What do Americans think about abortion?

[Today’s guest post by Nathaniel Givens originally appeared on his personal blog, Difficult Run.]

Will Saletan, the national correspondent at Slate, is a smart and independent thinker on the abortion issue. He even wrote a controversial but highly regarded book called Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War. Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, said that the book “will make activists on both sides of the debate uncomfortable,” and that “there’s no smarter political commentator in Washington today.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, the editor of National Review Rich Lowry, called Saletan “one of America’s shrewdest political writers,” and added “If you care about the issue of abortion, you must read this book.”

So when Saletan weighed in on the question of Do Most Americans Think Most Abortions Should Be Illegal? for the 41st commemoration of Roe v. Wade, I was intrigued to read his perspective.

The statistics on public opinion of abortion are pretty complex and very controversial. Saletan took an immediate dislike to a poll paid for by the National Right to Life Committee that provided unusually granular survey responses to a question about when abortion should be legal.

The poll (above) found that 53% of Americans fell within the broadly pro-life categories of opposing abortion at any time during a pregnancy with exceptions for the life of the mother as well as for rape and incest.

The NRLC also published the results of a poll from Gallup (a poll that they didn’t choose the questions for), and that poll confirmed the findings of the NRLC poll:

Based on these polls, one would conclude that most Americans are against most abortions, but Saletan thinks we should ignore these polls, and instead we should pay attention to a different collection of polls (also from reputable sources) that broke down abortion into the following cases: legal in all cases / legal in most cases / illegal in most cases / illegal in all cases.

As you can see, the NRLC and Gallup polls shows Americans opposed to most abortions. The polls provided by Saletan show the opposite. Who to believe?

Saletan argues that we should disregard the NRLC poll, but his reasoning is actually quite poor. According to him, the NRLC stacked the deck by picking 3 questions that are broadly pro-life and 3 that are broadly pro-choice, thus creating the false sense of equality between the two sides. Additionally, he suggests that with so many options, folks will just opt for the middle.

This argument makes no sense, primary because both the polls Selatan disbelieves and the polls he likes are identical in terms of his alleged shenanigans. Three of the six NRLC options are more or less pro-life, but so are two of the four options in Saletan’s preferred polls. Additionally, it makes no sense to talk about driving people towards the middle when there are six choices. Six is an even number. If there was a strong central tendency for poll responses (Saletan provides no evidence of this assertion, and I couldn’t find any either), then wouldn’t the NRLC have picked five options instead of 6? (Or seven?) And, once again, the polls are identical in this since both have an even number of choices with half being pro-life and half being pro-choice. In short: Saletan has offered zero credible evidence to prefer one set of polls to the other.

The simplest explanation is the most reasonable: both polls are correct. In fact, Saletan implicitly argued for this in a follow-up piece (published the very next day) called The Political Peril of Second-Trimester Abortions. He wrote, “Poll numbers are usually meaningful, even when they don’t mean exactly what the sponsors claim.” In other words: respect that the answers people give to the actual poll questions are the best you’re gonna get, and be suspicious of what people extrapolate from there. That means we should prefer a theory that accommodates both sets of polls rather than one that forces us to try and explain away either set. (This is especially true because the NRLC’s poll is backed by a poll from Gallup and another one from CNN/ORC).

I took the trouble of looking through all of the polls that Saletan compiled to see if I could find a pattern. And I did. I found a very, very strong pattern that Saletan didn’t pick up on, and it is this: poll respondents react very strongly to the way the words “illegal” and “legal” are used. Here’s the Gallup poll that backed up the NRLC results:

  • Legal under any circumstances: 26% 
  • Legal under most circumstances: 13% 
  • Legal only in a few circumstances: 38%
  • Illegal in all circumstances: 20% 

Here’s the CNN/ORC poll (scroll down a bit):

  • Always legal: 25% 
  • Legal in most circumstances: 11% 
  • Legal in a few circumstances: 42% 
  • Always illegal: 20% 

Note that the third option doesn’t contain the word “illegal”. That is different from the four options that Saletan mentioned: legal in all cases / legal in most cases / illegal in most cases / illegal in all cases. To see what ones of those examples looks like, take a look at the AP/GfK poll:

  • Always legal: 34% 
  • Legal in most circumstances: 19% 
  • Illegal in most circumstances: 13% 
  • Always illegal: 29% 

Now the third option includes the world “illegal.” That’s it, that’s pretty much the sole difference between both sets of polls. If the pro-life position is described without the world “illegal,” then Americans are pro-life. If the pro-life position is described using the word “illegal,” then Americans are pro-choice. Take a look at those polls again; when the third option uses the word “legal,” it is the most popular response (in both polls). When the third option uses the world “illegal,” it is the least popular response. The swing is truly enormous: support for the same option drops by about 67% when the word choice shifts from “legal” to “illegal.”

Unlike Saletan’s theory, the observation about the effect of word choice is actually strongly supported by empirically verified theory and also consistent with all of the results. That’s good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually make the answer to the question much more clear. So if you want the simplest answer to the question, it is this: Americans do not know if they want most abortions to be illegal or not.

I’ll go a little farther, however, and make two observations.

First, I’m inclined to think that the NRLC poll is actually the best poll of the bunch because it doesn’t switch between “legal” and “illegal.” It uses only “legal” throughout. (What I’d really like, however, is a comparison to the NRLC poll that asked the exact same questions but rephrased them to use “illegal” throughout.) My hunch (and I admit it is just an informed hunch), is that this probably takes some of the emphasis off of the emotional punch of the change from “illegal” to “legal” and gets closer to Americans policy preferences. 

Second, I think that in some ways the most important finding is being obscured by all this discussion. We may not know exactly what Americans think about abortion, but we do know with certainty that the policy the American people want is a policy that is incompatible with Roe v. Wade. This becomes really clear in Saletan’s second piece (The Political Peril of Second-Trimester Abortions). In it, he used additional data from a poll funded by the Knights of Columbus and found significant erosion of support for abortion rights during the 2nd trimester even among the population that self-identified as strongly pro-choice. The decline in support was constant regardless of how the questions were asked. He concluded:

This doesn’t mean that most Americans think most abortions should be illegal. According to the most recent government data, 92 percent of abortions are performed in the first trimester. Beyond that point, abortions are much rarer and much harder to defend, both morally and politically. Without the protection of the courts, it’s difficult to see how they’d stay legal. [emphasis added] 

In other words, the only thing standing between the will of the people and pro-life reform of abortion law is the Roe v. Wade decision. This is one of the common themes of the entire abortion debate: Roe v. Wade was such an absolutist ruling that it gave the pro-choice side everything it could possibly have wanted. Despite a thin veneer of moderate rhetoric it is, when combined with the Doe v. Bolton decision handed down the same day, a truly extreme position. As a result of getting everything they could have wanted, the pro-choice side has had nothing to win and everything to lose since 1973.

In contrast to the Roe v. Wade ruling, the American people are anything but extreme and absolutist. It’s clear that any abortion after the first trimester is outside the mainstream of public opinion. Within the first trimester, it’s harder to say where Americans draw the line.

