Part 2 of 3

By K.J. Farrell

In Part 1 of this three-part series, the focus was concern that the anti-abortion movement has with numbers in the claims that the media discriminates against them. News coverage and extremist branding are the focus of Part 2.

News Coverage Generally

Anti-abortion complaints about the lack of media attention to their annual 1/22 protest against Roe v. Wade were not justified. As noted in Part 1, there was coverage by all major media sources. The annual Roe v. Wade protests are predictable. Given the intense, real-time competition for consumers of print, online, and broadcast news, priority is given to issues of concern to the market – frigid weather and sports this year. There was no ideological media bias involved.

In addition to the Roe protest, anti-abortion groups do not think that their so-called “pro-life” bills are receiving proper attention. Media coverage of restrictive abortion legislation is newsworthy given the impact on social policy and law.  Even pro-choice bloggers have observed that basketball has received more media attention. After the media reports the initial announcement of the legislation, though, how many repetitions of predictable responses are necessary or beneficial?  Image

Why is it that anti-abortion organizations make such a fuss about media discrimination or bias but, aside from some random pro-choice blogs, there is little complaint from the pro-choice organizations? Why do they think the media favors the pro-choice position, especially given the lack of attention to the restrictive abortion legislation and its intent to erode reproductive rights for women?

One reader raised an interesting point: Any ideological bias on the part of the media could actually be steeped in religious views that favor the anti-abortion position.  Consider a 12/13  Harris Poll that revealed that 74% of U.S. adults believe in God; 54% believe in God with absolute certainty. In another survey, “only 21% of Americans believe humans beings evolved without involvement from God.”  When press coverage is poor or unfavorable, pro-choice supporters could make the claim that ideological bias towards the religious leanings of the anti-abortion movement is responsible.  What I do hear from the anti-abortion community regularly is reference to the religiosity of “most Americans” and message-manipulated polls that “most Americans” support the anti-abortion position. Thus, it would seem a bit of a contradiction: “Most Americans” would include the media. Therefore, if most Americans are religious and against abortion, media discrimination would be against the pro-choice position. Right? This premise takes me back to the questions, “Why all the fuss? Is there discrimination?”

Abortion-Related News and the Marketplace

Let’s look beyond the annual Roe v. Wade events. The criminal trial of former Dr. Kermit Gosnell is continually cited as evidence of media bias favoring abortion rights. I addressed media coverage of the case and will only say here that as egregious as the case was, the media did cover it fully, beginning with the indictment. It is insulting for anyone to suggest that the pro-choice community wanted it kept quiet – if anything, they wanted it exposed to illustrate what can happen when abortion is inaccessible, especially to poor women.

At this writing, there are 261,000 search engine results for the “Gosnell case” – 551,000 for his name alone. There are 86.5 million for “George Zimmerman case”, 12.5 million for “Jodi Arias case”, and 38 million for “Casey Anthony case” – exponentially more for each when “case” is excluded. Yes, the media responds to the marketplace.

Although anti-abortion groups claim that Americans are on their side, they clearly had/have more interest in cases unrelated to abortion or Gosnell. It would be the same situation if a fertility doctor or OB/GYN was found to be violating standards and law, or an adoption lawyer lost his license due to fraud. Media has ethical and practical responsibilities that are more important than the wishes of activists dedicated to a polarized issue. (Does anyone recall the name of the fertility doctor and the professional consequences he had as a result of his involvement in the Nadya Suleman multiple pregnancy? Probably few of you…but you know the names of all others referenced here.)

ImageThe recent “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (NTFAA) that the House of Representatives recently passed will not likely be introduced in the Senate and, even if it was, President Obama would veto it. The Hyde Amendment already ensures that federal dollars cannot be spent on abortion. Prior versions of the NTFAA included language that introduced the political nuances to the legal term of “forcible” rape. This version is really about stopping insurance companies (private) from providing abortion coverage even though more than 80% include it with other reproductive services, including fertility services. The media knows that it will never be passed. Will coverage benefit their advertisers? No. Editors clearly decided that the coverage provided was sufficient to inform the public.

Contrast the coverage of the NTFAA to the political-conservative-initiated boycott of Girl Scout Cookies that began when the Girl Scouts supported Texas Senator Wendy Davis as someone who could be considered a Woman of the Year. Davis is pro-choice so, naturally, that means the Girl Scouts include abortion rights as part of their agenda. They actually have no position on abortion. Their agenda is developing girls into strong, independent women. Period. Role models are from all political and professional backgrounds.Image

The Girl Scout cookie boycott is newsworthy because the cookies are such an icon of Americana. Few have not had the pleasure of Thin Mints or Trefoils.  Most organizers of boycotts want news coverage.  Media did not create the news – press releases did! But, anti-abortion strategists realize that this is not the kind of news that will help their cause. That leads to the matter of branding with extremism.

