Concern for animals and concern for prenatal children are different sets of issues. Obviously.
But as these two sets of issues collided in the public sphere last week—with the Planned Parenthood scandal and the outrage over Cecil the lion trending at the same time—similarities began to emerge. As Noemie Emery mentioned in her Washington Examiner column, both sets of activists “may find they have something in common.”
Think this is absurd? You’re not alone, but think for a moment what drives animal activists. Their primary concern is for the vulnerable—those pushed to the margins of our culture—and particularly those who don’t have a voice to speak up in their own defense. They point out how profoundly inconvenient the dignity of animals is in our culture, and particularly for big corporations which raise billions of animals torturous factory farms. They call us out for participating in practices that violently raise and kill animals, and urge government to stop supporting the corporations that practice this violence on an unimaginably large scale.
But the violence is pushed away from view precisely so we don’t have to think about it. We can go on our merry way, eating whatever is put in front of us without having to think much about how it got there. In response, animal activists have used undercover video to force us to confront the abject cruelty to which these billions of animals are subjected. Perhaps we can find reasons to justify these practices, but in doing so we ought to do so honestly confront the reality of our practices.
Undercover Videos Promote Public Discourse
Understandably, owners of factory farms have used their considerable resources to try to get these videos quashed. They complain the videos animal activists take are selectively edited. They argue their primary concern is the poor who could never afford anything other than the cheap meat they provide. Their highly paid lobbyists—and well-placed campaign donations—have been quite successful in passing “ag-gag” bills passed in several states. They essentially make it illegal to take video or photographs in factory farms.
Last Monday a federal judge overturned an ag-gag law in Idaho, arguing this protected speech is “a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message” and “can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistle-blower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored.” The judge also insisted that society has “the civic duty to participate in open, dynamic, and rational discourse” and this is not well-served by government mandates regulating speech.
Back to abortion. Our discourse on this issue is anything but open, dynamic, and rational. Much like the reality of violence toward animals, the massive violence inflicted on prenatal children has been pushed the margins of our culture so we aren’t forced to confront its deeply uncomfortable and inconvenient reality. These children also can’t speak up in their own defense, so pro-life activists have worked to call out both our personal participation in the violence and its government support with the billions of tax dollars government gives organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Consider the Parallels
Much like animal activists, pro-life activists are increasingly using undercover video to force us to confront the violent reality of our abortion practices. Perhaps we can find a reason to continue such practices, but our discourse on this topic is anything but open about what’s actually happening in abortion clinics. The investigative journalism done by the Center for Medical Progress is an attempt to force us to be intellectually honest. More needs to be done—particularly by our major media organizations—but it is a start.
Understandably, Planned Parenthood has used their considerable resources to try to get these videos quashed. They complain that the videos taken by pro-life activists are selectively edited. They argue that their primary concern is the poor who could never afford anything other than the health care they provide. Their highly paid lobbyists—and well-placed campaign donations—have, until recently, been quite successful in keeping their abortion practices largely hidden from public view. Now it turns out that the federal judge who has ordered certain undercover videos to be temporarily suppressed was not only appointed by President Obama, but has raised huge money for the Obama administration.
Will pro-lifers receive equal protection under the First Amendment with respect to their speech? For decades, activists who spoke out against Planned Parenthood’s practices were disbelieved or ignored. Like animal activists, they have been dismissed as irrational extremists for decades. But in the last few weeks we have now been confronted with direct video evidence which has been uniquely persuasive in vindicating their longstanding cries for justice.
Undercover Videos Are Only a Start
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wisely urged us to live of life which can “bear the full light of day.” Powerful organizations like food corporations and Planned Parenthood are armed with the best lobbyists, lawyers, and public-relations firms their billions can buy. But undercover videos have now revealed practices that simply cannot bear the full light of day. The overwhelming majority of Americans who are intellectually honest admit they find the videos disturbing, and that something ought to be done to address the terrible violence such videos force us to confront.
This is an important first step. Beginning an authentic public conversation requires that we confront the truth, but there is still a mountain of work to do. The wide availability of factory-farmed meat and abortion on demand have been integrated into our culture in deep and profound ways. Indeed, it may be difficult to see how we might do things differently.
But it light of other moments in our culture’s history—like the fight for civil rights—we have proven that we can fundamentally change deeply ingrained practices in the interest of justice. Indeed, the next generation is already moving in this direction. As I argued in the Los Angeles Times recently, young people are disproportionately in favor of animal protection while at the same time being disproportionately anti-abortion. Not least because of YouTube and 3D ultrasounds, they’ve grown up facing the reality of these vulnerable populations in ways that Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have not.
Again, the videos are a good start. Now it’s up to us to seize the opportunity for a new conversation making a smart, compassionate, public cases for the dignity of these vulnerable populations. They can’t speak in their own defense—so it’s up to us to speak for them.