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“We have to eliminate abortion on demand!”

I’ve been hearing that chant for years and I’m still not sure what it means.  But apparently pro-choice House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi knows what it means because she recently said that she “doesn’t believe in abortion on demand.”  Hardly skipping a beat, the National Abortion & Reproductive Rights League objected to Pelosi using the phrase.   In a statement they said:

“The Leader should stop using twisted GOP talking points about abortion…we don’t know women who demand abortion.”

When I think about that, I guess it’s true.  I’ve never seen a woman who was able to walk into an abortion clinic and demand that the doctor to perform an abortion.  What happens in the real world is that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy calls a clinic, gets an appointment usually within a few days, then goes to the facility.  Once there, she fills out paperwork, takes a few medical tests and gets some form of counseling where the counselor determines if she is ready for an abortion.  If she gets the green light, she then goes into the surgery room.  Oh, I forgot to add that in many states, after the woman has gone to the clinic, she then has to go back home and wait for a day or two before going back to the clinic for the abortion.

So, is that what the anti-abortion folks mean by “abortion on demand?”  If it is, it seems like a stretch as the phrase “on demand” implies that she walked into a clinic unannounced and DEMANDED that they perform the abortion!

How silly.

Having said all of that, however, I have to be totally honest once again and relate some things that I have seen in the past that might relate to this discussion.

In my years with NCAP, I visited lots of clinics and I observed some interesting.  I have seen women get rather incensed when they were told they had to come back in 24 hours because the state thought they needed more time to think about their decision.  I’ve seen some women get extremely upset when the counselor told her she did not think she was ready for an abortion.  It could have been a minor who was being forced by her parents or a woman who wanted the baby but her boyfriend was pressuring her to abort.    These women were on the verge of DEMANDING their abortion, although it would have been to no avail.

So I need some help from my anti-abortion friends who continue to say they’re going to put a halt to “abortion on demand.”

There is a lot of talk these days about guns. In response to the massacre of the day, the debate ensues: should we ban guns, regulate guns, eliminate the current restrictions, mandate that everyone own a gun? On and on the discussions go and there never is a conclusion.

Hey, Pat, why the hell are you talking about guns? This blog is about abortion stuff, isn’t it?

Well, yes, but I have a little story that blends the two issues and explains where I come out on the issue of guns.

As the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, one of my main tasks was to do media interviews. Whenever a doctor was killed or a clinic blown up, I’d get the call and I would somberly rail against the violence. I was on the Donohue Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, you name it. Never did the Steve Harvey show. I did those shows because our doctors were for the most part afraid to show their face, lest they become the next target.

Every time I did an interview, the calls to our office from pro-lifers would increase. Not very nice calls. Not direct threats but enough to make my stomach turn. After the murder of Doctor Bart Slepian and another round of interviews, the FBI decided it was time to make a visit. They were just looking for as much information as they could get about clinic violence, threats, stalking, etc. At the end of the interview, however, one of the agents said “considering your visibility, we recommend you carry a firearm.”

WTF? Are you kidding me?

I politely told them there was no way in hell I would carry a gun and while they could not order me to get one, they were pretty adamant that I should at least look into it. Ironically, right across the street from my office in Old Town, Alexandria, there was actually a small gun shop. A small place on the upper floor of a colonial townhouse, hardly anyone knew it was there. So, one day out of curiosity I walked over. I was greeted by a crusty bearded southern type guy.

“Hi, I’ve been told that I should be carrying a firearm. I’ve never touched a gun in my life so I have no idea what I should be looking at.”

He asked me to show him my hand and he started exploring his case of guns. “Obviously, we’re talking a handgun here, one that you can hide in your clothes.” He took a handgun out of the case and handed it to me. “Tell me how that feels.”

I held the gun, wrapped my hand around the handle and slipped my finger into the trigger. Thinking I was Clint Eastwood, I pointed the gun away from the clerk and aimed at the clock on the wall. Then I started to perspire, my hand started shaking violently and I became nauseous.

I put the gun down on the counter and told the owner that I had to think about this. I walked outside and was making my way to my lunch stop when I started envisioning walking up the street and having some anti-abortion terrorist come up behind me intent on doing me harm. But, before he could strike I calmly reached into my pocket, grabbed my gun, turned around and shot him in the head. Yeah, right.

