Stung! The ethics of entrapment
Is it OK to use deceit in the service of a cause you believe in?
Oh, the joys of Schadenfreude. When the American pro-life group Live Action released a videotape on YouTube earlier this week showing a Planned Parenthood clinic manager describing herself as a “partner in crime” with a pimp and a prostitute, there could have been few opponents of abortion who did not feel a surge of satisfaction at the unmasking of an old foe. That would have been only half the gratification, however; the rest would come from knowing that this was the work, not of battle-weary pro-life stalwarts, but of the eager, active young people who have rallied to Live Action and the pro-life cause.
In the style established by its leader Lila Rose (pictured), the organisation sent a man and a woman posing as sex traffickers to a New Jersey clinic (and several others) where they discussed how they could secure STD testing, abortions and contraception for underage girls who were illegal immigrants — in other words, sex slaves. The manager was incredibly, indeed, criminally co-operative. Planned Parenthood has lost no time in sacking her and denouncing her behaviour to the media, but nothing can change the fact that this is a damning evidence for Live Action’s “Expose Planned Parenthood” campaign, whose aim is to end federal funding of PP.
On further reflection, though, “stings” appear to be a troubling development in the pro-life movement, involving ethically dubious behaviour: pretence and even plain lying. It is a game that two can play — and will. A lot of unsavoury characters will be gunning for Lila Rose and her friends. People will try to infiltrate her movement. She will find it hard to trust people. The finances of her group will be examined line by line to look for dubious connections and so on.
There are other ethical questions. Since the video is evidence of a serious crime by the PP office manager, why isn’t the woman’s face blocked out? Why is her name given? Even pro-abortionists have legal rights.
And what if the boot was on the other foot — if it was someone whose values and ethics were on the correct side of the moral divide, so to speak, and who was subjected to entrapment?
Take, for example, the following story, which I was writing when the PP sting broke.
Two weeks ago a psychotherapist was due to appear before a panel of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy to answer charges of misconduct. The case has been adjourned owing to the intimidation of one of her key witnesses but Lesley Pilkington, 60, still faces the possibility of being stripped of her accreditation after treating a man who said he wanted to be cured of his homosexuality — and who then complained to the BACP because she tried to do just that.
Mrs Pilkington, like a significant number of mental health professionals, believes that sexual orientation is not unchangeable: one in six in the UK, according to a 2009 report has been involved in such therapy. She believes that same-sex attraction is not something innate but develops in a person because of their upbringing and other environmental factors. She believes those things not only because they coincide with her Christian faith but because there is scientific and empirical evidence to support them. And she has a very understandable motive for concerning herself with the issue: her own 29-year-old son is homosexual.
Patrick Strudwick, the client who complained about her, is a gay activist and a journalist who vehemently rejects the idea that sexual orientation can be changed. In fact, he runs a campaign called Stop Conversion Therapy Taskforce. A couple of years ago he went to a conference in the UK run by the US organisation The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) on reparative therapy. There Mr Strudwick approached Mrs Pilkington and told her he was unhappy with his homosexual lifestyle and that he wanted to leave it; he then requested treatment for his same-sex attraction. (He also dealt with a male psychiatrist.) She took him on, advising him that she always prayed at the beginning and end of the sessions. He said that was just what he wanted.
In May 2009 he went to her house for the first of two sessions with a dictaphone taped to his stomach. He recorded that and a second session conducted over the phone. He did a similar thing with a male therapist. He gave transcripts of the recordings to Professor Michael King of University College London, the academic who led the survey of mental health professionals referred to above and a declared opponent of reparative therapy. He then told the two therapists who he was and what Dr King had said.
Next Mr Strudwick lodged formal complaints with the BACP about both therapists, and subsequently published an account of his therapy sessions in The Independent. It included this obliging comment from Dr King: