Chris Sullivan, 18

June 21, 2016
Sophomore explores rhetoric surrounding Planned Parenthood

My Project: The Paradox of Church and State: Religious Rhetoric in the Case of Planned Parenthood

As citizens of the United States, we claim to live under the principle of separation of church and state. As I see politicians reference God, see our currency read “In God We Trust,” or see “One nation, under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance, I wonder, how separate are the two really?

With the skills I have been learning through my Rhetoric and Communication Studies major, I decided to examine the religious implications in the recent debates over Planned Parenthood. Do these debates really come down to just differences in secular opinion and legal argument? Or are there hidden, religiously driven premises that are determining certain conclusions? My research of legal documents and rhetorical theories sought to answer these questions.

My Inspiration

Controversy erupted this past July with the released videos of Planned Parenthood officials talking about selling fetus tissue. That was the spark that began my exploration into this topic this past fall. While I was writing this paper, in November, there was the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. This is clearly a pressing issue, and I wanted to examine why this debate has generated so much heat.

My Process

I did not seek an answer as to whether abortion is morally wrong. I did not seek an answer as to whether Planned Parenthood should be justified. I did not even seek to answer whether religion should be separated from the law. All I sought was an understanding of the contradictions we live with in regards to separation of church and state: Why do we claim one thing, then practice the opposite? Exposing these contradictions and demanding consistency was my ultimate goal.

My Results

My findings were that arguments against Planned Parenthood and abortion are grounded in religious rhetoric and assumptions — reasoning that has no place considering our separate church and state doctrine. Perhaps we cannot separate religion from law, but it is currently unacceptable how we claim that we can do so, yet do not do it in practice. Either we stay true to a separation of church and state and become more cognizant and dismissive of this religious rhetoric, or we accept that religious belief cannot be separated from lawmaking. But we cannot have it both ways.

My Experience

To feel like I was actually doing something, really adding to public discussion and knowledge, was an experience I had not felt before. Throughout academia, I felt restricted to a bubble that encased my classroom; my ideas only extended to my classmates and professors. With this research, I popped that bubble and had my ideas openly heard by all who wanted to listen. That was a rewarding feeling.