January 13, 2012
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.
May 13, 2015
National Right to Life, Family Research Council, and other anti-abortion organizations have been enthusiastically spreading the word about a study published in the New England Medical Journal showing that a fetus can be viable if born at 22 weeks gestation with advanced medical intervention. A New York Times article about the study was very clear that survival was for a “tiny minority” and that 24 weeks remains the medically and scientifically accepted point of viability. Nonetheless, as all sides in politically polarized issues tend to do, abortion opponents have focused on sharing the headline of the study and not the details. Although coincidental, the publication of the study is perfectly timed with the U.S. House of Representatives passing the 20-week abortion ban, which the Senate will now consider.
Predictably, those who oppose abortion see the study as the proof needed to ban late term abortions, also suggesting that viability age should be lowered. They are appealing to our hearts through survival babies, giving the false impression that at 22 weeks most fetuses can survive outside of the womb. Many who believe that late term abortions must be legally available might even agree with them if the study was conclusive. It is not.
There are important medical-scientific limitations to babies born before 24 weeks. When pregnant women either go into labor early or a medical complication otherwise comrpomises the pregnancy, doctors discuss available medical interventions and the prospective outcomes of each on the fetus. Not all hospitals have the technology or equipment most able to produce a live birth and not all parents choose to have those interventions. Indeed, it is those very women who may choose a late term abortion to save their own lives or spare their wanted child a life of poor health. Much as they felt joy at being pregnant, life offered them a heartbreaking complication. No one has the right to judge the decision they make, certainly not Congress or political opponents of abortion.
In a column for the Daily Beast, Cornell Professor of Pediatrics Jeffrey Perlman noted in more eloquent terms that the study had serious biases and design flaws and should not lead to lowering the age of viability. For that to make sense, a randomized study with and without medical intervention would be necessary. Perlman also pointed out that the research would have to account for a range of factors, such as gender differences in fetal development and accurate estimates of the age of the fetus to name a couple.
I am personally very grateful for the medical advances that have made it possible for premature babies to survive and live healthy, productive lives. I have significant reservations about the use of technology to force life too early to ensure health and quality, just as I do with sustaining life too long when people are confined to a bed with no consciousness and only technology allowing them to breathe. All of us know of children born with disabilities or conditions that require lifelong care. That happens and to full term as well as premature babies. Families accept and embrace the children, adjusting and growing with the child. The acceptance that society places on these children and the value they place on supporting them and their families is evident through public policies, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and various educational reforms.
If a 22-week-old fetus can receive medical assistance and survive, how should medical experts and ethicists respond in the future, if at all, to the prospect of lowering the stage of viability if technology continues to advance? Are we concerned about the financial and social/personal costs associated with using the technology? There are high costs for the medical technology and there are high costs to care for babies born so early that they must receive medical care throughout life however long or short. What about 22-week gestational stage babies born addicted to drugs? Are we going to complain about the public assistance their moms receive? Will Congress thwart programs that support the care for these babies?
For pregnant women in the wrenching situation of unexpectedly delivering a 22-week-old fetus, this study might offer hope if they happen to be at a hospital with the technology and expertise to offer medical intervention that might allow survival of the fetus. For other pregnant women, if this study is improperly used for political gain, and it already is**, instead of hope, it will further erode their options to make decisions they consider best for them and the baby they wanted and may even allow a physician to place priority on the life of the fetus over the woman. Which life is more important?
Instead of having implications for late term abortions and viability, the real issues to come from the study involve ethics and social support. A 22-week-old fetus is not naturally viable. An abortion at 20-22 weeks gestation may well save a woman’s life or spare a baby a life of pain. Nothing has changed in that regard.
** 5/15-15 update: Political misuse of the study has begun. See http://black.house.gov/press-release/rep-black-lauds-upcoming-house-vote-pain-capable-unborn-child-protection-act and http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/opinion/an-abortion-bans-bogus-arguments.html?_r=0
May 1, 2015
It seems that pro-lifers just can’t wait for an ambulance to arrive at an abortion clinic.
I was glancing at some newsletter recently and there was yet another grainy picture of an ambulance in front of a facility in Texas and the headline was something like “Another Women Injured at Women’s Health Services.” The accompanying article seemed to relish the fact that there was an emergency at the local abortion facility.
Let’s get something straight here. Abortion is surgery. Actually, it is one of the safest surgical procedures that one can perform, particularly when done in the early stages of the pregnancy. In fact, there is a plethora of evidence that shows that giving birth is much more dangerous than having an abortion. But, over the years, the pro-choice folks have been reluctant to raise this issue because it could be interpreted to mean that we favor abortion over childbirth. And don’t me started on that one.
So, abortion is very safe but, let’s face it, accidents do happen. Doctors – including abortion doctors – are human, nurses are human, anesthesiologists are human And, yes, patients are human in that they sometimes do not reveal important information to their doctor about their physical health. Mistakes are made in the operating room and, when it happens, the clinic staff needs to take the appropriate steps to insure that the patient is properly cared for at a local hospital. And that means they might have to call for an ambulance.