In a sense, though, it doesn’t matter where they draw the line today. Right now that’s an academic question because—until Roe is overturned or modified in some way—there’s no way to touch first-trimester abortions. Or second trimester abortions, for that matter. This makes pro-life strategy obvious: focus on using the unpopularity of second trimester abortions to erode Roe v. Wade. Support for Roe is still deep and strong, but only because so few Americans understand what the ruling actually does. By name? Roe v. Wade is popular. By effect? It’s toxic. The key is to make defenders own the toxicity. (Related: It’s also important to help Americans realize how many of them already oppose abortion, because media bias causes us to significantly over-estimate the popularity of the pro-choice movement.)

And that’s really all you need to know about American opinion on abortion. When they see the facts, Americans still make the right choice. It’s true of Roe today, and I believe one day it will be true of elective abortions, regardless of trimester.

What do Americans think about abortion?

[Today’s guest post by Nathaniel Givens originally appeared on his personal blog, Difficult Run.]

Will Saletan, the national correspondent at Slate, is a smart and independent thinker on the abortion issue. He even wrote a controversial but highly regarded book called Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War. Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, said that the book “will make activists on both sides of the debate uncomfortable,” and that “there’s no smarter political commentator in Washington today.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, the editor of National Review Rich Lowry, called Saletan “one of America’s shrewdest political writers,” and added “If you care about the issue of abortion, you must read this book.”

So when Saletan weighed in on the question of Do Most Americans Think Most Abortions Should Be Illegal? for the 41st commemoration of Roe v. Wade, I was intrigued to read his perspective.

The statistics on public opinion of abortion are pretty complex and very controversial. Saletan took an immediate dislike to a poll paid for by the National Right to Life Committee that provided unusually granular survey responses to a question about when abortion should be legal.

The poll (above) found that 53% of Americans fell within the broadly pro-life categories of opposing abortion at any time during a pregnancy with exceptions for the life of the mother as well as for rape and incest.

The NRLC also published the results of a poll from Gallup (a poll that they didn’t choose the questions for), and that poll confirmed the findings of the NRLC poll:

Based on these polls, one would conclude that most Americans are against most abortions, but Saletan thinks we should ignore these polls, and instead we should pay attention to a different collection of polls (also from reputable sources) that broke down abortion into the following cases: legal in all cases / legal in most cases / illegal in most cases / illegal in all cases.

As you can see, the NRLC and Gallup polls shows Americans opposed to most abortions. The polls provided by Saletan show the opposite. Who to believe?

Saletan argues that we should disregard the NRLC poll, but his reasoning is actually quite poor. According to him, the NRLC stacked the deck by picking 3 questions that are broadly pro-life and 3 that are broadly pro-choice, thus creating the false sense of equality between the two sides. Additionally, he suggests that with so many options, folks will just opt for the middle.

This argument makes no sense, primary because both the polls Selatan disbelieves and the polls he likes are identical in terms of his alleged shenanigans. Three of the six NRLC options are more or less pro-life, but so are two of the four options in Saletan’s preferred polls. Additionally, it makes no sense to talk about driving people towards the middle when there are six choices. Six is an even number. If there was a strong central tendency for poll responses (Saletan provides no evidence of this assertion, and I couldn’t find any either), then wouldn’t the NRLC have picked five options instead of 6? (Or seven?) And, once again, the polls are identical in this since both have an even number of choices with half being pro-life and half being pro-choice. In short: Saletan has offered zero credible evidence to prefer one set of polls to the other.

The simplest explanation is the most reasonable: both polls are correct. In fact, Saletan implicitly argued for this in a follow-up piece (published the very next day) called The Political Peril of Second-Trimester Abortions. He wrote, “Poll numbers are usually meaningful, even when they don’t mean exactly what the sponsors claim.” In other words: respect that the answers people give to the actual poll questions are the best you’re gonna get, and be suspicious of what people extrapolate from there. That means we should prefer a theory that accommodates both sets of polls rather than one that forces us to try and explain away either set. (This is especially true because the NRLC’s poll is backed by a poll from Gallup and another one from CNN/ORC).

I took the trouble of looking through all of the polls that Saletan compiled to see if I could find a pattern. And I did. I found a very, very strong pattern that Saletan didn’t pick up on, and it is this: poll respondents react very strongly to the way the words “illegal” and “legal” are used. Here’s the Gallup poll that backed up the NRLC results:

  • Legal under any circumstances: 26% 
  • Legal under most circumstances: 13% 
  • Legal only in a few circumstances: 38%
  • Illegal in all circumstances: 20% 

Here’s the CNN/ORC poll (scroll down a bit):

  • Always legal: 25% 
  • Legal in most circumstances: 11% 
  • Legal in a few circumstances: 42% 
  • Always illegal: 20% 

Note that the third option doesn’t contain the word “illegal”. That is different from the four options that Saletan mentioned: legal in all cases / legal in most cases / illegal in most cases / illegal in all cases. To see what ones of those examples looks like, take a look at the AP/GfK poll:

  • Always legal: 34% 
  • Legal in most circumstances: 19% 
  • Illegal in most circumstances: 13% 
  • Always illegal: 29% 

Now the third option includes the world “illegal.” That’s it, that’s pretty much the sole difference between both sets of polls. If the pro-life position is described without the world “illegal,” then Americans are pro-life. If the pro-life position is described using the word “illegal,” then Americans are pro-choice. Take a look at those polls again; when the third option uses the word “legal,” it is the most popular response (in both polls). When the third option uses the world “illegal,” it is the least popular response. The swing is truly enormous: support for the same option drops by about 67% when the word choice shifts from “legal” to “illegal.”

Unlike Saletan’s theory, the observation about the effect of word choice is actually strongly supported by empirically verified theory and also consistent with all of the results. That’s good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually make the answer to the question much more clear. So if you want the simplest answer to the question, it is this: Americans do not know if they want most abortions to be illegal or not.

I’ll go a little farther, however, and make two observations.

First, I’m inclined to think that the NRLC poll is actually the best poll of the bunch because it doesn’t switch between “legal” and “illegal.” It uses only “legal” throughout. (What I’d really like, however, is a comparison to the NRLC poll that asked the exact same questions but rephrased them to use “illegal” throughout.) My hunch (and I admit it is just an informed hunch), is that this probably takes some of the emphasis off of the emotional punch of the change from “illegal” to “legal” and gets closer to Americans policy preferences. 