 The Branding of the Anti-Abortion Movement by Extremists

Think about the purpose of news – to inform so that readers can form their own opinions. At times, the “goal to be truthful and objective can be at odds with journalistic ethics“ (Carole Rich, PracticalBioethics.org 1994). Those reporting the news must be responsible.

In the summer of 1991, when the notorious Operation Rescue was protesting outside of the clinic of the late Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, a human fetus was pulled out of a jar to illustrate what a late term abortion produces. Responsibly, the media refused to show the dead fetus because there was no evidence that it was connected to Dr. Tiller. Neither the age nor the source of the prop could be verified. Reporting about the fetus took place but without visuals and with context provided to avoid implying that the fetus was from the clinic (Rich).

Operation Rescue was upset that photos of the fetus were not shown. Some anti-abortion groups were upset that it was reported at all because they believed that the media was conspiring to paint all anti-abortion activists as radicals.

To be fair, during the very contentious post-Roe era of Supreme Court decisions, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the media did seem to provide more coverage of anti-abortion activities that involved violence or highly charged characteristics. Various surveys of abortion news concluded that while most likely not intentional, the pro-choice perspective had more column inches about their activities as well as more positive coverage. This prompted news organizations to initiate policies about abortion coverage that remain in place. That said, violence is newsworthy. The media doesn’t control absurd anti-abortion strategies staged for press. Through violence and shock tactics, the anti-abortion movement has branded itself. They have themselves to blame for the media coverage that they find unfavorable. By no means is it discrimination for the media to cover unusual tactics.

When conservative politicians try to justify anti-abortion legislation, they often mention that their constituencies are “everyday” people, not wild eyed religious zealots. It is hard to be convincing when, for example, a person interviewed about traveling to a protest refers to busloads of traveling companions as “die-hard Catholics” and “soldiers of Christ” or when an organizer for an event to celebrate the closing of a clinic in Missouri states that credit for the closure goes to God and those who pray daily.  Worse for politicians is when their colleagues, in promoting the anti-abortion position, discount rape or imply that the sex lives of women are the problem.  It is also challenging to justify public policy dependent on falsehoods.

No organization appreciates it when an inappropriate source is interviewed or a representative performs poorly. It happens. Among the anti-abortion representatives, there seems to be a preference for people who have no capacity to listen, an inability to be or sound reasonable, and talk over people with unproven, false talking points. In July, 2013, should the media have ignored it when former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum “criticiz[ed] the media for portraying the [extremely restrictive abortion] legislation as radical instead of…part of a movement of love”? Had the media not reported, it then would have been accused of withholding media criticism from the public.

ImageThe media is not discriminating when religious zealots, ignorant politicians, and inarticulate organizers who alter or deny facts serve as contacts. Years ago, anti-abortion supporters complained that the very articulate, attractive, African American President of Planned Parenthood, Faye Wattledon, was quoted or interviewed so often. Their position was represented by James Dobson of the Family Research Council or Gary Bauer of Focus on the Family. NARAL’s Kate Michelman and NOW’s Molly Yard also spoke to the national media on the pro-choice side. Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly, National Right to Life’s John Wilkes or Wanda Franz, and religious leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson did for the anti-abortion side. Criticism about higher quality spokespeople on the opposing side was an internal issue in the anti-abortion movement – it was not discrimination.

Many of us supporting the pro-choice position are ardent supporters of free speech. We do not want a part of any discrimination towards an opposing view. It is safe to say that there is no discrimination in the news coverage of anti-abortion views or activities.

Stay tuned for Part 3, which will focus on the semantics of the abortion issue and the real discrimination that exists in the media coverage of abortion.

Abortion

Abortion

Before I embark on my next award winning column, I want to inform our readers that my co-blogger, DRK8blogginfem, is now on sabbatical.  As most of you know – especially you pro-lifers out there – she is a professor at a local college in Pennsylvania and it’s just become a matter of time management.  So, she will be on the sidelines for a bit.   Meanwhile, however, I’m pleased to report that I will soon be joined by two other bloggers – and one of them is from Ireland where things are hot and heavy.  Stay tuned.

So, Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.  I live down here in Alexandria, Virginia so by the end of the week pro-life activists will be streaming into town for their annual “March for Life” (they are marching on the weekend).   Of course, it’s more than one march.  It’s a series of prayer vigils, concerts, visits to Capitol Hill (more on that later) and protests at local abortion clinics.  A fun time will be had by all.

Abortion

Abortion

To this day, however, I do not understand how the pro-life movement has made this day theirs.  I mean, if I recall correctly January 22, 1973 was a day of liberation for millions and millions of women, wasn’t it?  It was the day that ended the era of illegal abortion.  It was a day that guaranteed that women would no longer have to resort to back-alley abortionists or self-induced abortions.  Roe v Wade saved the lives of thousands and thousands of women over the years.  Now, I know pro-lifers will point out that women have died from legal abortions and that is unfortunately true, but the number of deaths after Roe is miniscule compared to the epidemic of deaths that occurred pre-Roe.

So, how is it that the pro-choice movement never organized an annual “March for Choice?”  Well, the answer is simple.  Most people get energized when they are losing, when they are fighting FOR something.  In the case of the pro-lifers, it’s seeking an “end to abortion.”  They envision saving all of those “little babies,” giving little or no thought to the millions of women who each year feel compelled to abort.  Nope, they just love those babies and we’re the “baby killers” so let’s go to Washington, D.C. and march!

Abortion

Abortion

On the other hand, pro-choicers find themselves in the fortunate position of having to defend legal abortion and it’s harder to get people energized when you’re defending something that young people in particular have been living with all their lives.  As we have recently seen, the murder of 20 children with a semi-automatic assault weapon is a much more immediate and compelling image than the grainy black and white photos of a women lying in her own blood, the victim of a self-induced abortion in 1964.  It’s just not the same.

So, the anti-abortion crowd has basically kidnapped this day from us.  They’ll go up to Capitol Hill on Friday and hand out red roses to all of the congressional offices (we used to take them, put them in water, then bring them home to our spouses).  They’ll talk about how every woman who has ever had an abortion has regretted it and is on the verge of suicide.  They’ll talk about dismembering fetuses, partial birth abortion (which, ironically, does not dismember a fetus), Obama wanting to mandate abortion and how ObamaCare is going to force all of us to pay for abortions up to 42 weeks.  It will be the same ole, same ole.

But, damn, I wish we could take this day back!

Abortion

Abortion

I want to talk about two pro-choice people who have been in the news lately.

The first is a pro-choice activist named Ted Shulman.  It seems that this turkey recently pled guilty to making death threats against Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and Princeton Professor Robert George.  He could face up to 51 months in federal custody and will be sentenced on September 12.  He has called himself the “first pro-choice terrorist.”

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I’ve done some research and am bothered that I have not seen the major pro-choice groups condemning this nut ball.  For many, many years we have been quick to criticize the pro-life movement when they seem to disappear when one of their own engages in acts of violence or, if they do condemn the action, it is always with the caveat that “if the abortionist did not engage in the act of killing himself perhaps this would not have happened” or words to that effect.

Well, this pro-choicer is not going to play games with something as serious as this.  Let me for the record condemn the actions of Mr. Shulman and I hope he does serve his time.  What this guy did was wrong – period.

Abortion

Abortion

The other person I want to talk about is Nancy Keenan, the Executive Director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League, who recently announced that she will be leaving the organization after the November presidential elections.

Interestingly, Nancy said she is moving on because it’s time to let the “younger folks” take over the reins.  Now, Nancy is only 60 years old which, to me at least, still seems “not very old” but she makes a good point.

Many years ago, I was the Director of Government Affairs for NARAL.  Literally two days after I joined the staff, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a constitutional amendment overturned Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.  During that time, millions of dollars rolled into the NARAL office and it seemed like every day we were hiring a new staff person.  Meanwhile, there were rallies all across the country, marches on Washington, television commercials.  It was a very exciting time and many younger folks were engaged in the debate.

Ultimately, we won the battle as we defeated the amendment handily.  But, once we turned back the threat to legal abortion, many of those activists left the movement and moved on to other issues.  That is ironic down side when you win something.

Then, in the ensuing years the Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress and the state legislatures started chipping away at Roe but those battles weren’t “sexy” enough to get all the troops revved up again.  There was no prominent “devil” to focus on.  On the other hand, the pro-life movement always had the fetus to keep its attention so they kept the pressure up.  Later the clinic protest movement grew bigger as some decided to take the battle to the streets, right at the spot where “babies were being killed.”

Polls can always be deceiving but generally it does appear that there are more young folks involved in the pro-life movement than the pro-choice movement.  One possible reason is that they now have their “devil” in Barack Obama, who they like to call the “most pro-abortion President in our history.”

Frankly, if I were back at NARAL, I’m not sure what I would do to try to get the younger generation more energized.  They certainly don’t remember the old days of illegal abortion and campaigns to try to remind them have failed.  Meanwhile, it’s hard to get energized about a right that they have grown up with.

Nancy has the right idea.  But she and NARAL have a tough task ahead.

Abortion

Abortion

Well, it’s January 22nd, yet another anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade which legalized abortion in this country and started a controversy that will never subside.  Please note that I say the Court “legalized” abortion – I didn’t say that they invented abortion.

I live about 8 miles south of Washington, D.C. and I’ve already noticed a number of buses pouring into town with their pro-life signs hanging from their sides.  Indeed, as I write this tens of thousands of anti-abortion advocates are standing in the freezing rain listening to the same speeches that they’ve been listening to for years.  They will hold their rallies then very soon start their march up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court.  They’ll be more rallies, bullhorns, prayer vigils, speak outs, women who all of a sudden “regret” their abortions.  You name it, there’s something for everyone.

Abortion

Abortion

Meanwhile, in much smaller numbers there will be the usual pro-choice “counter” events that are designed to make sure that in tomorrow’s newspapers or tonight’s news shows, there will be a pro-choice presence as well.  Also, there will be the inevitable debate not about the issue but about how many people attended the rallies.

Around and around it goes, and for all of these years practically nothing has changed.  The only thing for certain is that the number of abortions has gone down for a number of years and it is practically impossible to say why.   Personally, I just have to believe that it’s because women, particularly younger ones, are simply more educated when it comes to birth control.   But, yes, another reason may be that there continues to be an abortion stigma and single parenthood seems more acceptable these days.

Abortion

Abortion

One thing that pro-choicers will cite is the constant legislative “attacks” on a woman’s right to have an abortion.  And, yes, the pro-lifers are taking advantage of the more conservative climate in many state legislatures but a lot of those laws deal with “informing” women of the “humanity” of the fetus, making them look at silly pictures.  These laws do not seem to really have much of an impact.  Then, there are a few clinics that have actually closed, mainly because as the number of patients decrease, some clinics are hurt and find they cannot pay the rent, equipment leases, and payroll.  Like all businesses, they are affected by the number of “customers.”

Abortion Pill

Abortion Pill

And then, as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank recently pointed out, organizations on both sides continue their decades-long pursuit of dollars.  It seems that both sides always feel a need to send out fundraising letters with large, red lettering and lots of exclamation points.  The now famous “personhood bill” is a good example.  We’re gonna see the proposal in a number of states but, really folks, if it didn’t pass in Mississippi, what state will pass the damn thing?

The bottom line is 39 years later, (less) women are still getting abortions and the clinics stand ready to serve them.

Bravo.

Mississippi

Mississippi.    

Is there a more pathetic state in the Union?   I mean, does anyone know of a state that is more regressive in terms of income, health, education, baseball teams?   Indeed, can you name a Third World country that is as bad as Mississippi?    

And, now, to push the state even further into the dark ages, their voters on Tuesday will probably pass a resolution that will totally outlaw abortion.  The specific question that the voters will be asked to approve says:  “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?”   Now I can’t imagine anyone in that state who knows what the term “thereof” means, but the gist of this measure is there will be no more abortions and lots more kids to add to the misery that is life in Mississippi.  Indeed, the person who is spearheading this effort, a guy named Les Riley, is the founder of “Personhood Mississippi” and he is the father of TEN children.  I guess old Les is hoping that others in his neck of the woods will bear the same number of kids, if not more, so they can get the classroom sizes up to at least 50 kids per room which would push their rate of academic achievement below that of Somalia.  Quite a role model, that Les!

The interesting thing about this resolution is that many “mainstream” pro-life groups actually oppose it because they are smart enough to realize that it is too extreme.  But, it ain’t too extreme for the Bubbas in Mississippi.  Indeed, outlawing abortion ain’t enough for these folks.  An analysis of the resolution shows that certain forms of birth control would be outlawed (thus creating even more children living in poverty) and it would limit in vitro fertilization.  But, for now, let’s stick to the abortion side of the equation. 

This is Johnny, oh wait, Marie, oh wait "it" has no sex yet.