But when they do what’s best for the patient, those blasted pro –lifers are out there ready to take their pictures. The real coup, of course, is if they can get a picture of the actual abortion patient so they can plaster her face all over the internet. Indeed, I can’t prove it but I gotta believe that when the protestors hears the sirens they probably get all lathered up with excitement that they’re gonna see a patient being sent to the ER.
So, that’s why there are some clinics that at times have hesitated to call the local ambulance. They should be able to do it without hesitation but they’ve got to be thinking that, first, pictures will be taken of the patient and, second, the clinic’s name will be circulated throughout the community. I’m not excusing those clinics that might react that way but over the years I’ve come to understand how some might hesitate before exposing a patient to the voyeurs out front of their facility.
Hey, why don’t you pro-lifers station yourself outside the birthing center in your local community and take their pictures? You’ve got a lot more material to work with.
April 23, 2015
In a recent Daily Beast article concerning abortion-related comments between Rand Paul and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Samantha Allen wrote, “By turning late-term abortions into a metonym for the issue as a whole, [Rand] Paul is clearly attempting to challenge the American consensus on the legality of abortion earlier in pregnancy. It’s a tactic as old as Roe: make first-trimester abortions guilty by association with the more easily demonized late-term procedures.” Nothing new was said here about the intent to frame all abortions as happening in the third trimester. “Metonym” is what caught my attention.
It is metonyms that keep the average person confused about abortion. Since most people, politicians and regular voters included, do not go out of their way to educate themselves about abortion and the numerous complexities of the debate, they are influenced by metonyms.
Not to be confused with a metaphor, a metonym is “a word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated.” We use metonyms all the time. Online sources cite “Washington” as an often used metonym for the federal government, “sweat” for hard work, “plastic” for credit card and so on. Most of us take care in everyday conversation to avoid metonymic usage if it will misinform. That is not the case in politics and, after reading Allen’s article, I realized how pervasive metonyms are in the language used to discuss abortion, primarily by those opposed to abortion.
What is the most destructive are the efforts to present abortion as something it is not. Achieving public policy objectives through false data and building public support by misleading the less passionate into a belief system based on ideology presented through using inaccurate and incorrect word choices is wrong, yet never effectively challenged.
Responding to the same Rand Paul – Debbie Wasserman-Schultz comments, Casey Mattox shared in the Federalist that Wasserman-Shultz and the Democrat Party support abortion “through all nine months of pregnancy.” He later states, “Democrats are big on abortion euphemisms. When they say, as Wasserman-Shultz did, that abortion should be a woman’s ‘choice’ through all nine months, they want you to focus on something other than the reality of what abortion is. Simply put, there is no clean and humane way to kill a seven-pound, full-term baby.”
I am not sure what specific euphemisms Mattox had in mind, or if he incorrectly thinks that correct terms, such as blastocyst, embryo, or fetus, are euphemisms and that pro-choice advocates should use his preferred set of ideological words or metonyms. All pro-choice people I know would agree that it is inhumane to kill a full-term baby. We also tend to believe it inhumane to have public policies that would force a woman to compromise her health or die in order for a fetus to evolve into a born person. Mattox used the “choice” term in the context of the abortion debate as a metonym for “abortion on demand at all stages of pregnancy for any reason.” Sadly, the dispassionate all too often believe such rhetoric.
Over the years, many of us have written about the language used to discuss abortion. Often divisive and steeped in emotion, the language is powerful. The terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” have always created barriers to productive discourse about abortion to the point that many people now refuse to be categorized as one or the other.
Fetus and unborn baby are frequently used as metonyms for blastocysts and embryos. Abortion opponents use murder metonymically for the abortion procedure itself. Decoding Abortion Rhetoric: The Communication of Social Change (Celeste Michelle Condit 1990) discussed how metonymic language shaped public policy on abortion. That was 25 years ago and metonyms continue to define each and every facet that leads to abortion-related public policy today. Another book, Lexical and Syntactical Constructions and the Construction of Meaning, published in 1995, also discussed the metonymy of abortion language. When “embryo” is used by abortion opponents, it is as a metonym for stem cells, which has dramatically limited potentially lifesaving research. As author Mark Bracher stated in yet another book, Lacan, Discourse, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism (1993), “Insofar as antiabortionist discourse convinces its audience, through such operations of metaphor and metonymy, that the fetus is an instance of human life, it succeeds in positioning abortion…” (p105).
Metonymy has positioned abortion in public policy outcomes. What it cannot accomplish is altering the experiences so many Americans have had, directly or indirectly, with abortion. Abortion polls that both sides use to claim victories from time to time are not reliable. What is reliable are the personal and family experiences people have with abortion rights and access. Those experiences reject the metonyms and steer people to the belief that abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her medical provider.