Second, I think that in some ways the most important finding is being obscured by all this discussion. We may not know exactly what Americans think about abortion, but we do know with certainty that the policy the American people want is a policy that is incompatible with Roe v. Wade. This becomes really clear in Saletan’s second piece (The Political Peril of Second-Trimester Abortions). In it, he used additional data from a poll funded by the Knights of Columbus and found significant erosion of support for abortion rights during the 2nd trimester even among the population that self-identified as strongly pro-choice. The decline in support was constant regardless of how the questions were asked. He concluded:

This doesn’t mean that most Americans think most abortions should be illegal. According to the most recent government data, 92 percent of abortions are performed in the first trimester. Beyond that point, abortions are much rarer and much harder to defend, both morally and politically. Without the protection of the courts, it’s difficult to see how they’d stay legal. [emphasis added] 

In other words, the only thing standing between the will of the people and pro-life reform of abortion law is the Roe v. Wade decision. This is one of the common themes of the entire abortion debate: Roe v. Wade was such an absolutist ruling that it gave the pro-choice side everything it could possibly have wanted. Despite a thin veneer of moderate rhetoric it is, when combined with the Doe v. Bolton decision handed down the same day, a truly extreme position. As a result of getting everything they could have wanted, the pro-choice side has had nothing to win and everything to lose since 1973.

In contrast to the Roe v. Wade ruling, the American people are anything but extreme and absolutist. It’s clear that any abortion after the first trimester is outside the mainstream of public opinion. Within the first trimester, it’s harder to say where Americans draw the line.

In a sense, though, it doesn’t matter where they draw the line today. Right now that’s an academic question because—until Roe is overturned or modified in some way—there’s no way to touch first-trimester abortions. Or second trimester abortions, for that matter. This makes pro-life strategy obvious: focus on using the unpopularity of second trimester abortions to erode Roe v. Wade. Support for Roe is still deep and strong, but only because so few Americans understand what the ruling actually does. By name? Roe v. Wade is popular. By effect? It’s toxic. The key is to make defenders own the toxicity. (Related: It’s also important to help Americans realize how many of them already oppose abortion, because media bias causes us to significantly over-estimate the popularity of the pro-choice movement.)

And that’s really all you need to know about American opinion on abortion. When they see the facts, Americans still make the right choice. It’s true of Roe today, and I believe one day it will be true of elective abortions, regardless of trimester.

News of the week

The House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. But unsurprisingly, it’s unlikely to get anywhere in the Senate. (Elections have consequences.) Also unsurprisingly, the mainstream media coverage has been pretty sad.

Mormon SPL supporter Nathaniel Givens responds to Dan Becker, who proclaims the wrath of God on all incrementalist pro-lifers:

“It has been openly stated within the movement that we need to distance ourselves from the ‘rape/incest’ debate by giving up the argument. This is a total abdication of duty and a grave moral failure that will incur God’s judgment.”

The first sentence is a little strong, but it represents a genuine belief on the part of some within the pro-life community, and I sympathize with their sense that they alone will speak for the innocent and voiceless. But the second one? We’re going to start calling down God’s judgment on fellow pro-lifers? I believe that lacks discretion, to put it mildly. Of course, according to Becker, if you allow a rape and incest exception you aren’t really pro-life at all.

Yesterday, pro-life leaders held a press conference demanding the closure of Douglas Karpen’s abortion center. Karpen’s former employees allege that he ran a Gosnell-like infanticide operation. State authorities are investigating, but Karpen remains in business in the meantime. That’s unacceptable, say LEARN, National Black Pro-Life Union, Black Pro-Life Coalition, and Operation Rescue.

Ohio Right to Life condemns a high school that refuses to let a student with Down Syndrome participate on the cheerleading squad.

Douglas Karpen is the New Kermit Gosnell

[This post is reprinted with permission from Difficult Run.]

Aside from wishing that people would simply not talk about Kermit
Gosnell at all, pro-choice groups in American politics would really like
everyone to understand that Kermit Gosnell was a horrific aberration.
As a group, the pro-choice movement tends to circle the wagon around
late-term abortionists and idolize them. George Tiller, for example, was
considered a hero even before his murder made him a martyr. So, when
the late term abortion is legal, you’re a women’s rights
crusader and paragon of sacrifice and bravery. But, if you take the
exact same fetus and more or less the same method of execution and carry
it out outside the womb, then all of a sudden that is
something completely and totally different. So: killing human beings
inside the womb at (for example) 24 weeks and killing human beings
outside the womb (also, for example, at 24 weeks) are basically
unrelated practices, as far as the pro-choice movement is concerned. One
gets you awards and fame, the other gets you a life-term prison
sentence.

APphoto_Abortion Clinic Deaths
Kermit Gosnell, after being sentenced.

The pro-life side is, to put it mildly, rather skeptical of this bright-line distinction.

When pro-choice individuals are honest, of course, they also admit
that there’s not much of a distinction at all. Pro-choice philosophers
openly call for infanticide (aka “after birth abortion“), so have Planned Parenthood spokespersons, and most notably there’s an extensive article called
“Second trimester abortion provision: breaking the silence and changing
the discourse” by an abortionist about the personal trauma she feels
when carrying out late-term abortions. The truth is undeniable:
abortion–and especially late-term abortion–is an act of savage and
barbaric violence that dehumanizes everyone concerned: the woman, the
abortionist, and of course the unborn (or born, does it really make a
difference?) human being.

This may seem judgmental to women in crisis pregnancies, but the
pro-life movement has from the earliest days of woman’s suffrage
understood that abortion is a means for exploiting women who, because of
an unplanned pregnancy, are in an incredibly vulnerable position.
Rather than the stereotypical angry abortion clinic protester yelling at
women or calling them murderers, the pro-life movement as I have known
it my entire life is best summarized by this bumper sticker I once saw: Abortion has two victims: One killed and one wounded.

Today I read tragic news from Texas that confirms the pro-life
understanding of abortion (especially late-term abortion) as a
dehumanizing practice. WARNING: THIS NEWS IS GRAPHIC.

The Daily Mail
reports that a new “house of horrors” has been discovered in Texas
where abortionist Douglas Karpen delivered live babies during third
trimester before killing them. The extreme nature of the charges explain
why the story is getting it’s biggest coverage in a UK tabloid, but the
evidence is credible. The New York Times reports Texas Lt.
Gov. David Dewhurst has called for an investigation, and the Harris
County district attorney’s office is opening one. In addition, the Houston Chronicle
vetted the three eyewitnesses at the center of the case and determined
(based on pay stubs) that they had indeed been employed by the clinic.
There are also photos and videos, although I don’t have the stomach to
look at more of those.

2013-05-17 Karpen
Douglas Karpen
So, what was Karpen up to? Like Gosnell, he would “snip” the spinal
cords of living newborns with scissors. Alternatively, he killed some by
physically twisting their heads off with his bare hands or ripping
their throats out with forceps. I guess he was experimenting with
different techniques? If they were too big to deliver whole, he would
dismember them in the womb and then pull the pieces out. (Why is that
controversial? It’s the standard legal abortion technique.) This wasn’t
some weird exception, either. The news coverage of Gosnell’s conviction
mentions that he was found guilty on three counts of murder, but they
neglect that he killed hundreds of newborns. They just didn’t
have physical evidence that the others had been delivered alive before
being killed. After all: if you kill the unborn human being inside her
mother’s womb it is (generally, depending on the state) legal. Same
thing was going on in Douglas Karpen’s clinic. Here’s testimony from a
clinic worker:
When he did an abortion, especially an over 20 week abortion, most of
the time the fetus would come completely out before he either cut the
spinal cord or he introduced one of the instruments into the soft spot
of the fetus in order to kill it…. or actually twisting the head off the
neck with his own bare hands. It was still alive because it was still
moving and you could see the stomach breathing.

