A Response to Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr. is a current columnist for The Daily Beast, although when I first heard of him he worked for CNN, not sure if he still does. He is generally left-leaning, and from what I remember typically writes about issues involving immigration, social issues and the overall U.S. political landscape. The reason I am responding to his most recent column is because I want to issue a warning to pro-choicers who are letting the recent Planned Parenthood videos waffle their opinion about abortion. Now, to be fair to Navarette, he hates writing and even talking about abortion and I get the impression from his column that he has always been ambivalent on the issue. Navarette’s column, I’m Not Sure If I’m Pro-Choice Anymore…, is an interesting read but should also be looked at more in-depth.

Navarette starts out by stating his disgust with the practice of “harvesting of baby organs” and goes on to state the following:

“It’s jarring to see doctors acting as negotiators as they dicker over the price of a fetal liver, heart, or brain, and then talk about how they meticulously go to the trouble of not crushing the most valuable body parts. This practice is perfectly legal, and for some people, it is just a business. With millions of abortions each year in America, business is good.”

As I’ve always stated when writing about this issue, I get that there are millions of folks out there who are horrified by the practice of abortion. Naturally, when you discuss what to do with the fetal remnants, it can be “jarring” to discover that there are people who could benefit from using the fetuses for medical testing. But this is something that has to be highlighted. Because abortion politics have always been hostile, conservatives want to benefit as much as possible from having Planned Parenthood’s back against the well. Conservatives have been trying to make doctors and Planned Parenthood staff members seem like they are evil sadists who tear off fetus parts for fun and dance upon their entrails for the sole purpose of celebrating the right to an abortion. Fortunately, the majority of Americans understand that’s not what’s going on here.

We all have to be realistic when discussing this issue, even those who find the practice of fetal-tissue donation to be repugnant. That also means being honest about the profit motive that is supposedly at the heart of this fiasco. The prices for the fetal parts discussed in the videos ranged from $30-$100. Anybody with any sort of common sense should know that is simply not enough money to get rich off of the practice. Furthermore, anybody with common sense should also realize that the cost of shipping this kind of sensitive material would require more careful packaging than shipping a printer or a chair. The saddest thing about Navarette’s column is that he fell for the conservative group’s strategic editing of the videos. He notes his strong discomfort with Dr. Mary Gatter’s comment that she wanted a Lamborghini without noting that literally one minute later she says that she can’t even drive a Lamborghini. Also, it should be common sense that selling a few fetal parts is not going to add up to the cost of a Lamborghini.

Navarette continues his (possible) conversion on abortion by saying he agrees with the sentiments of The Center For Medical Progress (the anti-abortion group behind the release of the videos). Specifically, that “[a]nyone who watches these videos knows that Planned Parenthood is engaged in barbaric practices and human rights abuses that must end.” Look, I understand if you’re horrified by the practice of what Planned Parenthood does. But to call it barbaric? To say that this qualifies as a human rights abuse? That is quite a stretch. Planned Parenthood is not some underground network engaged in illicit human trafficking. This is not some criminal conspiracy. This is a practice that is overwhelmingly endorsed in the medical community. Just like abortion.

One of the more interesting points of the article is how he became pro-choice in the first place. Navarette says that he was in college during the 1980’s and he saw the debate framed as “…a tug-of-war between competing rights—those of the mother versus those of an unborn baby.” Navarette decided that he sided with the rights of the mother partially because of all the abortion clinic bombings in the 80’s and 90’s (as well as other tactics used by staunch social conservatives), but also because he is a man, and is therefore “proclaim[ing] your neutrality.” Navarette claims that his wife (who is pro-life) states that in order to considered to be a man, you must “…[protect] children—his own children, and other children. That’s what it means to be a man.”

It’s a passionate argument, but not one that persuades me. For one, 20-week old fetuses are not the equivalent of children. I also believe that allowing the people who are most affected by childbirth (the mothers) to have a strong say in what they are allowed to do with their bodies and reproductive systems should be the primary concern. Navarett’s wife may believe this is “cowardly”, but I believe that’s what being a man means. Being a man means being concerned about the health of women, especially those in the extremely vulnerable position of being pregnant. I also do not believe it is “manly” to dictate to a woman that she should be forced by the government or pro-life activists to keep a baby that she does not want. A woman has a right to consult with a doctor as to what the best course for her reproductive health is without people’s opinion on abortion getting in the mix.

I respect Navarette and do not wish to sway him in one direction or another regarding his views on abortion. I am writing to convince others who may feel the way Navarette does not to change their mind. Just because an overzealous anti-abortion group surreptitiously videotaped people speaking in an imprudent and unprofessional manner about a very difficult subject does not mean you have to give in to the outrage. While Planned Parenthood supporters like myself need to acknowledge that not everybody is comfortable with the topic abortion, we need to discuss it. We need to discuss abortion because if only one side of the conversation is heard, then nobody hears the other important side of the conversation. The side that women who seek abortions are not demons, but are often already mothers who cannot bear the cost or resources to raise another child. People need to hear the good side of Planned Parenthood as well. Americans need to know about the women who walk into Planned Parenthood scared they might have breast cancer, or insecure about talking about reproductive health issues with their friends and family.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We all know why The Center For Medical Progress released these undercover videos. Because anti-abortion groups know that they can’t gain any traction on making abortion totally illegal, so they decided to target the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. Their mindset is making the women’s health organization look as iniquitous and disreputable as possible. This way, if they can get the public on their side to defund Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars, Planned Parenthood will struggle financially and therefore abortion will be eradicated. Unfortunately for the CMP, abortions would continue to be just as prevalent if they defunded planned Parenthood because the abortions are not being paid for by the government (even though they should be, but that’s an argument for a different day). Furthermore, eliminating taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood would only do great harm to women of all races, ethnicities and income levels looking to access health services readily available to them.

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