Realizing I was not Clint Eastwood, I then had a more troubling thought.

I’m walking up the same street and a friend of mine notices me ahead of him. He runs up behind me and puts his hand on my shoulder, surprising the hell out of me. My adrenaline starts flowing, I don’t hear him call my name, I reach into my coat and turn around shooting.

I am a big fan of the right to free speech. Sure, speech can get especially ugly but I firmly believe that once start carving out exceptions to the First Amendment, it opens the door wide open to future exceptions and suddenly, we’re in Nazi Germany.

In the past, I backed up my belief with action. Many years ago, the U.S. House of Representatives started debating the proposed “Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act,” a bill I supported that provided abortion doctors and staff federal protection from violence. At one point when the pro-choice lobbyists were meeting with our congressional supporters, I suggested that we needed to put language in the bill that made it absolutely clear that anti-abortion protestors would still have the right to assemble in front of clinics, shout whatever they wanted and/or pray peacefully. I even suggested that we should make clear that they had a right to hold up those horrible, bloody signs. The language was inserted in the bill (much to the consternation of some of my colleagues) and it eventually became law. As far as I know, not one anti-abortion protestor was ever arrested for merely praying or holding up signs. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

But now I’m starting to wonder a little bit about my defense of free speech.

Everyone knows by now that some guy walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and held the building hostage for several hours. During the siege he killed several people and wounded many others. Ultimately, he surrendered to the police and the next day it was reported that while under arrest he mumbled something like “no more baby parts.” That was the first indication that this rampage may have had something to do with abortion.

The dead baby parts thing is of course reference to the videos that have popped up showing a Planned Parenthood doctor talking about fetal parts to someone who ostensibly was interested in receiving the parts for research. The video caused quite a stir, not just in the anti-abortion media circles but in the mainstream press. A viewing of the video by the average person is no doubt shocking. Personally, I know how abortion doctors – like so many other doctors – can get a little “casual” about how they talk about their work, and even though the film was taken without the doctor’s knowledge, it was shocking nonetheless.

But then GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina decided to double down on the national outrage. During the next presidential debate, referring to this issue, she actually said that she had seen a video that showed “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says ‘we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’”

Those of you who read this column know that I worked in that field for many years. You also know I’m brutally honest about abortion. After Fiorina made this statement, I got a number of calls asking me if this kind of stuff actually happened in abortion clinics. I first told them that, yes, the doctors and staff work with fetal parts at some point if the pregnancy is advanced.

DUH.

I then said that I have not observed every abortion in the country and that there is always some nut ball out there (like Doctor Gosnell) who might have done something off the charts.

But the fact is that Fiorina lied to try to make political points. It’s that simple.

She just made up this story about a video. She could never verify the video exists. And when the media started questioning her claims, she stonewalled it. I mean, let’s be real about this – and let’s be cynical. Let’s say that some crazy doctor let this happen in his clinic. Do you think he would be stupid enough to film this event? Gimme a break.

There is no film. Yet Fiorina kept publicly talking about live fetuses squirming on tables. Then a man in Colorado decides to attack Planned Parenthood clinic because he wanted no more “baby parts.”

Fiorina should be ashamed of herself. And I wonder about that First Amendment. Have we actually gone too far?

I’ve been a pro-choice advocate for many years. Whether it was as a lobbyist for the National Abortion Rights Action League or the Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I have been a rather visible persona in the pro-choice world. And, of course, I’ve heard every conceivable argument from both sides of this controversial issue.

And now, after all of these years, I’m finally convinced that I am actually pro-life. Let me explain:

I oppose the death penalty. It is certainly not a deterrent as evidenced by the fact that the rate of murders in this country has not gone down since we’ve had the death penalty. It’s also an uncivilized practice for any government to sanction;

I oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I am old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and how Russia and the United States came to the brink of annihilating the entire planet. I mean, how many missiles to we actually need?

I favor strict regulations on the possession of firearms. No, check that. If I could I’d outlaw them totally. And the Second Amendment be damned. Don’t get me started on this one. Guns are rarely ever used for defense, so I don’t buy the NRA’s crap about needing guns to defend ones home against the bad guys or, even sillier, the government. Just look at all the other governments that have banned guns and look at the murder rate. DUH.

