January 13, 2012
November 3, 2015
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.
October 4, 2015
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.
September 9, 2015
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.
August 20, 2015
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.
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.
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.
Apparently 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.
Fetal 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.
July 13, 2015
So much has been written about the plethora of candidates running for President in 2016, particularly the mass of bodies on the Republican side. They are falling all over themselves looking for every possible vote, particularly in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire (and don’t get me started on the inordinate amount of influence those two pukey little states exert).
The candidates are attending every convention imaginable to convince that small block of special interests that they love that group dearly and will fight every day to promote their interests if they get into the White House. And, to be fair, the Democratic candidates are doing the same thing (p.s., I still don’t think Hillary is a lock).
So, it was no surprise when most of the GOP candidates recently flew down to New Orleans to kiss butt at the National Right to Life Committee’s national convention. The goal, of course, was to convince the attendees that they would be the “most pro-life President” they ever saw. Showing shrewd political acumen, the president of the NRLC, Carol Tobias, warned the convention goers that “the quickest way to defeat a pro-lifer is to fall in love with your candidate and then get your feelings hurt when they don’t win the nomination.”
Anyway, here are some highlights from the candidate’s speeches:
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA) reminded the audience that he sponsored the federal law that banned the so-called “partial birth abortion.” Actually, I do have to give him some credit here because he really was the lead guy on that issue. Indeed, he hounded me and the pro-choice movement in general for years. “You know me; there’s no quit in this dog,” he said. “Go ahead and nominate somebody who’s just going to go along. Then try to convince yourself you’ll make a difference” (I’ve read that line several times and still don’t know what it means).
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry reminded folks that the next president might get to nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices — who could presumably overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationally. “If I have the opportunity to put justices on the Supreme Court, they will not be squishy,” said Perry. Okay, that’s pretty clear, huh?
Florida Senator Marco Rubio explained his opposition to abortion as “inseparable from the effort to reclaim the American dream … for every child,” and recalled abortion restrictions he helped pass as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. By the way, my money is on Rubio getting the nomination.
Jeb Bush, whose tenure as Florida governor overlapped Rubio’s speakership, mentioned some of the same laws in a video presentation, as he did not physically attend the convention. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has never held elected office, blasted abortion providers as “evil.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie supported abortion rights earlier in his career, but he is now getting close to toeing the party line. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker celebrated passage of a new state ban on most abortions beyond the 20th week of pregnancy. Yet late in his 2014 re-election campaign, he aired an ad in which he affirmed his abortion opposition while emphasizing that Wisconsin law “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has sponsored a ban on abortions after 20 weeks but some conservatives blast him for voting to confirm Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal talked Thursday night about having to defend his anti-abortion stance in his interviews for medical school and Donald Trump, the flavor of the moment, did not attend but he also seems to have switched from his previous pro-choice position. He probably does support abortion for illegal immigrants, however.
The bottom line is that, should any of these candidates win the presidency, they will be under intense political pressure to nominate a pro-life justice or two or three when the time comes. And therein lies the future of abortion rights in this country.
Every four years we hear how the next election is the most important election in our lifetimes. Well, look at the age of the justices. There ain’t no way that all of them will survive another four years. All hyperbole aside, this election may actually be the most important in our lifetimes.
June 24, 2015
Here we go again.
In the late 1990’s, when the Congress was considering banning what pro-lifers dubbed the “partial birth abortion,” there was a great debate over how often the procedure was used and in what circumstances. Pro-choice groups defended the procedure by arguing that it was used only a few hundred times a year in extreme situations, such as when the mother’s life was endangered or there was a severe fetal abnormality. Pro-lifers countered that it was used in many more cases and not necessarily in those “extreme” situations. At one point, even the relatively pro-choice media started questioning the abortion rights group’s arguments and they ultimately noted that the pro-lifers were correct. In February, 1997, in my capacity as the Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers I went public and confirmed that the procedure was more widely used than pro-choicers had admitted. I took this terrifying step because I had grown tired of our movement being afraid to talk about the actual abortion procedure and for constantly “apologizing” for abortion by emphasizing the tougher cases. My remarks created national headlines and great consternation for my movement but I – and the providers I represented – felt better that the air had been cleared.
And now, pro-choice columnist Dana Milbank wrote a piece this weekend that relives – and ignores – history.
He notes that a short while ago, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham (running for President) introduced legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. This is not a new concept. Bills like this one have been introduced in many states and the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a similar bill. To his credit, Milbank castigates Graham and his proposal and he points out that banning abortions after 20 weeks will only affect a small percentage of abortions. Fair enough. But, in a case of déjà vu all over again, he felt compelled to add that “those are often the most difficult cases, such as the woman who discovers late in pregnancy that she has cancer.”
If he was just talking about abortions after 24 weeks, then his statement would be true because those abortions can only be performed if there are exigent circumstances, i.e., serious health implications, life endangerment and, in some states, fetal abnormalities. And yes, post viability abortions constitute an extremely small percentage of the abortions in this country. But, repeating the mistakes of the past, Mr. Milbank totally ignores those abortions performed between 20 and 24 weeks where there are basically no restrictions and women need not offer any reason for their having their abortions.
Between 20 and 24 weeks, a woman can walk into a clinic (assuming she can find one that performs those later abortions) and have an abortion, no questions asked. Now, the reality is that in most situations a women will voluntarily talk about why she is having the abortion but that’s as far as it goes. She could walk into a clinic at 21 weeks, go through counseling, get her medical check-up, not say another word and have the abortion.
And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s okay. There is no need to apologize. The Supreme Court in 1973 said those were the rules, end of story.
But, no, as always many in the pro-choice movement do not want to fess up that there are woman out there who just want an abortion dammit – and instead they keep focusing on the hard cases which make for good media sound bites but do not necessarily reflect the real world experience of thousands and thousands of women.
May 31, 2015
The silence is almost deafening.
The other day, as I was holed up in my house during a horrendous thunderstorm, I took out some old scrapbooks and ran across a bunch of yellowed articles from the days when I ran the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. I got a little nauseous when I read the headlines in USA Today (“Abortion Doctor Murdered in Pensacola”) and other periodicals recounting the days in the mid-1990s when our doctors were being assassinated on a regular basis. I recalled how it almost got to the point where I wasn’t surprised when I got the call.
That’s how it was on the morning of October 24, 1998 when clinic owner Susan Hill (now deceased) called me and, in that sweet Southern accent, said “well, they got another one.” My pulse barely quickened, I knew exactly what she meant. I soon learned that it was Doctor Bart Slepian, a good friend who performed abortions in Buffalo. The only thing that was different this time was this doctor was in the “sanctity” of his home and was killed in front of his children. James Kopp had positioned himself in Bart’s back yard and just fired. This might not come out right, but I think somehow we had come to accept that a doctor might get murdered in their clinic which was the “battleground.” But, now, even standing in your own kitchen was not safe. Over the next few months, my young boys insisted that the blinds be drawn at night in our house. On that day, though, upon hearing the news of Bart’s death, I simply drove into my office and issued an “Emergency Alert” to our clinics across the country informing me of the latest murder of one of their colleagues. Just going through the drill.
Then, for many years, there was silence.
For almost 11 years, not one doctor was murdered by a pro-life assassin. At NCAP, our focus started to change from what kind of bullet proof vests were the best value to how to advertise your services on the Internet. The security detail at our conventions was reduced, attendees didn’t look at every stranger as a potential assailant. Oh, to be sure, at the clinics they still took precautions but you can only stay on Red Alert for so long and you start to let your guard down.
Then, the silence was shattered.
Six years ago today, on May 31, 2009, the target was Doctor George Tiller. George performed third trimester abortions in Wichita, Kansas and was shot in the head as he performed his usher duties at his local church. Shot in his church? WTF? The telephone lines burnt up that day. By that time I had left NCAP but I was still plugged in and George had been a good friend as well. On several occasions we had talked about the possibility of his being assassinated one day and while he took the threat seriously, he was not obsessed with the possibility. So, when the call came from an old friend telling me he had been killed, we cried. But despite the tears, I have to say it was not a shock. The venue was a shock, perhaps, but not the actual act. George had always been a potential target. And he knew it.
That was six years ago today.
And in those six years, not a peep.