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.Embryos-Human

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.

Decoding Abortion Language imageFetus 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.

Abortion Martin Luther King

Abortion Martin Luther King

Since we are celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King weekend….

A short while ago, Republican Congressman Trent Franks announced that he would soon introduce legislation that would, among other things, prohibit women from having an abortion if it was because of the child’s race.  The bill is called – take a deep breath – the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011.”  Not sure why he didn’t throw in the name of Francis Scott Key, but that’s between him and his maker.

Franks Abortion

Franks Abortion

Franks noted that abortion is the greatest cause of death of African Americans and he added that this “will be the civil rights struggle that will define our generation.”  What a guy!  Then, the ever-present “Concerned Women for America” chimed in saying “it is horrific that in America today babies are being killed based on their race…”  Finally,  and here’s the real kicker, Pat Mahoney, another anti-abortion leader, added “you can walk into a clinic and get an abortion if you find out your child is African American.”  Think about that statement for a second.

Anti Abortion, Kill the Mother Politics

Anti Abortion, Kill the Mother Politics

The facts:  according to the pro-choice Alan Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women and for Hispanics.  I don’t know why that is true, but it is.  And, of course, our goal is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies amongst all races.

But, the first problem with this legislation is that it makes a big assumption (something the anti-abortion advocates do a lot because they have never been inside a clinic).  It assumes that when women are counseled before the abortion, they are asked why they are having it.  That ain’t the case folks.  Unless the woman brings the issue up herself, the doctor does not know why the woman is aborting.  Yes, if a woman volunteers that she is aborting because the fetus is black, then the doctor will be prohibited from performing the abortion.  But, sorry Mr. Franks, but you ain’t gonna “save any babies” because the woman, now aware of the law, will simply go to a different clinic and just not share the reason why she is aborting.

Mr. Franks and others like to suggest that abortion clinics are “targeting” the black community and engaging in “black genocide.”

Puleeeze.

The people who own and run abortion facilities are trying to help women.  At the same time they are running – dare I say it – a business.  They incorporate, they pay taxes, they hire people, they buy equipment, they advertise, they do everything that the local burger place or dry cleaners does.   And, if they are smart they locate their facility in a spot that has enough population to allow them to pay the bills.  And some locate their facilities in predominantly black areas.

But it’s not what Mr. Franks thinks.  In 2008, 63 percent of abortion clinics — defined as providers of 400 or more abortions annually — were located in predominantly white neighborhoods while 12 percent were located in neighborhoods where one-half or more of the residents are Hispanic. Only 9 percent were located in predominantly black neighborhoods.  So much for the “campaign” to wipe out the black population.

Sanger Abortion

Sanger Abortion

And before anyone tells me how Margarget Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was out to wipe out the black race, don’t even go there.  She may have made some very unfortunate comments at a time when racism was still very rampant in this country, but don’t tell me that today when a Planned Parenthood staff person goes to work, they are quoting Margaret Sanger and looking for pregnant black women in the hopes of convincing them to abort.  How silly.  .

No, Congressman Franks is just playing the race card with the hopes of convincing African Americans that the Republican Party cares about them.

What a bunch of horse-hockey.

No More Bullying Abortion Facilities

About ten years ago, I attended the funeral of Norma Stave, a good friend who, with her husband Carl, was the co-owner of two abortion clinics in Maryland.  Carl was the main physician who performed the abortions.  When I arrived at the church, Carl came up to me and asked at the last second if I would deliver a eulogy.  I had always been comfortable talking in front of audiences but this was a different animal.  Still, I was able to get through it, using my few minutes to praise Norma for her devotion to women in need.

Skip ahead a number of years.  Carl died shortly after Norma and their son, Todd, ultimately became the landlord for their two buildings.  About eight months ago, Todd’s clinic in Germantown, Maryland attracted national attention when they hired Doctor Lee Carhart, a physician who worked for the late George Tiller and who vowed to continue George’s work by offering late term abortions.

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Soon thereafter, local anti-abortion advocates learned that Todd owned that building where Lee worked.  They quickly organized a number of protests, accomplished their goal of getting publicity in the local papers and have been a continual presence ever since.  Then, looking for another angle to get their names in the papers, they decided to crawl deeper into the gutter.  They learned where Todd’s 11 year old daughter was going to school and at a Back to School night, they stood outside the school with a banner that read “Please Stop Killing the Children” and the usual photos of aborted fetuses.   Then, these wackos actually put Todd’s picture, phone numbers and email addresses online and urged their followers to contact him with their “prayers.”  Todd was inundated with calls and emails.  Nice, huh?

But Todd decided to fight back.  He compiled a list of the people who were calling and emailing him and he sent that list out to 20 of his friends, urging them to call those people.  He told them to not argue with them, to just be polite and tell them that “the Stave family thanks you for your prayers.”  Well, those 20 friends passed on the info to their friends, and so on and so on and within two days they had 5,000 pro-choice folks making calls.  Interestingly, the calls and emails to Todd’s house came to an abrupt halt.

Hmmmmmm…Is Todd on to something here?