What will it take for people to understand that infanticide is not just the inevitable theoretical but also the practical consequence
of America’s gruesomely liberal abortion laws? When you tell doctors
that they can take $4,000 for killing a human being and that this not
only acceptable but laudable, when you treat these men and women as heroes,
what do you expect to be the result? The reality is that killing a
human being is psychologically traumatic. People who do that for money,
as their career, either have something wrong with them already or break
something inside of themselves as they go. That’s the reason abortion
clinics are becoming so rare, by the way. It’s really hard to convince
idealistic, freshly minted MDs to take up the practice of killing
instead of healing. I haven’t found any reporting on the condition of
the clinic–Kermit Gosnell’s was filthy, filled with body parts of dead
bodies, and was operated in a racist way that gave preferences to white
mothers over black mothers, but I would be surprised if a lot of the
same weren’t also true of Douglas Karpen’s facility.

UPDATE: I’ve since found that at least one of Karpen’s patients died.
Denise Montoya was given an abortion in 1988 when she was 15 years old
and 25 weeks pregnant. Karpen performed the procedure which led to
Montoya’s death. Her parents sued, alleging that the clinic “failed to
adequately explain the risks of the procedure, and had not provided
consent forms, or had the parents sign any informed consent document,
prior to the fatal abortion.” Another lawsuit
stemmed from Nicolette C.’s partial abortion. Nicolette called from
Louisiana to ask for advice, and the clinic quoted her a price of about
$900 and said it would go up every week. They quoted her over $1,000
after she waited 10 days, but when she arrived at the clinic they said
the price was $1,800. Nicolette, alone, 16, without parental notice or
consent, tried to pawn her jewelry to meet the higher price. She finally
had to return home and borrow money before the clinic would begin the
abortion by inserting a laminaria to start dilation. Nicolette changed
her mind, however, and returned to the clinic to beg them to remove the
laminaria and stop the abortion. (This is a procedure that can be done.)
According to the suit the clinic and Karpen lied to Nicolette and
refused to remove the laminaria. Finally Nicolette and her mom sought
emergency help at a hospital where Nicolette gave birth to a premature
little girl. The baby girl survived 6 months before dying. As I
suspected, the pattern of wanton cruelty and indifference lives on with
late-term abortion providers.

One of the most important consequences of revelations about Gosnell,
Karpen, and other late-term abortionists is the collapse of the myth
that pro-life activists are concerned only with stopping abortion and
not with helping women. Was it really concern for women that led
pro-choice groups to cover for Kermit Gosnell? To screen him from any
oversight or regulation? To allow him to refer patients from the
mainstream National Abortion Federation to his own clinic? To refuse to
report his clinic despite being invited to take a tour of the grisly
facility? Is it concern for women that leads national organizations like
Planned Parenthood to continue to fight tooth and nail against
common-sense regulation of abortion clinics that would, for example,
hold them up to the same standards as other medical outpatient surgery
facilities or require that abortionists have admitting privileges at
local hospitals in case something wrong? Is it concern for women that
leads Planned Parenthood to not only fail to report evidence of
statutory rape, but also to help cover it up? Because let me tell you:
if that’s what concern for women looks like, women need some new allies.

2013-05-17 Karpen Eyewitnesses
The three former Karpen employees that are testifying against him.

I can’t speak for every pro-life organization because I’m not familiar
with all of them. I’ve primarily worked with the Virginia Society for
Human Life (state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, which is the oldest and largest pro-life organization) and with Secular Pro-Life.
Everyone I’ve met at those organizations, and also in my informal
discussions with other pro-life activists, cares deeply and sincerely
about the welfare of women. We believe that elective abortions are not
only wrong because they unnecessarily end innocent human lives, but also
because they perpetuate the exploitation of women. Feminists for Life
is not an oxymoron. In fact, given the way that the pro-choice movement
expresses concern for women by enabling abortionists like Gosnell and
Karpen, you might be forgiven for starting to wonder if it was actually
the other way around.

It’s perfectly true that late-term abortions are rare. I understand
that. As a result, it’s possible for pro-choice people to sincerely
believe in early-term abortions as a fundamental right without accepting
that elective late-term abortions ought to be legal. But those
well-intentioned pro-choice individuals need to understand that their
moderate views are not being reflected by the leaders and institutions
they often support. If you’re pro-choice and you think Gosnell and
Karpen are anomalies, I have news for you: they aren’t. They are logical
extensions of the ideology that currently holds sway in the upper
echelons of the pro-choice movement. If you’d like to work to reform
your own movement to try and make them anomalies, that would be
great. But you just might have to overturn Roe v. Wade in the process,
because the framework it set up (along with Doe v. Bolton) doesn’t leave
an awful lot of wiggle-room.

Are you prepared to do that?

Forced Abortions Around the World

[Today’s guest post is by SPL member Nathaniel Givens. It originally appeared on his personal blog, Difficult Run.]

As a general rule when I’m talking about the abortion issue I’m talking about it primarily in America. And, within that context, I usually refer to those who want abortion to be kept legal as “pro-choice”. I use that term for three reasons. The first is that, in my experience, it is generally accurate. Most people who call themselves pro-choice are genuinely concerned with the welfare of women and with ensuring women have the power to determine their own destiny. The second reason is that I generally think it’s a good idea to let your political opponents describe their own positions, including naming it. And the last is that trying to advance alternative names (e.g. “pro-abortion”) ends up doing nothing but creating silly, endless debates about terminology that accomplish nothing. Usually: it’s a waste of time.
But, while most ordinary Americans are really pro-choice, the specter of forced abortions is a real human rights concern both here at home and also internationally. Here are three stories from three very different countries (the US, Ireland and China) that don’t attempt to be at all comprehensive, but just look at different impacts of forced abortion policies on women and society. 

