminate the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior by aborting over 300,000 babies a year.

In a certain respect, this is old news.  But what is new is a discussion among pro-lifers, particularly among Catholics, about whether the tactics of Live Action are morally acceptable.

The debate was kicked off by Christopher Tollefsen, a moral philosopher, with a very tightly reasoned article.  He based his argument on a Thomistic definition of what a lie is — an assertion that is contrary to a truth that is believed by the speaker.  So, for example, the military ruse or the bluff in poker is not a lie, in that it does not represent a denial of a truth believed by the actor.  But in the case of the Live Action tactic, the actor plainly asserted “I am a pimp”, knowing that he is not — hence, he was lying.

Tollefsen is certainly right that the Church has always unequivocally condemned lying.  The modern Catechism is very clear on this (see CCC 2482-86).  The Catechism of the Council of Trent — which was seen as authoritative in the Church for four centuries — is absolutely unequivocal and rigorous about this issue, and specifically condemns the idea that one may lie to one’s enemies or in order to gain some kind of advantage.  Pope  Pius X’s Catechism, issued at the beginning of the last century, was equally unambiguous in its condemnation of all kinds of lying.

Indeed, how could we think otherwise?  The Gospel for today, from the Sermon on the Mount, shows Our Lord exhorting us to reject angry words, lustful thoughts, and lack of charity to our brethren.  Can we imagine Jesus approving lying to anyone, even to abortionists — He who commanded us to love our enemies?

To me, the worst problem with lying to anyone, even one’s enemies, is the effect on my own soul and my character.  Here’s what Pope John Paul said about this in Veritatis Splendor:

“Human acts are moral acts because they express and determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them. They do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his profound spiritual traits. This was perceptively noted by Saint Gregory of Nyssa: “… we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions”. (71)

So, by lying to the Planned Parenthood clerk, what am I creating myself into?  A disciple of Christ, or something else?

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