Abortion

Abortion Rights

I talked to Todd last night.  He tells me that he has actually established a group called “Voice of Choice” (www.VoChoice.org) which seeks to organize a “person to person counter campaign against anti-choice bullying.”  The people who volunteer are notified when a certain anti-abortion advocate is harassing a doctor and are given that person’s phone and/or email.  Then they start contacting that person.  Todd says they have successfully stopped the harassment in two cases already.

I have no doubt that there are some pro-choicers out there who might feel uncomfortable about stooping to the tactics normally used by the anti abortion folks.  Indeed, whether or not to use these kinds of aggressive tactics has been the subject of many conversations within the pro choice movement for years.  In fact, Todd told me that some national pro-choice groups have been reluctant to cooperate with his organization.

When I was in the movement, I always came down on the side of those who did not support stooping to their level.  I thought it was beneath us, that we had to take the high road.  And maybe I’m just getting old and cranky.  But now I say screw it.  As long as it’s legal, go get the bastards, Todd!

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. 

Yellow Pages Search "The Old Days"

Once a woman decides to have an abortion, the next step is to find a facility in her area that actually can perform the abortion.  In years past, most women would go to their closet, get out the Yellow Pages and let their fingers do the walking to the “Abortion” category.  Once there, she would see a number of ads placed by the clinics.

What a lot of women didn’t realize, however, was that a number of the ads were actually placed by anti-abortion facilities or “crisis pregnancy centers.”  The ads were slick, never really saying whether or not they performed abortions.  The goal was to try to get unsuspecting women to come to their facility where they would then try to dissuade them, often using hard-handed and questionable “information” to do so.  The abuses are pretty well documented.  Indeed, once these “phony abortion clinics” were exposed, the Yellow Page Association was forced to create a new separate category entitled “Abortion Alternatives” for anti-abortion facilities.  I am intimately aware of the course of these events because I was on the staff of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers at the time – the organization that spearheaded the effort to make sure women knew exactly who they were calling.

Today, most patients do not go to the Yellow Pages for abortion services.  Heck, they don’t go to the Yellow Pages for anything anymore.  Instead, they go to Al Gore’s Internet.  And now, the problem of sketchy advertising is rearing its ugly head again.

A woman who has decided to have an abortion will probably do a Google Search for “abortion” or “abortion services” or “abortion clinics.”  If she were interested in getting the pro-life perspective, she might search for “pro-life” or “anti-abortion information” or words to that effect.  But if she wants the abortion, she will do her search, get to that page and immediately sees a number of ads listed in the “sponsored links” section.  That means those facilities are actually paying Google to be advertised in those prominent positions.  And, lo and behold, included in some of the sponsored links are some anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers!  Then, when you click into their ad and get to their website, it’s the same old story.  They use phrases like “abortion counseling,” “abortion stories,” and “abortion information.”  I searched and searched and found nothing that says “we are anti-abortion.”

Now, I get that the cpcs could argue that they are in fact providing “abortion information” or “counseling.”  But I think the more honest approach would be to say you are providing “anti-abortion counseling.”   Also, I’m sure the pro-lifers who read my world famous blog will come up with examples of how the advertising for the clinics can be “deceptive.”  Indeed, if you DO have examples let us know and we’d be happy to respond.

The point is why do folks play such games with women who are in very emotionally sensitive situations?  Why not be totally up front about what you want to offer?  Then let the women make up their minds if they want to utilize your services.   Meanwhile, I think it would very interesting if someone (perhaps those that manage www.abortion.com) sent an inquiry to the folks at Google and the other search engines asking them to devise something like the Yellow Page folks did years ago so the Internet advertising was just a little more “honest.”

Don’t the women deserve that much?

Abortion Clinic Bombed

I was talking to an old friend of mine yesterday, a doctor who used to perform abortions in the Midwest years ago.  He retired in 2004 and in the course of the conversation we started talking about, as he put it, the “wild west days” when the bullets were flying and the bombs exploding at abortion clinics all across the country.  He then expressed his concern that the younger activists do not remember or just simply did not know what was going on in this country at that time.

As a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I was in the middle of it all.  Our office served as one of the “command posts” that sprung into action when the crap hit the fan.  The minute we got the news about a shooting or any other kind of violent act, we would send out an “Emergency Fax” to all of our clinics alerting them about the incident.  The main reason why we did this was to simply let them know that one of their colleagues had been involved in some heinous act and more often than not the other clinics would communicate their concerns and well wishes to their friends who had just joined the growing number of victims of anti-abortion violence.  In essence, we generated a nationwide group hug.