China

China’s draconian one-child policy has frequently made headlines. Although it’s unevenly enforced, there are still plenty of cases where government official will seized a pregnant woman, drag her to the hospital, and give her an abortion against her will. In the worst cases, when the pregnancy is already very advanced, they will deposit the dead baby’s body next to the woman in bed. (These cases are well-documented and there are photos, but I will spare you.) Chen Guangcheng, the famous blind dissident lawyer, made headlines and created an international incident when he fled house arrest and sought asylum at the US embassy in China before eventually being allowed to leave the country with his family. Something that was not often mentioned in the coverage was that one of his core issues was protesting forced abortions.
China’s disgusting and inhumane policy is creating serious repercussions that are only starting to be felt by the country. One tragic result has been that huge numbers of baby girls have been aborted because Chinese parents prefer sons to daughters for cultural reasons. (This is, of course, not unique to China.) That in turn has created a growing gender gap that could threaten to destabilize the entire country, because many researchers believe that a core cause of civil unrest are large numbers of men with no prospects for marriage and family. This can be created in countries where polygamy is practiced and so the elite men marry multiple women, leaving poor men with fewer mates to choose from. But China has created this problem without polygamy because there are simply too many men.
But the particular consequence of the one-child policy (which includes forced abortions and sterilizations, but also a broader regulation of what women are allowed to do with their own bodies) is that there is a growing population of older Chinese parents who have lost their one and only child. When younger parents lose a child, they are usually allowed to have another one. Of course no child can replace any other child, but it’s a terrible thing for a married couple who wanted children–or at least a child–to grow old alone. Buzzfeed has a moving article about this burgeoning class of reverse orphans in China.
2013-05-08 China's Orphaned Parents
Among Chinese parents too old to have more children, there’s a special grief to losing an only son or daughter. They’re called shidu — “those who’ve lost their only” — and the Chinese media hesitates less and less to call them victims of 1979′s one-child policy, which was designed to stall a population explosion, but whose cultural consequences are just now becoming clear. Sina News reports that 760,000 families lose their only child every year. They not only mourn a loved one, but also their lone source of companionship and economic support in old age.
Kind young Chinese offer to “adopt” these grieving parents, and that’s truly beautiful, but nothing can really make up for their loss. Of course China’s one-child policy didn’t kill their born children, but the threat which gives that policy teeth is the willingness of Chinese officials to force abortions and sterilizations on those who dare to disobey. Some parents choose to have only one child of course, but the shidu are a group who have been forced into that position by forced abortions. (Grim additional statistics available here.)

Ireland

In 1997 “Mary” (not her real name) was 13 and pregnant. The pregnancy was the result of a rape. She was also the subject of a contentious legal battle testing Ireland’s strict laws against abortion. The story was that she was depressed and suicidal and that only an abortion would save her. And so she was flown to England and given the abortion that saved her life. Now, 16 years later, Mary is telling her own story and it differs substantially from the official narrative.
First, according to Mary, she never gave her consent to the abortion. In fact, she was never asked. She certainly didn’t threaten suicide if she couldn’t have one. Instead, this traumatized girl was taken out of the care of her parents and put in a state facility where she was drugged against her will. From the LifeSiteNews article:
She relates that she was drugged against her will following the incident: “When I was taken into care, I was so shy. Most of the time, I was drugged up to the eyeballs in a room on my own. I remember they would come in with a silver tray and a syringe on it. The drug was Largactil. They would offer it to me in a brown sticky liquid or in tablet form. I would say no to both.
“Then four of five staff would come in, hold me down and give me an injection in the bum. That was horrific because it brought back memories of the rape. Eventually I ended up taking the tablets because I didn’t want to be held down any more,” she said.
This horrific treatment–compounding the trauma of the rape she had suffered–would certainly be bad enough, but for Mary the abortion was much, much worse. At the time she didn’t understand that she was pregnant, and she didn’t understand what an abortion was. No one consulted her. But Mary, now 29 and a mother, understands exactly what was done to her all those decades ago and she is not freed because of it. She is haunted. In her own words:
[F]or me, it has been harder to deal with than the rape.
She goes on to say that the reality of an abortion “only really hits you after you have children.” She goes on:
You never forget your missing baby. It plays on your mind every day. Any woman who has an abortion and then goes on to become a mother will know all about it afterwards.
Mary goes on to say that of course, at only 13 years old, she was not in a fit state to be a mother to a child. She dreams that she would have been able to give the child up for adoption, however, saying that “She’d be a teenager today and maybe we could be friends, even if she didn’t call me mammy.”  But of course that choice was taken away from Mary, just another crime on top of the forced injections and the original rape, and she has been left to cope with the wreckage of the state’s helpful intervention into her life on her own:
I still have dreams about a little girl with blonde hair running around a field and asking me to play with her. She is my lost daughter. I called her Shannon. I eventually got a death certificate for her. That was my way of proving that she existed.
I’m sure that the social workers who took Mary away from her family, who put her in an institution and threatened her to be physically assaulted and drugged, and who eventually took her to get an abortion without consulting her or even explaining the procedure thoughtthey were doing the right thing. I’m sure they meant no harm. But this is what happens when you have the horrible belief that killing human beings solves problems. Without going so far as to say that abortion should be illegal in cases of rape (which is not something I believe), we should at least have an understanding that abortion is never a solution, and when a girl and her family are not given the right to decide, there’s nothing  ”pro-choice” about it.

United States

The same good intentions that led to tragedy in Mary’s case in Ireland nearly led to similar tragedy for Elisa Bauer and her family in Nevade. Elisa Bauer was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and has been raised by adoptive parents. Although she is 32 years old, she has the mental capacity of a 6-year old. Despite this, she has left her group home in the past to have sex with men at a local truck stop. Obviously, since Elisa is mentally disabled, this sex is not consensual. As a result, she recently became pregnant.
The state of Nevada wanted to force her to have an abortion and then to sterilize her, but her adoptive parents fought back. There were 6 families waiting in line to adopt her baby girl, and medical experts have testified that, though Elisa should be monitored, the pregnancy is progressing normally and there is no medical reason for an abortion. Despite this assessment, the governor initially seemed inclined to grant the order for a forced abortion. This prompted a backlash from pro-life activists, as covered by the National Right to Life, and the governor backed down.
2013-05-08 Cierra MarieAs a result, Cierra Marie was born on May 2 weighing 5 lbs., 7 oz. and measuring 17 inches long. The family’s lawyer wrote that:
She is sweet and good natured. By all measures, she is perfectly healthy and sublimely beautiful.
Elisa’s mother (Cierra’s grandmother) added that Elisa was also doing well, and that Cierra will indeed be placed with an adoptive family.
This story ended well for Cierra, who’s life was spared and who will now bless a loving family. It shows that the pro-life movement is not just concerned with fetuses, but with all human beings. With unborn babies, with born babies, and with their mothers as well, not matter their race, religion, background, or developmental abilities.
Unfortuntely, however, Elisa and Cierra’s case is not unique. In another case in Massachusetts a young Catholic woman was almost forced to undergo an abortion and sterilization against her will. Her parents sued to force the abortion against their daughters wishes, and a judge agreed. According to Population Research, the judge decided:
that it didn’t matter how they got Moe to have the abortion, even if it meant she had to be “coaxed, bribed, or even enticed … by ruse.” Not only this, but she directed that whatever medical facility performed the abortion go ahead and sterilize Moe … without her permission.
Moe (the woman is known in court documents only as Mary Moe) is not a child. She is 32 years old. She is not mentally disabled. She suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and the pregnancy meant that she could not take her drugs. She decided of her own free will, however, and in accord with her Catholic faith that she would rather endure months without her drugs than have an abortion, let alone be sterilized. But the judge disagreed, writing in her decision that:
if Moe were competent, she ‘would not choose to be delusional,’ and therefore would opt for an abortion in order to benefit from medication that otherwise could not be administered due to its effect on the fetus.
Is this what “pro-choice” looks like? No, and even pro-choice Democrats in Massachusetts agreed. One state senator said that: “it bothers me as a woman, that a woman can’t make a decision about her body.” Thankfully, the judge’s order was overturned, and Moe was not forced to abort her unborn child.
Let me be clear: I don’t believe that pro-choice politicians or the larger pro-choice movement in America supports forced abortion. My primary purpose in writing this article is just to show people that it happens, that it doesn’t just happen in China, and what some of the effects are. I’m strongly pro-life, but I just thought people should know more about this issue.
Not every post about abortion has to end with a political point, and this one doesn’t.

