May we use deception to fight abortion?

Over the past week, there has been a lot of disagreement in the Catholic blogosphere about the tactics pro-life group Live Action used to obtain sting videos of Planned Parenthood.

The organization, run by student activist Lila Rose, released its first video showing a Planned Parenthood staffer who appears to give aide and advice to a sex trafficker. The video — and Lila Rose — made national news and created a wave of bad PR for Planned Parenthood, and many pro-lifers hailed the efforts.

But not all.

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Catholic writers like Dawn Eden, William Doino, Jr.,  and Mark Shea, point out that as much as despise what Planned Parenthood does, it’s not okay to employ tactics like lying and trickery to stop them. While Lila Rose calls it “creative extremism,” a term used by Martin Luther King, Eden and Doino say that the extremism King spoke about was focused on extreme goodness, not evil — and lying and trickery are always evil, even if they’re intended for good.

Eden and Doino address the difficulty many pro-lifers have dismissing the tactics that Live Action uses in their article, “Building a Culture of Lie:”

… despite the clarity of Catholic teaching against lying under any circumstances (without even an exception for undercover lawmen to deny their true identities), many pro-lifers are reluctant to give up what they see as a highly effective tactic. They believe that Live Action’s deceptions are justified because we are “at war” with Planned Parenthood. But, as the New Theological Movement’s blogger “Reginaldus” notes, that is an unacceptable excuse on two counts: “First, even in war, it is sinful to lie; second, we are not at war with Planned Parenthood… [I]f we were at war, it would be justifiable for individuals to kill abortion doctors; but it is not.” Moreover, as the great Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued in her essay protesting Oxford University’s awarding an honorary degree to Harry S. Truman, even in war, the ends do not justify the means.


Some of the more excitable voices in this debate have said, “If we are allowed to kill in warfare, why not lie too?”  The problem with this sort of talk is that it mistakes metaphor for reality.  Because, in fact, this is not a literal war and the obvious proof of that is that the Church is in the forefront of opposing those who take it upon themselves to commit murder to stop abortion.  As Cardinal O’Connor famously said, “If anyone has an urge to kill someone at an abortion clinic, they should shoot me…. It discredits the right-to-life movement. Murder is murder. It’s madness. You cannot prevent killing by killing.”

In the National Catholic Register, Shea agrees and adds, “Nor can you prevent lying by lying. Much as I hate to say it, because of my delight at seeing Planned Parenthood take serious body blows to their credibility, I think this approach has to stop and something else be done to defeat them.”

I concur. If we abandon the principle that “the ends never justify the means,” we have not only ceded the moral high ground, we have ceased acting as Catholics.


  • Zoe Romanowsky

    Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in “Catholic Digest,” “Faith & Family,” “National Catholic Register,” “Our Sunday Visitor,” “Urbanite,” “Baltimore Eats,” and Zo

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