I support programs that provide assistance to children in need, whether it is the SNAP program, Head Start, etc. I’d say Food Stamps and Welfare assistance, but I don’t think they use those terms anymore. I always found it interesting how Members of Congress who opposed abortion rights also voted to cut back funding for federal programs that helped young children lead a healthier and more successful life;

I support stem cell research because it will help lead to the discovery of new cures for many childhood diseases, not to mention adult diseases. And please don’t start whining about how those cells are “little people” for gosh’s sakes. Grow up, will ya?

I am an original investor in a medical device that will make it safer for obese women to deliver a baby. Right now obese women have a tougher time giving birth. This device will make that process much easier;

I run my own charity for needy children. To prove that I put my money where my mouth is, four years ago I formed a 501c3 organization here in the Alexandria area that provides financial assistance to children in need. That charity was featured last year in the Washington Post and we are expanding our services to other parts of the country. In essence, we fund “minor” items like prom tickets, glasses, field trip fees, Little League registration and other relatively inexpensive items that are nonetheless very important to that child’s self esteem.

And, oh yes, I support the right to legal abortion because I believe it actually saves the lives of women.

The news of the mass murder in Roseburg, Oregon barely made my heart race. Oh well, I thought, another nut case with access to guns decided to make a name for himself by executing a bunch of students at a community college. Then, true to form he blew his brains out. Within hours, the oh-so-boring political conversations followed but we’ll be back to normal right after the bodies of the victims are laid to rest. We’ll be back to listening to Donald Trump but in a short while there will be more “Breaking News” from somewhere else in the country.

In response to the murders, liberals in Congress once again are asking for more controls on the sale of guns. They do not suggest that it will stop the violence in its tracks, just that it might deter the would-be murderer and maybe save a few lives. Conservatives, of course, decry any more regulations, especially a national waiting period and/or background checks. It’s as if they actually want the next mass murderer to be able to walk into Franks Gun Shop and come out with an arsenal, no questions asked. After all, he’s just exercising his precious right to bear arms, right?

It’s funny, though, how those same conservatives think that we should make it almost impossible for a woman to exercise her constitutionally protected right to have an abortion. Pregnant? Oh no, young lady, slow down. Before you make the rash decision to kill your baby, there are a few rules and regulations that you gotta deal with.

For example, when you make your appointment and walk into the abortion clinic, you’re going to see a counselor. These clearly biased counselors will make it sound like abortion is a walk in the park. But you’re lucky that we’re here to clarify. That’s why we’ve passed laws requiring the counselor to tell you all about the dangers of abortion, how that fetus is tantamount to a ten year old Little Leaguer, how you will get breast cancer, who you have other options besides abortion (really?) and that you might ultimately regret your abortion. Sorry, we’re just educating you before you make this important decision.

And once you’ve got all the correct information, we still think you should cool down, not make any rash decisions, think about it a little more. So that’s why we propose a 24 hour WAITING PERIOD before you decide to kill your baby. That’s right. Lest you think you can just willy-nilly exercise your constitutional right to terminate your pregnancy, you need to relax, honey, you need to chill out and think about this. I mean, who are you to think that you can make this decision so quickly?

We’re here to protect the lives of those cute little babies.

But if you have a hankering to shoot up a movie theater, go for it.

Well, there’s nothing like having triple bypass surgery to help put things in perspective.

Yep, in late July some doctor opened up my chest, ripped three veins out of my left leg and re-inserted them somewhere near my heart. I had been feeling a little short winded at times and, being a hypochondriac, I decided to see my doc. He suggested a stress test and bingo-bango, a surgeon is suddenly looking at me saying “you need open heart surgery.” Anyway, surgery went fine, recovery going well, feeling great.

Aside from the surgery itself, for me the real tough part was the time leading up to the surgery. I mean, you just can’t help but think about death. So, the first thing I did was write letters to my two (wonderful) boys, telling them how proud I was of them. Then I had to “put my affairs in order” by telling my wife where all the important papers were, the receipts, the invoices, etc.

After that exercise, you just have time to think as you sit there in your hospital bed, listening to all of the monitoring machines tracking everyone’s vitals.

