One of my Facebook friends keeps up with the latest doings at Live Action Films and its “Mona Lisa Project” (MLP). It seems Lila Rose is at it again, with yet another devastating expose of Planned Parenthood.
I won’t win many friends among dedicated pro-lifers by stating that I’m not sure about the morality of what Lila Rose does, but I’m going to say it anyway. I hope by now at least the regular readers of American Catholic know that I am unreservedly and ardently pro-life. And it is because I believe so strongly in our right speak the truth – as I articulated at the time of George Tiller’s demise – by using powerful images and words to convey the realities of abortion that I find myself quite disenchanted with the MLP.
My first problem is that lying is a sin. On the scale of things, what Planned Parenthood does to innocent unborn children is worse – far worse – than what Lila Rose does to Planned Parenthood. But that does not make what Lila Rose does morally acceptable. And it is all the more relevant for us since Lila Rose has recently joined the Catholic Church!
The Catechism says with regards to lying:
“A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. “Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.” (2482-2483)
More importantly for the purposes of this particular scenario, it also says:
“A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.”(1753)
Now, I anticipate various objections to the effect that what Lila Rose is doing is actually exposing the truth. And there can be no doubt that she is. But is it possible to deny that her systematic deception of Planned Parenthood employees is not lying, is not intrinsically disordered?
This raises a lot of unanswered questions about undercover work in general, which at first glance would appear to be intrinsically immoral, but on second glance, appears to be routine activity for police and investigative journalists.
What bothers me is that most of the articles I come across in praise of MLP and Lila Rose, as well as message board discussions, do not address the issue at all. Even Archbishop Charles Chaput fails to mention it when writing of this project, taking the morality of this sort of undercover work entirely for granted.
It just isn’t that easy for me, when I see what the Catechism says. Far be it for me to presume to know more about Catholic morality than the Archbishop, but I’ve yet to see anyone address the issue in a way that would set my mind at ease. If undercover work is moral, then some of what the MLP does is acceptable. Some, but not all.
For instance, I do not believe that the nervous responses of low-level flunkies, or even high level representatives on the telephone can honestly be used to indicate a national conspiracy of racism and endorsement of statutory rape. Attempts to link such responses to the racist philosophy of Margaret Sanger, as if everyone who works at a Planned Parenthood is a willing and conscious participant in a racist conspiracy, only count as more deception in my eyes (I think they just wanted the promised donation).
These are usually clear cases of entrapment, which goes beyond undercover work (which I am still not clear on) and crosses over into something I find highly immoral when the police do it, and even worse when someone claiming to be a Catholic Christian does it.
In the end I believe the truth of abortion is more powerful than the efforts of Planned Parenthood and other institutions involved in providing and propagandizing for abortion to suppress that truth. Let us support courageous men like the Reverend Walter Hoye, who have gone to jail for telling the truth to women, informing them that there are alternatives to abortion and people who care enough about them to help them make use of them. Or the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which tours college campuses with large displays of aborted fetuses and engages in lively debate with the students who come by.
As for undercover exposes involving the use of direct and deliberate deception, it may well be that, somehow, they are licit. If so, I would encourage their use. But I would discourage conspiracy theorizing and just stick to the facts. And I would absolutely reject even a whiff of entrapment.
Update: For Deal Hudson’s take on this post, and my answer to him below, go here.