Gosnell and Abortion, Part 3 of 3

In the first post,
I introduced the theme that pro-choice journalists are unconsciously
avoiding directly covering the Gosnell case because it would cause
cognitive dissonance and provided the first example: the Gosnell case
would reveal just how liberal and out-of-touch the abortion status quo
is in this country. In the second post
I got to the heart of the issue: the extreme laws on abortion make it
impossible to distinguish between abortion and infanticide, leading not
just Gosnell but also pro-choice leaders (including President Obama) to
openly call for infanticide. Gosnell’s problem: he followed through on
the logic.

There’s one last myth that cannot survive the Gosnell story, and in
some ways its the hardest for the pro-choice lobby to accept but also
the most important to understanding the pro-life perspective. So here
goes.

3. Abortion is not good for women 

As a commenter to my second post noted, the pro-choice lobby is
trying to spin the Gosnell story and they are trying to spin it hard.
The most egregious example of this is a completely astounding article from The Atlantic
running with the headline: Kermit Gosnell and the Anti-Abortion
Movement’s Intelligence Failure. The sub-title really says it all:

An anti-abortion group says it spent 20 years praying
outside his clinic. Why didn’t any of the women tell them what was going
on?

In other words: you pro-lifers were right outside the clinic. Why
didn’t you do something? Here’s the problem with that accusation: the
pro-life protesters might have been right outside, but the pre-eminent National Abortion Federation had already been inside the facility. Arguing that the pro-lifers should have known only highlights the fact that the pro-choicers did know.
Not only did they come and inspect Gosnell’s facility (they denied him
admittance into their group), but he worked part time at an NAF
facility.
The Atlantic piece alleges that it was fear of pro-life protesters that drove women to the squalid and lethal house of horrors:

In a March piece for the Huffington Post, Kate Michelman,
the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Carol E. Tracy,
the executive director of the Women’s Law Project, wrote that one reason
that poor minority women went to Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors was
that they were driven there by fear of anti-abortion protestors outside
Planned Parenthood facilities in Philadelphia.

But there’s no reason to have to speculate that pro-lifers may
have driven some women to Gosnell’s clinic because we already know how
quite a few of the women ended up there: the NAF sent them. As RealChoice documents (citing the grand jury report):

The Grand Jury in the Kermit Gosnell case found that at
least six young women and girls, including the mother of Baby Boy A, had
never intended to end up in the hands of Dr. Gosnell They had sought
out a member of the most reputable organization of abortion
practitioners in the world: the National Abortion Federation (NAF).

For more on the Gosnell / NAF connection, Shannen Coffin reports that:

Gosnell worked one day a week at
the now-defunct Atlantic Women’s Medical Services in Wilmington, Del.,
which was an NAF member. Many of the witnesses for the prosecution were employees of that NAF-member facility. The grand-jury report found
that he routinely referred women who were too far along in their
pregnancy to get an abortion under Delaware law to his West Philadelphia
clinic, and the patients paid the NAF-member Delaware facility for the
abortion services at the Philadelphia clinic. At least one of the
abortions at issue in the indictment was started (given the need to
induce labor, late-term abortions often take place over several days) at
the Delaware NAF-certified facility and the unborn child was finished
off at the Philadelphia clinic.

So, just to recap, not only did the pro-choice lobby fail miserably
to stop Gosnell when they knew exactly how bad things were, not only did
they allow him to work at their clinics and start abortions there that
he finished at his own clinic, but on top of their egregious and callous
disregard for the plight of the women they abandoned to that butcher,
they have the audacity to complain that the pro-life protesters should
have done more. The sad thing is that, inadvertently, the pro-choice
lobby seems to be admitting in the end that the ones with genuine
concern and compassion for women are not the pro-choice lobby who
created and sheltered Gosnell, but the pro-lifers. (Check out  the first Friedersdorf piece again
for a recap of the ways in which the pro-choice lobby protected Gosnell
from audits, inspections, and investigations for years while his grisly
reign continued unabated.)

It seems hard to believe that the pro-choice lobby would put abortion
ahead of the welfare of women, but it’s not actually news. They’ve been
doing it for years when they oppose common-sense regulations on
abortion clinics, such as requiring the buildings to meet the same
standards as surgical outpatient facilities or requiring abortionists to
have admittance privileges with local hospitals for when something goes
wrong. The ideal of total access to abortion has become so extreme that
they have forgotten their own rhetoric, that abortion is supposed to be
a means to feminist empowerment and not an end in itself. But that’s
exactly what it has become. Partially this is due to the precarious
position that Roe v Wade has put them in. Just as the abortioneers would
rather silence a fellow abortionist’s plea for help in staying the
course despite the trauma of daily homicide, the abortion movement
generally believes that if poor and minority women have to deal with
dangerous and substandard care to preserve maximum access to abortion
for everyone: so be it. Necessary sacrifices, and all that. Partially it
may also be due to the unresolved trauma some pro-choice women feel as a
consequence of their own abortions. Different women react in different
ways, but for many it leaves a scar that never heals, a wound that never
fully closes.

The pro-choice movement has been locked into a precarious, volatile,
and absolutist position ever since Roe v. Wade. Because they had their
political victories handed by fiat rather than earned on the
battleground of public opinion, a single supreme court opinion could
undo all of the “progress” they ever made. Unlike civil rights,
“abortion rights” was not a case of the SCOTUS successfully getting out
ahead of an inevitable cultural shift. They gambled at social
engineering, and they guessed horribly wrong, and now the pro-choice
lobby has no choice but to defend their misbegotten political turf by
hook and by crook.

The American people would not tolerate the reality of our current
regime for a single day if it was presented to them plainly. The Gosnell
case threatens, if not to pull the cover off the whole enterprise, to
at least give a glimpse of what abortion in American is really about
today.

And you know what? It’s not so much that pro-choice journalists can’t
abide the thought of the American people taking a look at that, as it
is that they can’t stand the possibility that they themselves might be
forced to see the reality of their own political views. They aren’t
hiding something they’ve seen from us; they have their hands covering
their own eyes.

Gosnell and Abortion, Part 2 of 3

[Today’s post by guest blogger Nathaniel is reprinted with permission from his blog, Difficult Run.]

