Posts Tagged ‘Live Action’

A Response to Objections

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

In my last blog post, I discussed the morality of the undercover operations of Live Action, the pro-life group, directed against Planned Parenthood. In that post, I cited an article by philosopher Christopher Tollefsen, in which he concluded that the undercover initiative, since it involves lying to the Planned Parenthood staff, is immoral.

Other Catholic theologians have responded to this, seeking ways to justify what Live Action has done.  This has generally fallen into several kinds of approaches.

One response has involved defining “lying” in a way so that Live Action does not fall under the prohibition.   So, for example, they will argue that it is not a lie to speak falsely to someone who does not have a right to the truth.  The example of this might include refusing to reveal to the Nazis at the door that you are hiding Jews inside.  Of course, this is a false comparison in any event, since the person confronted with such a demand is hardly free to act.  Any response they give would be coerced, and thus not a genuine moral act — quite unlike Live Action’s free choice to engage in their undercover activities.

Still, this kind of point can be a valid argument under the Church’s teaching.  There are indeed times when I may not speak the truth.  So, for example, the Catechism (2489) says:

Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

There is a problem, however, in relying on this passage.  The section of the Catechism in which this appears relates to situations in which a person has information they are under some obligation to protect as confidential — such as information that would endanger the privacy, reputation or safety of another, a professional secret, or the seal of the confessional.   This passage, on its very terms and seen in the larger context, clearly does not apply to the situation in which the Live Action people placed themselves, since they deliberately set out to deceive the Planned Parenthood workers, and they neither were silent nor used discrete language — they made clear and repeated false representations  about their identity and activities.

A second response is to compare Live Action’s operation to a “ruse de guerre”, such as an ambush or the use of a feint in military operations.  But these actions are actually permissible under the Catechism section cited above, and those that follow it (see CCC 2491), which require that officers maintain military secrets — such as the true objectives of their movements — in order to preserve the lives of their soldiers.  However, Live Action is not at war, and their ruse was not necessary to preserve the lives of anyone.

Another response to Tollefsen’s argument, however, is less legitimate under Catholic teaching, and is actually quite dangerous.  This claims that Live Action’s tactics are necessary to serve a higher purpose — exposing the evil of Planned Parenthood.  These proponents cite the analogy to the need to lie in order to effectively engage in activities like undercover police work or in spying.

While this argument is superficially compelling, there are several problems with it.  Live Action is not a government agency, acting under color of authority to enforce the law or defend the nation — they are private parties, acting on their own initiative.   In addition, undercover agents and spies are actually who they claim to be — they actually are drug buyers, for example — but they justifiably protect a professional secret (i.e., their actual identity and profession), in order to preserve their own safety and that of others (see the Catechism sections cited above).

But the most significant problem, is that this argument is openly consequentialist (“end justifies the means”) and proportionalist (“the good outweighs the evil”) — neither of which is an acceptable Christian position.  Indeed, both of these approaches have been specifically condemned by the Church, most clearly in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on moral doctrine, Veritatis Splendor.

The danger of this line of argumentation is in what it leads to.  There seems to be a fear that the moral law will preclude us from doing things that we really want to do.  But “I really want to do it, so it must be morally permissible” is a terrible and dangerous reason to carve out very subtle exceptions to a very, very clear moral law.  This argument frequently boils down to a sentiment that “living in the real world” requires actions like this, regardless of what thinkers in academia might believe in their abstract world.  Thus argues the torturer, and the apologist for carpet bombing civilians.  That’s not where a Christian disciple should be going.

In many ways, that’s what this whole argument comes down to.  Am I a disciple of Christ, or am I relying on “worldly wisdom”?  In this context, it would be worthwhile reminding ourselves of St. Paul’s admonition:

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Rom. 12:2)

Is it Wrong to Lie to Planned Parenthood?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

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?

Turning the Tables on the Culture of Death

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

In the last several weeks, two women have given us fine examples on how to turn the tables on the Culture of Death by doing a very simple thing — exposing the truth about abortion.

Our first truth-teller is Catherine Davis, the minority-outreach director for Georgia Right-to-Life.  An African-American, Ms. Davis looked into the impact of abortion on blacks and was horrified at what she found — although blacks make up only 13% of the American population, they have almost 40% of abortions, and almost 40% of black pregnancies end in abortion.

Her response was to start going to black churches and communities, and talking about this little-known truth.  The reaction has been striking, as blacks have reacted in horror to what is happening in their families.

Her most recent effort has garnered a lot of attention, even in the mainstream media.  A series of billboards have been put up in the Atlanta with the provocative statement, “Black children are an endangered species”, and a Web site,  The news media has reacted by reporting on the “racial controversy”, but it has enabled Ms. Davis to get her point across.

Good for her.

Our second truth-teller is Lila Rose, who has released the latest of her series of video exposes of what goes on in Planned Parenthood abortion clinics when she goes in, posing as a pregnant teenager made pregnant by an adult. You can view her videos at her website, Live Action.

She has consistently found that the clinic workers tell teenage girls to lie about the age of the men who got them pregnant, to evade laws requiring them to report incidents of statutory rape.  They also give advice on how to evade laws requiring parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion.  These exposes have actually led to some investigations of Planned Parenthood clinics.

Good for her.

Unfortunately, the rampant lawlessness of Planned Parenthood hasn’t stopped them from enjoying public favor and large amounts of government funding.  Maybe that would change if they were a car maker with faulty accelerators instead of an organization that corrupts young people with wicked “sex education” and kills a quarter of a million children each year.

These incidents highlight once again that our greatest weapon in fighting the Culture of Death is the truth.  And that individuals can make a difference in the cause of life by standing up and speaking the truth.