When the measure passes, the next day Planned Parenthood will challenge it in court and the lower courts will grant an injunction prohibiting the measure from going into effect.  Here’s the thing, however.  Let’s say Mitt Romney (or one of the other Republican nominees) becomes President in 2013.  Despite his previous support for the right to choose, he has now courageously “seen the light” and is all of a sudden pro-life.  What a guy, a true Profile in Courage.  As President, he would be beholden to the pro-life movement and

sooner or later some more Supreme Court judges are going to kick the bucket.  That means that Romney (or, conversely, Obama) might get to make 2 or 3 appointments.  If it’s Romney, you know damn well he is going to appoint judges who are pro-life and that could tip the scales. 

Yes, many lawyers suggest that the court could not uphold a measure like this because of “legal precedent.”  That’s garbage.  It might have been the case years ago when our judicial system, not to mention the executive and legislative branches, were more deferential to their body’s previous actions but not anymore.  I am convinced that when the Supreme Court gets this (or any other) case, the justices, with the possible exception of Justice Kennedy, make up their minds immediately, then instruct their clerks to construct their rationalization.  If you think they sit there objectively, listening intently to the arguments of the learned counsel then come to a decision, you’re in La La land.  I mean, think about it.  Do you really think Clarence Thomas and Anton Scalia would NOT find a way to uphold the Mississippi law?  

So, this case will ultimately make it to the Supreme Court in a few years.  And that makes the next Presidential election so extremely important when it comes to abortion rights.  I feel like we’ve been through this drill before, but this time it’s extremely serious. 

Empty Press Conference Room

About a year after we formed the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, its members decided it was time to hold their first conference.  For years, many of them had been attending regular conferences hosted by the National Abortion Federation but some of the NCAP members were not members of NAF and the NAF meetings tended to focus on the medical side of the abortion issue.   The folks who belonged to NCAP believed strongly in having a political voice on Capitol Hill.  They argued that while NARAL was focusing on the general right to abortion, they needed someone to educate the Congress on the issues of direct importance to abortion doctors and clinics.

So, we booked the new Hilton Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, put out the suggested agenda and kept our fingers crossed.  Like anyone

who is putting on a party, we were very nervous that no one would show up.  But, much to our surprise, about 70 clinic staff, owners and doctors came to Alexandria for the two day affair.  Two of the attendees were Doctors George Tiller and Bart Slepian, who both would ultimately be murdered by pro-life activists.

To highlight how NCAP was already establishing a presence on Capitol Hill, we persuaded Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, a leader of the pro-choice movement, to kick off the event.  Jim gave a rousing speech to a crowd of people, many of whom had never even met a real live Congressman.  The next few hours were devoted to public relations and business issues.  For example, we discussed how to conduct an “open house” for abortion clinics and where to get the best malpractice insurance.

The highlight of the meeting, however, was the adoption of NCAP’s first resolution.  At that time, the clinics were under siege legislatively on both the national and state levels.  It seemed that every day a bill was introduced requiring parental consent for minors, a 24 hour waiting period, the distribution of fetal development brochures, etc.  At one point, however, an NCAP member suggested that those who were introducing these bills really had no idea how clinics opera

Proud Providers

ted to begin with and how women approached the decision.  So, the members decided to adopt a statement which made it very clear how clinics operated and how patients were treated.  So, for example, they noted that 95% of minors already talked to their parent or parents, that women DID wait at least 24 hours from the time they decided to have an abortion and that the clinics were already subject to many federal and state regulations.

The resolution was adopted unanimously and we decided to have a press conference on Capitol Hill the next day.  We quickly hired a public relations firm to get the word out.  Besides the resolution, their pitch was that this would be a

chance for the press to see in person the owners, doctors and staff who actually worked in abortion clinics.  This was a “coming out party” of sorts for our folks.

The next day, about 30 members of NCAP, all dressed up in their best Capitol Hill attire, took taxis to the House Cannon Office Building and walked into the ornate Post Office and Civil Service Committee Room, ready to conduct their press conference.  But as we walked through the large mahogany doors, we entered an empty room.  Not one member of the press showed up.  We had given a press conference and no one came.  I was totally ticked off but the NCAP members were just thrilled to be in the room and when a young media student from Georgetown University came walking in with his little camera, they agreed to stand behind the podium and make their statements.

To this day, I’ll never forget them standing there, facing that one camera, looking very proud that they had adopted this resolution and were finally showing their faces to the public.  It was just one camera but for all they knew, they could have been talking to CNN.

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