So, the day before my surgery I found myself thinking about all of the years I’d devoted to the abortion rights movement. I envisioned that underneath my name in my obituary the subheading would be something like “abortion rights lobbyist.” And I have to say that I was totally comfortable with that notion (although I had always dreamed that it would say “Yankee Second Baseman.” )

The fact is that I’ve always been comfortable, if not proud, of the work I’ve done but when you’re faced with the prospect of maybe not waking up from surgery, you really start to dig deep and you question what your whole life was all about and if you made the right decisions. Ultimately, I concluded that I had made the right decision to go into that line of work and I found myself even hoping that some of the eulogies would mention my work in this field.

To be honest, I did have a few uncomfortable moments during my reflections. I recalled how, as the ED of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I pushed the envelope a lot and, as a result, lost the support of some fellow pro-choice colleagues. I also lost some good friends. I especially cringed when I recalled “outing” my colleagues during the Partial Birth Abortion debate, in effect publicly calling them liars for distorting the truth about that procedure. I did the right thing, I concluded, but it was absolute hell for me, my friends and my family.

Then, it was sad to think about some of my good friends who were killed. Doctor Bart Slepian, who two weeks before he was murdered in his home, admitted to me he hated to fly. And, of course, Doctor George Tiller, a dear friend who always knew he was a target. Then there were the other activists: Susan Hill, Bill Knorr, James MacMahon and others who have passed on. Great friends, great allies, great party animals. Good times.

So, this pre-death “trial run” actually turned out to be a good exercise. It forced me to reflect on a life’s work and, while I made a bunch of whopping mistakes, I can now say in good conscience that when ultimately I do check out, I will celebrate the work I’ve done over the years.

Fetal parts are for sale. Yep, the terrible Planned Parenthood abortionists found and tapped into a profitable market for fetal parts, especially intact forms.

This is the basic narrative inserted into the talking points of anti-abortion politicians these days after edited videos between Planned Parenthood representatives and imposter biomedical tissue brokers surfaced. Ignored was the benefit fetal tissue provides to medical research. Disregarded was the selectivity used to decide what was fit for public consumption. Much has been made of interactions that might be suspicious to outsiders of medical and scientific research environments or appeal to the emotions of the uninformed.AR headline

Planned Parenthood can sufficiently respond to the “undercover sting videos” of its medical staff discussing fetal tissue donation. The rest of us need to respond to this attempt by anti-abortion dogmatists to impose their view of the world into public policy.  The states that have initiated investigations based on the videos found Planned Parenthood in compliance with regulations. Even if one state, or several states, unsuccessfully takes action for political value or reject continued contracts with Planned Parenthood for health services, it would be a measurement of success for this false narrative. Planned Parenthood will remain open to provide important health services, but there are other issues of which we should all have concern.

Deception and Ethics

The videos were created by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which claims to be “…citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.”  Their website appears to be focused only on promoting anti-abortion viewpoints, no other medical ethics issues. End-of-life treatment, organ donation processes, and equality in accessing medical care are among the top ethical issues one would expect to see mentioned.ethics

Why the deception when it would have been perfectly acceptable for CMP to identify itself as abortion opponents with specific, legitimate ethical questions pertaining to abortion and fetal tissue?

Honesty and integrity are critical to discussions about ethical issues.  Would abortion clinic representatives talk openly with abortion opponents? I and many others certainly have on many occasions in our roles as reproductive healthcare professionals. Did the CMP even attempt to arrange a discussion? If the intent of the “undercover” effort was to learn about the involvement of some Planned Parenthood affiliates with fetal tissue procurement, it was not necessary for CMP to engage people by misrepresenting themselves as biomedical professionals. Why just Planned Parenthood and no other providers of elective, therapeutic, and emergency abortions? Hospitals and other medical facilities play a significant role in tissue procurement, which can seem quite unsavory to outsiders.

abortion safeApparently deception and fabrication are a preferred method of operation within anti-abortion activism. Deception and fabrication are the hallmarks of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, also known as fake abortion clinics because of the their strategy to appear as if they are abortion clinics and use misinformation to dissuade women from abortion once they arrive for their “abortion appointment.”  Anti-abortion literature distributed to Congress, the media, and the public also contains incorrect, distorted, and often manufactured information. This is how the public at times believes that most abortions are late term. Or have murky ideas about parental consent for abortion in which it is compared to unrelated issues that are often guided by business policies, not laws.