Yesterday I wrote the first
in a series of 3 posts discussing why the mainstream media has been
reluctant to cover the Kermit Gosnell case. Rather than suggest that
there’s some kind of conspiracy or willful deception, my belief is that
journalists (who are overwhelmingly pro-choice) are simply unable to
confront a case that threatens to upend the misconceptions and
doublethink required to support the status quo of abortion in America.
For example, most people do not realize how radical the current laws
are. The vast majority of abortions are for birth control. They are
elective. And, while late term abortions are rare, they are effectively
unregulated. Only in the most extreme circumstances–where a doctor
injures or kills a pregnant woman–is there any really legal danger to
the abortionist.

But there’s a simpler and much more dangerous truth that the Gosnell
case would threaten to drag into the limelight. Before I introduce it,
however, I ought to include a warning that I will be quoting from some
very graphic accounts of abortion. There are no photos or videos or
audio, and my source is an abortion doctor who remains adamantly
pro-choice to this day and was writing in defense of her career, but
that doesn’t make it any easier to read. Having thus warned you, let’s
get right to the simple reality:

2. Abortion is a violent way of killing human beings

The success of abortion rhetoric depends on focusing exclusively on
the plight of pregnant women. Although committed pro-choicers will
debate about why the rights of the women outweigh the rights of the
fetus, rhetorically that’s not how the movement operates. Instead, the
movement just pretends the unborn human being does not exist at all.
Abortion terminates pregancies, not human beings. The “contents of the uterus” are evacuated, not the tiny broken arms and legs of a fetus, and so forth.

This was all fine and good in the 1970s, but the advent of ultrasound
and in utero videography have put serious strain on the position and
created a precarious doublethink in American society. If your child
is wanted, then you go and pin the ultrasound on the fridge and use the
term “baby”. But if abortion is the topic, then you absolutely,
unequivoally oppose ultrasounds, or at least anyone seeing them. And you
never use the term “baby”.

This strain is most acute on abortionists, as evidenced by the
declining numbers of new doctors who are willing to take up the calling
and also by this incredible article: Second Trimester Abortion Provision: Breaking the Silence and Changing the Discourse.
In it, an abortionist describes in absolutely horrific detail
performing a second-trimester abortion while she herself was pregnant.
She writes, in part:

I went about doing the procedure as usual. I used
electrical suction to remove the amniotic fluid, picked up my forceps
and began to remove the fetus in parts, as I always did. I felt lucky
that this one was already in the breech position – it would make
grasping small parts (legs and arms) a little easier.

With my first pass of the forceps, I grasped an extremity
and began to pull it down. I could see a small foot hanging from the
teeth of my forceps. With a quick tug, I separated the leg. Precisely at
that moment, I felt a kick – a fluttery “thump, thump” in my own
uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a
leg and foot in my forceps, and a “thump, thump” in my abdomen.
Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes – without me – meaning my
conscious brain – even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my
response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive
processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my
uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling – a brutally
visceral response – heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my
feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my
life.

 At this point you might think that this is a conversion story. It’s not. She continues:

Doing second trimester abortions did not get easier after my pregnancy;
in fact, dealing with little infant parts of my born baby only made
dealing with dismembered fetal parts sadder.

So the author remains a committed and practicing abortionist. In
fact, her purpose in writing this piece was (as the title indicates) to
change the discourse for the purpose of generating comfort for the awful
emotional toll she suffers in carrying out routine, legal homicide. The
brutal violence of her work is so emotionally traumatic, that she feels
the need to reach out to pro-choicers for support to help her carry on
in her grisly task.

She must have been sorely disappointed by the reception. I discovered this piece from a pro-life blog called Real Choice which had in turn discovered the paper at a pro-choice blog for supporting abortionists called The Abortioneers.
The interesting thing, however, is that by the time I found the
pro-life blog, the link to the pro-choice blog was already dead. The
Abortioneers had taken their fellow abortionist’s plea for support and
scrubbed it completely from their website. At first I suspected a hoax,
but after investigation I found enough evidence from the archives of The
Abortioneers to conclude that the story was genuine. In case you have
remaining doubts, you can still find the paper listed on SSRN. It’s for real.

It’s real, but pro-choicers want it buried. They don’t want to change
the discourse by admitting the humanity of the unborn and the violence
of abortion. Talking about dismembered arms and legs is the last thing that they want to do, but it’s exactly what the Gosnell story would bring into focus.

The reality is that as much as pro-choicers protest that Gosnell crossed
some kind of bright, clear line: he didn’t. There’s no bright, clear
line between killing a 24-week fetus in her mother’s womb and killing a
24-week fetus outside her mother’s womb. It’s the same damn thing, which
is precisely why the abortionist author of that article was crying out
for some kind of help. Taking human life is never easy, but doing so
again and again and again, when that life is tiny and vulnerable? I
can’t imagine how terrible that must be to live with, which explains why
the only people left who do this kind of word are ultra-committed
ideologues and sociopaths. And the line between the two can be quite
blurry. As Melinda Henneberger writes:

Gosnell himself seemed confused, when he was charged with so many counts
of murder, as to how that could be. Because even at that point, he
didn’t appear to see the children he’s accused of beheading as people.

Buried deep beneath layers and layers of horror and repulsion, I have a
kernel of sympathy for Gosnell. He is a monster, but he’s a monster
created by the abortion movement, and he clearly doesn’t understand why
he has suddenly been betrayed. After all, the National Abortion
Federation refused him admittance, but they also let him work in their
facility and use that work as a source for his own patients. The
RealChoice blog notes that:

The Grand Jury in the Kermit Gosnell case found that at least six young
women and girls, including the mother of Baby Boy A, had never intended
to end up in the hands of Dr. Gosnell. They had sought out a member of
the most reputable organization of abortion practitioners in the world:
the National Abortion Federation (NAF).

What’s more, the basic moral blindness that led Gosnell to kill born
babies is prevalent within the pro-choice movement. Quoting Henneberger
again:

Planned Parenthood’s Snow was similarly obtuse, either
willfully or out of habit, in testifying against a Florida bill that
would have required medical care for babies who survive abortions. “If a
baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion,” she was
asked, “what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child
that is struggling for life?”

Her answer was a familiar one: “We believe that any
decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the
physician.”

Though it pains me to say so, that’s the same stand Barack
Obama effectively took when he voted against a similar Illinois bill —
even after the addition of a “neutrality clause” spelling out that the
bill would have no bearing on the legal status of the (you say fetus, I
say unborn child) at any point prior to delivery, and thus could not be
used to outlaw abortion.

 Whether it’s Planned Parenthood, the President of the United States, or
pro-choice ethical philosopher Peter Singer, all of them admit publicly
that infanticide is logically equivalent to and implied by their legal
arguments for sweeping abortion freedoms. Let me reiterate: not all
pro-choice positions lead down a slippery slope to this conclusion. But
the actual laws and practices of the actual abortion industry and the
lobby that supports it in this country right now? They don’t need to
travel down a slippery slope because they are already at the bottom. There’s
really no way to cover this case without risking the revelation that
Gosnell practiced what the pro-choice (due to the precarious and extreme
nature of the Roe and Doe rulings) lobby has been maneuvered into
preaching.

