Wilberforce: ‘Take Those Handkerchiefs Away’

Portrait of William WilberforceThe most recent two undercover videos in the Center for Medical Progress’ investigation of Planned Parenthood have turned a kind of corner. They’ve inspired new levels of outrage as they expose not only what goes on behind closed doors at Planned Parenthood, but how dishonest the abortion provider’s recent defensive claims are. They’ve also initiated those Americans brave enough to watch them into a fuller and more jarring understanding of abortion, making us more culpable than ever for what happens in these clinics on our dollar. Naiveté is no longer an excuse. We can no longer say “we didn’t know.” We know virtually everything now, right down to the “crunchy,” illegal details. And with knowledge comes responsibility.

Exposing the worst atrocities committed in darkness, veiled behind sterilized walls and medical curtains, can prompt change like almost nothing else. And the pro-life movement has mastered that tactic in recent years, deploying ultrasound machines, graphic images of abortion, viral videos, and hauntingly beautiful endoscopic photos of living, unborn children. No one can credibly call these tiny members of the human family “clumps of cells” these days. Their humanity is on full display for all to see, both in life and death.

Earlier this month, one 2016 presidential contender made use of that tactic in a dramatic way, employing what a conservative blogger dubbed “pro-life Jujitsu.” Governor Jindal cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood, adding Louisiana to the growing list of states parting ways with the nation’s largest abortion provider. As pro-Planned Parenthood demonstrators gathered outside the governor’s mansion to protest this move, Jindal had staff set up a giant video screen on his lawn and play the sting videos for all to watch.

“Planned Parenthood has a right to protest today,” said a spokesperson from the governor’s office, “but [Governor Jindal] will ensure that anyone who shows up will have to witness first-hand the offensive actions of the organization they are supporting.”

It was an admittedly theatrical move that brings to mind a scene from the 2006 film Amazing Grace, which tells the story of 18th-century British parliamentarian and abolitionist William Wilberforce. In it, Wilberforce feigns a pleasure cruise as a gesture of friendship toward fellow members of parliament. But as the boat pulls alongside a docked slave ship, The Madagascar, he reveals his ulterior motive: The smell of the ship is overpowering, and the high-born members of Parliament try to block out the stench. An impassioned young Wilberforce won’t tolerate that, and shouts, “take those handkerchiefs away from your noses!”

For those members of parliament that day, there was no going back. They knew their society’s injustice in an intimate way. They’d not only seen it — they’d smelled it. And for those Americans who’ve watched the sickening undercover videos of Planned Parenthood and its business partners haggling over the prices of dead infants, the same is true. And that should sober us — maybe even frighten us a little.

“I tremble for my country,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.” These words, engraved on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., represent Jefferson’s view of slavery. But he might just as easily have spoken them about the atrocities revealed by the last two months of Planned Parenthood videos. In light of how Jesus addressed wickedness among His own people, trembling seems like an appropriate response:

“I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you,” he tells the Jewish towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida. “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you” Matthew 11:20-24.

Jesus adjudged these cities guiltier than the wickedest cities in history because they had seen the Truth face-to-face and still rejected him. America has seen the truth now, and is doubly accountable as a result. We know what really happens in abortion clinics, how our society justifies it, and why. But it’s up to us now to do something. It’s up to us to end it. If we, as a nation, fail — if we refuse to take the handkerchiefs from our noses — we do so at our own peril.

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