The first PPFA Video: “I’m pro-choice personally, but I thought it was a little creepy”

By Dave Andrusko

Dr-Nucatola-week-after-imgI’m been meaning to get to this absolutely fascinating piece in New York Magazine for two weeks and here it is the end of the week. Rather than delay once again my critique of “Why the Planned Parenthood Video Worked So Well,” I’ll offer a much briefer analysis than Jesse Singal’s piece merits.

Now understand that you have to appreciate that Singal and the “experts” he consults are all “pro-choice.” And the grid through which you have to filter everything they say is their belief that since what Planned Parenthood is doing is legal–an extension of the “right” to abortion–it’s only a kind of ill-informed, gut-level response that roils people’s stomachs.

After all Singal writes, “The actual issue — donating fetal tissue that would otherwise be discarded and covering the overhead costs of doing so — shouldn’t be all that controversial to people who believe that abortion should be legal.” Put another way, if people understood the “full context,” they’d be happy as clams listening and watching Dr. Deborah Nucatola talk about “crushing”:

“you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact”


“with the calvarium [the skull], in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex [head first], because when it’s vertex presentation you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amounts of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium.”

So why did the first video (the subject of his essay) have such “crossover effectiveness”–that is, make even Singal cringe at first? Here are four very revealing quotes.

In light of the video’s content, the level of attention it’s garnered isn’t surprising. The video includes a number of cringe-worthy moments in which Nucatola frankly discusses the reality of extracting and donating fetal body parts, all while she eats a salad and sips wine. …

And yet it’s hard not to be squicked out by the conversation, regardless of one’s political views. It is, after all, a video of a woman casually discussing the harvesting of fetal organs while she munches on her lunch. …

But framed differently [that is, absent the “full context”] seeing it a, more outrageously — look at this evil woman munching her salad while she talks about extracting fetuses’ livers — it’s hard to see the issue in a cold, rational light. The story becomes something different, bigger and more disgusting, and of interest not just to anti-choice true believers but to a much wider swath of potential viewers. It doesn’t help that Nucatola — or the version of her presented by the video’s editing — doesn’t come off in a particularly good light. …

Another problem with Nucatola’s demeanor, Pizarro said, is that there’s also a great deal of research showing that humans will cut other humans slack when it comes to morally charged decisions — but only if they show outward signs of careful deliberation, painful emotions, or both. Nucatola does not exhibit any such signs of moral compunction.

So, For Singal and his experts, the “full context” is simply code for “it’s a legal procedure so why are you getting upset?” The first video works because Dr. Nucatola is portrayed (due to editing) in a very unsympathetic light, not because she talks in an absolutely cold-blooded way about lungs and livers and brains and skulls.

But “editing” had nothing to do with it. The full video and the full transcript show her even more desensitized, more removed from the brutality of what Planned Parenthood is doing, and more at home with behavior that makes 99.9% of the population gag.

Singal and his experts are on to something, only to instantly dismiss its significance. “Disgust” will pass, they believe, if people see the “full context,” which includes understanding that “medical professionals talk about icky-sounding issues with one another all the time, often in ways that people from outside the medical field would find disgusting.”

But harvesting human beings is not just “icky-sounding,” it is grotesquely inhuman, behavior that makes all but the truest true believer extremely uncomfortable. The videos evince disgust because what people see IS disgusting.

Singal asks his two experts to “grade” the video. One says

“I think it’s totally an A+. The way that the Planned Parenthood doctor talks about this, it doesn’t do them any favors. I’m pro-choice personally, but I thought it was a little creepy.”