After talking to this doctor, I started to think about the particularly “bad” years and 1997-1998 was a period that really stuck out in my mind.  Yes, by that time several doctors had been murdered and other acts of violence had been committed, but this time period was a particularly bad one:

In January, 1997, a bomb exploded outside an office building in Atlanta that housed an abortion clinic.  Then, an hour later, while the police and rescue workers were still on the scene, another bomb exploded near a trash can. Seven people were injured;

In March, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the window of Family Planning Associates and an anti-abortion advocate drove his truck through the doors of another clinic in the area.  Two weeks later, four fires were set on the roof of the Mountain Country Women’s Clinic in Montana;

In May, an arsonist drove up to the Lovejoy Surgi-Center, ran a hose from a metal drum containing an unidentified flammable liquid into the clinic and ignited it.  A month later, an incendiary device was thrown through a hole cut into the air conditioning duct on the roof of the West Alabama Women’s Center;

A few months later, a bomb exploded at the New Woman All Women Health Care in Alabama killing an off duty policeman and critically injuring a nurse.  Five months later, in the space of one week there were eight butyric acid attacks on clinics in Florida.  In these cases, the assailant injected the acid into the clinic using a syringe and because of the horrific and noxious smell, the clinics had to be evacuated, washed down and closed for several days.  This incident started a spate of similar attacks over the next few months;

Towards the end of 1998, my good friend, Doctor Barnett Slepian, was murdered in upstate New York when anti-abortion activist James Kopp fired a shot through a window in his house.

This list is, of course, a small sampling of what was going on in those days.  And, as I read this list and recall the people involved, I honestly do get chills.  I can remember the fear, the loss, the insanity and the sense of helplessness that overwhelmed all of us.

Today, there is less violence when compared to those days but that is no consolation.  History can repeat itself and so every so often I intend to write about an incident or two in more detail in the hopes of reminding those coming up behind us of the sacrifices made by the doctors, the staff and others in defending the right to choose abortion.  I also look forward to seeing our friends in the pro-life movement condemning the violence.

Protestors Holdilg Gross Sigs

Protestors Holdilg Gross Signs

It goes without saying that the abortion issue is probably the most controversial issue of our time.  Beginning in earnest after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v Wade, the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” forces have been going at for years – and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  And if you read the polls, it’s really had to say what side is actually “winning.”  Indeed, I’m not even sure how you determine who is winning.  The bottom line is I know abortion is still legal in this country but they are harder to get.  You decide.

Some even go so far to say we are in a “war” over abortion, although I wouldn’t go that far because to me a “war” is when two sides are engaging in violence and, as far as I can tell, the only violent acts have come from the pro-life side (and please, if you are pro-life, do not bore me with the “violence in the womb” argument).  But, for the moment let’s say we are engaged in a war.   The question now is how far are you willing to go to win this war?  In the world of international relations, somewhere along the line we came up with the rules of the Geneva Convention which set some boundaries for conduct that warring parties are supposed to adhere to (although not everyone complies).  In this abortion “war”, I think there should be boundaries as well.  And recently, one pro-life group crossed a boundary that makes my head spin.

By now, everyone involved in this issue knows that Doctor Lee Carhart, a physician from Nebraska, has decided to carry on the work of the late Doctor George Tillerby performing later abortions and he

has established a practice in Germantown, Maryland.  He has been there for several months and has been so open about what he is doing that he even gave a front page interview to the Washington Post a short while ago.  I’ve written in the past about how I wish my friend Lee would just “shut up” and do his work quietly (out of fear for his safety), but Lee is not built that way.  He is an advocate as well as a physician.

Not surprisingly, there have been protests at the Germantown clinic.  That’s okay, that’s the First Amendment in action.  I don’t like it but I support their right to be out there on a Saturday yelling and screaming and parading around with their gross signs.  But now here comes a pro-life splinter group with a new tactic that boggles my mind.  It seems these folks found out who owns the office complex where the abortion clinic is located.  Yes, they had enough negative energy stored up that they probably combed the real estate records in the county for his name.  I have no doubt that they probably tried to find out where he lives but have not yet been successful.  But, after discovering the name of the landlord, they found out where his CHILDREN go to SCHOOL.  And, once they discovered that his children went to an elementary school in Maryland, they came up with the idea of picketing the kids’ school!   Yep, they went out there just a few weeks ago during the day and stood in front of the school with their ugly signs and blaring the name of the landlord (and, by reference, his children).

Dr. Carhart and Dr. Tiller

Just think for a second about not just his children, but all of the children as they jumped off the bus, already thinking about their lunch period or recess and then they see this sick group of people holding signs.  When they look closer, they may see the pictures of a dismembered fetus, they may see lots of blood, they might see the word “abortion” in big red letters.  Of course, they are probably too young to even comprehend what is going on but – as this group would say – THEY NEED TO LEARN ABOUT THE HORRORS OF ABORTION!

Who are these nut balls who believe it is up to them to introduce these young children to this difficult issue?  Aren’t they the same ones who scream about parental control?  The thing is I know who they are, they are the ones whose own children will be forced at a very early age to stand outside of an abortion clinic on a beautiful Saturday, be forced to hold a disgusting sign, chant a slogan, scream at the women. And they’ll say their six year old told them they’d rather be out there than playing soccer with their friends.

I have always encouraged a healthy, honest debate on this issue.  But a line has to be drawn somewhere.  Again, I would support their right to do this, but do these folks have no shame?  Besides, from a strategic point of view it’s a pretty stupid thing to do because they are pissing off a lot of parents, even those who are pro-life.

I wonder how these folks would feel if we went to their kid’s school and held up signs of women lying in a pool of blood after a botched abortion?  We could easily do it, we’ve got the pictures.

The difference is we’re too civilized.