March 30, 2015
As a regular reader of LifeNews.com, I was shocked when I opened their latest newsletter.
“Our office had been bombed!” screamed the headline. Oh, no, I thought to myself. Some pro-choice nut ball has finally gone off the deep end and blew up their offices. I was a little surprised that I hadn’t heard anything in the mainstream media. Even the normal left-leaning newspapers would have certainly carried the story of the first bombing of a pro-life facility, no?
I anxiously started reading, not looking forward to the information about the carnage, the destruction, the lives lost. And then once I got past the red exclamation points and the bold lettering, I got to the real story.
“No, we were not the victim of the kind of bombing you see on the nightly news that claims people’s lives and causes them to live in fear of terror. Instead, LifeNews has been the victim of pro-abortion glitter bombs.”
WTF is a “glitter bomb?”
Well, according to this report, a glitter bomb is a letter that was sent to their offices and “when our staff opened the letters, glitter poured out and it went everywhere and made a huge mess.” They mentioned that several of these nasty life threatening devices had been sent over the last few weeks.
I have to say that I found it incredibly ironic that LifeNews said that they were not the target of the “kind of bombing you see …that claim people’s lives and causes them to live in fear of terror.” Phew, I certainly feel better about that. I mean, I certainly would not want the staff at LifeNews to live in fear like the dozens upon dozens of abortion clinics that were bombed over the decades. And I would never want them to experience the feeling of opening their front door in fear that the building might blow up or they would be hit with the dangerous scent of butyric acid. We would not want LifeNews staffers to have to check the bottom of their cars every morning for explosive devices or have to wear a bullet proof vest to work, would we?
As you probably have guessed right now, LifeNews used this horrifying incident to raise money. Yep, that’s what it always comes down to, doesn’t it? Their plea is that these “intimidating” acts are evidence that they have been an “effective force” in fighting the baby killers in our midst. So, despite living in constant fear of getting some glitter on their shirt, they will courageously press on with the cause which, of course, costs money. Please help us by sending $50, $100……….. You know the pitch.
Meanwhile, however, to be fair I could not ignore that a woman who police say threw some kind of Molotov cocktail at a group of women praying in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin was recently charged with aggravated assault. Fortunately, no one was injured. This nut ball was 52-year-old Melanie Toney and she was pulled over less than three miles away from the clinic. Lock her up and throw away the key for a while.
March 12, 2015
A few days ago, those of us in the pro-choice movement took a moment to remember Doctor David Gunn. On March 10, 1993 Doctor Gunn became the first abortion doctor in the United States to be assassinated by a “pro-life” zealot. His murderer, whose name I will not even use, is serving a life sentence in a jail in Florida.
Doctor Gunn travelled throughout the southwest, going from clinic to clinic to serve women who needed abortions and other reproductive health services. Weeks before his murder, he had told people that the anti-abortion protestors were getting more aggressive and to protect himself he started carrying a gun in his car. On that day, as he was entering the back entrance to the Pensacola Women’s Services, his calmly walked up behind him and shot him in the back. Doctor Gunn’s revolver was still in his glove compartment.
To many of us who represented abortion providers, this murder was not a terrible shock. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when it would take place or who it would be. The clinic bombings, the stalking, the ugly “Wanted” posters were increasing day by day. The tension was palpable. So, when the call came into my office in Alexandria, after I gasped I had to say I wasn’t too surprised. Over the next few weeks, the media was all over the story. Clinics across the country went on “red alert,” hiring security guards and buying bullet proof vests (one company actually called my association to see if we were interested in a group purchasing deal).
So, as this sad anniversary passed, I found myself wondering what did this assassin think he accomplished when he murdered Doctor Gunn?
I suppose that after all of these years he would probably still say that he had murdered a “murderer” who was going to “kill babies” that day. The funny thing is that after David’s murder, the staff at the clinic were on the phone setting up appointments for women in other clinics in the area. The director of a clinic in Mobile told me that she was “mobbed” with patients over the next few weeks. And, yes, a few doctors across the country who were always a little skittish about their work did decide to accelerate their retirement. But, again, when they retired the women found another doctor and another clinic to go to.
Over the last decade, the number of abortions performed in this country have decreased. Clinics are closing because they cannot see enough patients to pay for the rent, insurance, medical equipment and salaries. And that’s the good news. We all would love to see the day when women are not confronted with an unwanted pregnancy and forced to make a difficult choice, be it abortion, childbirth or adoption.
And, fortunately, the murders have stopped as well. Doctor Tiller in Kansas was the last abortion doctor to be murdered and it has been rather quiet since then. That tells me that when the violence really started to escalate in the 1990’s a lot of the motivation was mere copy-cat killings. And my hope is that we’ve seen the end of these senseless killings.
But the remaining doctors know they cannot let their guard down.