It is no surprise that deceptive tactics were used to generate the storyline about fetal tissue procurement. It is nonetheless striking that there is not outrage about the deception, especially when ethics is the alleged target. Clearly, acquiring and providing information about fetal tissue procurement would not generate outrage if done without the theatrics of imposter biomedical professionals and video editing skills. Do we really want topics of importance to be introduced to public discourse in this manner? Of course not. The media would serve the public well to fully investigate the “investigators” and bring political balance to that part of the story. The notion that an organization like CMP, with a Postal Annex rented address no record of prior work as a nonprofit in the medical ethics arena, and leadership comprised of people connected to anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue, can have traction in promoting political ideology as if it was credible news or journalism is frightening. The media failed by not scrutinizing the source before doing the reporting, especially since another group, Life Dynamics, attempted to do the same in the late nineties.

For the record, pro-choice people resorted to deception to “out” the Crisis Pregnancy Center’s fake abortion clinic charades. Why? Because CPCs claimed that they informed women that they did not perform abortions, provided factual information, and other practices did not square with what women had shared with actual medical professionals.  A hidden camera sent in by the media with a young woman proved that the experiences of other women were accurately presented.

Using the Mistruths as Truths to Further the Mistruths

Talk radio stars Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh all regularly speak of the CMP as if it is a credible nonprofit out there doing good work.  Politicians, including U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and those running for president, refer to the videos time and again as if they were part of a documentary. Absolutely nothing revealed in the videos is evidence of anything sinister. At worst, the videos illustrate the seeming insensitivities that can develop when people work in medical settings. wd

Right wing websites are having a great time exaggerating the video content and piling on more false or misleading information. Red State claims that Planned Parenthood was “…caught…appearing to haggle over the sale of aborted baby parts.” Haggling? Not hardly. The videos revealed explanations, in clinical and business tones, about how tissues and parts are procured. Bear in mind that CMP presented themselves as biomedical professionals interested in obtaining fetal tissue. Would it have somehow been acceptable for responses to exclude information about quality of parts and associated costs?

Comments made by elected officials can be perceived as the truth. Thus, when Senate newcomer Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) states, “Planned Parenthood is harvesting the body parts of unborn babies,” to explain her sponsorship of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, perceptions are broadly formed and shared throughout every possible medium. The tone of Ernst’s statement can conjure so many images that only perpetuate incorrect information. When Breitbart News quotes a Ted Cruz comment that the videos show Planned Parenthood representatives “confessing to multiple felonies,” it misleads, misinforms, and further polarizes people on the basis of ideology as opposed to facts. Shame on all who have made, and are continuing to make, comments implying that the videos exposed evidence of crime. Shame on all who are giving the CMP credibility, so much credibility that there are threats to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood is not defunded.

Fetal Tissue Research is Ethical and Beneficial

There has always been a market for anatomical and biological goods, including human fetal tissue and parts.  Specific companies respond to the demand for human and animal parts. College psychology departments buy brains to teach students. Medical and scientific researchers need specimens in order to learn more about genetics or real and prospective treatment options for a range of diseases, for example. Fetal tissue/parts obtained from miscarriages and abortions have been used for decades and have led to a number of medical breakthroughs, including rubella and polio vaccines. Kimberly Leonard wrote an excellent article in the August 4, 2015 online issue of US News about the contributions of fetal tissue research. Many of us are grateful for those contributions. In the August 12, 2015 New England Journal of Medicine, lawyer R. Alta Charo stated, “A closer look at the ethics of fetal tissue research…reveals a duty to use this precious resource in the hope of finding new preventive and therapeutic interventions for devastating diseases. Virtually every person in the [United States} has benefited from research using fetal tissue.”  Quite simply, it would be unethical for medical researchers to suddenly discontinue use of fetal tissue due to politically extreme ideology.

research petri dishFetal parts are not allowed to be sold – they can only be donated with consent from pregnant women after they are removed.  If profit for fetal parts is the actual concern of CMP, their time would be better spent honestly working with regulatory agencies to determine with certainty if any inappropriate financial transactions between abortion providers and biomedical tissue businesses exist. It is certain that people of all political views on the issue would abhor such a practice.

As the dribble of videos continues, no evidence of illegal activities will be presented. Instead, ideology will be promoted with the intent to cause some to rethink their views about abortion and try to stop an organization that serves the healthcare needs of so many low-income women. The effort will fail, but in the meantime, we will all have to witness the nonsense and speak up about reality when we can.

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