...that makes it sound like Planned Parenthood almost never performs abortions. Of course, the reality is rather different.... And even if they weren't massaging the numbers - even if their non-abortion business were enormous enough to make that three percent claim legitimate - they would still be performing more than 250,000 abortions a year. That's a 2, a 5, and four zeros....In other words, the good Planned Parenthood might do in preventing abortions is outweighed by the evil they do in preventing abortion. Isn't there something missing in this equation, though? The people who are arguing that someone like Ross should value Planned Parenthood aren't saying merely that Planned Parenthood does good that should outweigh what Ross perceives as the evil in the abortions they provide. They're saying that Planned Parenthood, on net, prevents more abortions than it provides, from the massive amount of birth control, family planning and emergency contraception they provide. (Before you jump down my throat, please be aware that there is no evidence Plan B ever acts as an abortifacient.)
Now, you can argue with whether or not that's true. Unfortunately, we're talking about hypotheticals here. Ross can count up all the abortions performed by Planned Parenthood, while I can't ever know exactly how many were prevented by the birth control and education provided by Planned Parenthood. How would you even go about defining that? Every time someone has sex while using contraception provided by Planned Parenthood, would that count as a prevented abortion? If so, then Planned Parenthood's number of prevented abortions is orders of magnitude bigger than than the number it has provided. I imagine that Ross wouldn't define it that way. I think the number prevented is a lot higher, but it's unknowable. In this, supporters of PP are kind of disadvantaged in the same way that Conor says economic conservatives are disadvantaged: we can't ever know precisely the amount of good, only the amount of bad.
So I don't think Planned Parenthood is like Hezbollah, building hospitals here, murdering innocent Israelis there. I think, if you believe abortion is murder, it's more like a drug that inoculates against a plague, but kills some of the people who take it-- sometimes it's a killer, but many times it saves lives. (Uh, I think. I'm kind of on shaky ground with this analogy.)
Also relevant-- Ross is the same person who said that the politics of abortion is part of the art of the possible, and stated matter-of-factly that the goal of a pro-lifer is to be pragmatic and reduce the number of abortions in the United States, regardless of whether or not doing so was perfectly in line with pro-life philosophy or principles. So which is it? Is the pro-life cause's duty to lower the net number of abortions or not? If the answer is yes, I can't see how Ross can argue against holding his nose and supporting Planned Parenthood. That's what a pragmatic opponent of abortion's duty would be, and that's the kind of pro-life Ross asserted he was in that older post responding to me.
Update: Hmmm, well the last paragraph doesn't quite follow-- the way Ross could be both an abortion pragmatist and not support (whatever that means) Planned Parenthood is if, as I said was possible, he doesn't actually think they prevent more abortions than they provide. Which brings us back to the unknowability problem.
Update II: "Award-winning columnist, reporter, editor, author, bon vivant and raconteur" Robert Stacey McCain responds to me, or really, responds to my comments on John Schwenkler's response to me, so check both out. Worth saying that I didn't actually call myself a pragmatist; I don't think a fetus has human rights, so there's no conflict for me at all. I have just said, and will continue saying, that if those who are pro-life put on the mantel of pragmatics in the face of genuine philosophical or argumentative inconsistencies, I don't see how they can be so hard on Planned Parenthood. But then, this has been a deeply unhelpful conversation all around, so maybe we should drop it.
Incidentally, I think the problem with Robert Stacey McCain's position is the same one with the conservative position against sex ed: people enjoy having sex and are not going to stop anytime soon. Yes, I know that sometimes politics involves seemingly unlikely dreams; as you know, I'm a big believer in those things. But if I had to make a bet on which political aim was least likely to succeed in the near future, I'd probably go all in on "getting people to have less casual sex."