When I started doing asylum work almost 20 years ago, the comfortable cocoon that had been built around me by the nuns and then Bryn Mawr and then my first few jobs in the courtroom and the classroom began to crumble. It wasn’t that I ignored the evil in the world or that I acted like Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” My father had died of cancer, my brother had committed suicide, there’d been a war in Bosnia and another one in Rwanda, and O.J. Simpson got away with murder.
Pollyanna had left the building a long time before.
But it was only when I started handling the cases of people who had been tortured for their beliefs, or their ethnicity, or their political principles, or simply because they wanted more than one baby to love, that I realized the depth of inhumanity. It may sound callous, but passing by a homeless person in the streets didn’t tell me as much about isolation and despair as the story of Joseph, who’d been beaten with electrical cords in Lebanon but still refused to spit on the crucifix they pushed in his face. Watching the lady in the supermarket checkout line whip out her food stamps and calculate what item to return didn’t touch me as profoundly as the story of Galina, who’d been raped by her cousins and ostracized because she was gay. Life after life, face after face, case after case taught me that evil was not buried with the legendary monsters of the past.
Asylum work heightens your perception of evil and at the same time teaches you to expect it in unexpected places. Hannah Arendt once famously talked about the banality of evil and she was right. It is not just the towering Hitlers and Stalins and Pol Pots and Mao Zedongs and Robert Mugabes who are capable of gross inhumanity. The capacity for evil lurks inside the most normal, most benign-looking good citizens who go about their daily work without a worry or a care. It manifests itself in their ability to ignore the darkness inside of them, that then spreads from their hearts and hands to the greater world.
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By now you must know I’m talking about Planned Parenthood. If you support that organization because of all the “good” it supposedly does for women, all the phantom mammograms and nutritional counseling and pap smears and whatever else they put on the humanitarian menu, you might want to stop reading now. If you continue, you will see why I consider a Planned Parenthood clinic to be no different from the killing fields of Cambodia. And this will make you angry, and you will try and come back with excuses like the excuses I’ve heard all week for why this multimillion dollar organization treats 5-month-old, pre-born children no better than specimens in a jar of formaldehyde.
By now, we’ve all seen at least some parts of the videos filmed by The Center for Medical Progress, an admittedly anti-abortion organization. They are not the work of unbiased scientists or documentarians interested in creating informative but bland features about the ins and outs of medical research. Clearly, these videos were designed to anger, to incite and to indict an entire industry that has grown exponentially since 1973, when Roe v. Wade made it legal to mutilate a fetus in each of the 50 states. Not even the most dedicated anti-abortion activist would deny that these videos are a cinematic “J'accuse” against a practice that dehumanizes what is inconveniently human: the second- and third-trimester fetus. I would personally argue that the moment egg meets sperm a human life is created, but the point of this column is not to convince you that life begins at conception. That is wasted breath, and I have a more urgent obligation.
The point of this column is to scream, at the top of lungs that have not been harvested for sale or starring roles in a Mengele scenario, that what is depicted in both the edited and full length videos that came to light this week transcends the horrors that I’ve studied in my office, presented to judges and tried to extinguish with the help of a benevolent government.
The discussions about Lamborghinis to be purchased with the blood money from tiny severed limbs, about using ultrasound to better target hearts and kidneys and livers for experiments, about being careful not to say too much for fear that the lawyers might get wise and shut them down, about not “crunching” fragile baby carcasses because it would reduce the value of the hoped-for exchange, are chilling.
More than chilling, they are an indictment written in the language of our ancestors lodged against the smug and unapologetic complacency of a society that thinks it is Promethean. We do not recognize a higher order or obligation, and we arrogate to ourselves the right to create and extinguish life as we see fit. The byproduct of reproduction, as Planned Parenthood would term it, has no value beyond the value an unwilling mother gives it, and so it can be treated like a commodity which – squeezed of its spirit and divine fire – can be packaged for resale on the medical market.
No amount of obfuscation about how this “tissue” can help cure cancer or give sight to the blind or restore paralyzed limbs to grace changes the fact that Planned Parenthood engages in the most repulsive and hideous of practices: exploitation of a mutilated human body. And all of the editorials, written by skittish eugenicists, and all of the tap dancing done by self-righteous feminists will not hide that grisly fact.
When I complete an asylum case, I am able to put the memory of my client’s former persecution in perspective, knowing that they are now in a safe and loving place. The dark shadows of their past dissipate, for me if not for them, with the promise of a new life in America.
But the evil that I’ve seen in the faces and voices and intentions of the women of Planned Parenthood cannot be so easily neutralized, or erased from my conscious mind.
If we do not speak out, and stop this madness, we will lose our claim on humanity.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.