Gosnell and Abortion, Part 1 of 3

[Today’s post is by guest blogger Nathaniel, re-posted with permission from his blog, Difficult Run.]

Less than a week after Kirsten Powers’ USA Today piece, the concerted pro-life effort to get the Gosnell trial the media attention it tragically deserves has succeeded. Sort of.

There are a lot of articles being written about Gosnell, but the vast
majority are focusing on the coverage of the trial, not the trial. To
be fair, some of these pieces delve into the grim details. Conor
Friedersdorf of The Atlantic pointed out
that in addition to dead babies, the story included: “The Exploited
Women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures.” And yet
Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff still thinks this is a “local
crime” story, at least as far as her Twitter feed is concerned.

http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/2013-04-16-Sarah-Kliff-Tweet.png 

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones concurs, dismissing the pro-life outcry as “working the refs” and “a hustle”. The Daily Caller even covered an attempt to delete Kermit Gosnell’s Wikipedia page because it was just a “local multiple-murder story in Pennsylvania.” (The attempt failed.)
According to Drum, the lack of coverage doesn’t even need an
explanation. Why wasn’t it covered? “Beats me. I’ve often wondered just
what it is that causes some local crime stories to become media
sensations and others to molder in obscurity.” Just one of those things,
right?

Friedersdorf, also pro-choice but possessed of some journalistic integrity, tried a little harder and came up with 14 theories. The most interesting comes near the end of the list:

13. Horrific as It Is, This Case Doesn’t Speak to Anything Larger About Abortion.

Is Friedersdorf claiming that it was horrific enough to be covered,
but that was cancelled out because it says nothing about abortion? Try
that logic out on other horrific stories: “Yeah, we were going to cover a
school shooting, but then we realized it wasn’t related to abortion so
we packed up and went home.” It sticks out on the list because it
doesn’t even answer the question. Or make any kind of sense at all.

The reality is that the Gosnell story isn’t ignored because it says nothing about abortion, but because it says a lot
about abortion. Friedersdorf had previously dismissed the idea that
“Pro-Choice Journalists Are Willfully Ignoring the Story to Avoid Giving
an Advantage to Pro-Lifers” (theory #9 on his list), but that’s not how
cognitive biases work. Their entire function is to pre-empt the pain of
cognitive dissonance by filtering out the uncomfortable evidence before you’re aware of it.
They lead people to do and say irrational things like, I don’t know,
propound entirely senseless theories just because they are reassuring.
Pro-choice journalists (a close synonym for just “journalists”) aren’t willfully
ignoring the story, but they were definitely ignoring it, and now that
they can’t do that they are mostly changing the subject by going meta.

The Gosnell case isn’t threatening because it’s intrinsically
pro-life,but it’s definitely kryptonite to the pro-choice status quo.
Starting today and continuing to posts on Thursday and Friday, I’ll do a
run-down on how the Gosnell story is a clear and present danger to the
myths and doublethink necessary to preserve America’s abortion status
quo.

1. America’s Abortion Laws Are Very Extreme

Most polls reflect that there is wide, popular support for the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States: Roe v. Wade.
Most polls also reflect, however, that Americans are fairly moderate on
abortion and believe it should be available only in limited
circumstances and not, for example, as just another method of birth
control. (Wikipeda summarizes some of the relevant polls.) The problem is, that’s exactly what Roe, and a lesser-known ruling handed down the same day, did.

Most people who are familiar with the abortion debate know that Roe set up a trimester system. Here it is:

(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the
first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left
to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.
(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first
trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the
mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that
are reasonably related to maternal health.
(c) For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its
interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses,
regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in
appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health
of the mother.

 This sounds perfectly reasonable, but note that an exception for
“health” is always required. What does “health” mean? The answer lies
with that lesser-known ruling: Doe v. Bolton. In that decision, the majority opinion wrote:

Whether, in the words of the Georgia statute, “an abortion is necessary”
is a professional judgment that the Georgia physician will be called
upon to make routinely. We agree with the District Court, 319 F. Supp.,
at 1058, that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all
factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s
age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may
relate to health.

This opinion makes two things clear. The first is that the definition
of “health” is incredibly broad. The second is that the person who gets
to make the decision about “health” is the woman’s doctor which is to
say, the abortionist. Practically speaking, the combination of Roe and
Doe come very close to making abortion available on-demand throughout
the 9 months of pregnancy. How close? Well the first person to be
charged with an illegal abortion in the United States (since Roe)
was Dr. Jose Higuera, who was charged in 2001 in Michigan.
As far as I know, Gosnell will be the second. Both of these cases are
very, very exceptional, however. In Higuera’s case, he was charged
after performing an abortion on a 28-week fetus for a woman who cited
only “personal reasons”. He botched the abortion and as a result his
patient “suffered a perforated uterus, small bowel obstruction,
peri-uterine abscess, and needed a hysterectomy, salpingectomy, and
small bowel resection.” Notice that if he hadn’t seriously injured his
patient, however, she wouldn’t have been likely to testify against him.
And without her testimony that the abortion was not for her “health”
there would be no way to charge him. That would be like saying that
speeding is illegal, but also saying that you can only convict a driver
if one of the passengers is willing to testify that they were speeding.

Interestingly enough, Pennsylvania’s abortion law actually doesn’t include the health exception, which arguably makes it unconstitutional. When Planned Parenthood sued to stop the 1989 law from going into effect,
however, they didn’t raise that issue and so the Supreme Court didn’t
rule on it. In the absence of a ruling, the law, which bans abortions
after the second trimester unless “pregnancy would result in
irreversible impairment of a major bodily function”, remains in effect
but also subject to possibly being overturned in a future legal battle.
But even in the interim, what kind of effect is it? By all accounts,
Gosnell violated that law with impunity–performing literally hundreds of
illegal abortions over more than a decade–while every responsible
oversight agency intentionally turned a blind eye. It was only after he
committed numerous murders (both children and pregnant women) that he
was finally arrested, and charging him with the illegal abortions seems
like little more than an afterthought.

The reality is that late-term abortions are rare in the US, but not
because of the law. (More on why they are rare tomorrow.) The health
exception loophole is too broad to be of any use except in the most
egregious of circumstances. Even when there are stricter laws on the
books, however, they are almost never prosecuted, as Gosnell’s case
illustrates clearly. And that’s one major reason why pro-choice
reporters don’t want to touch the case. Late-term abortions are supposed
to be rare hard-cases. For Gosnell they were routine. He carried out
hundreds or even thousands of late term “illegal” abortions, and faced
absolutely no consequences. Just as Higuera wouldn’t have, if he hadn’t
grievously injured and lied to his patient. Late term abortions may
represent only a small fraction of all abortions (about 1.5%) but that
still means we’re talking more than ten thousand every year. That’s not supposed to happen.

But it does. And not just at Gosnell’s clinic. Stories of horrific late-term abortion / murders abound. Here’s the HuffPo admirably covering murder charges
against Maryland doctors accused of killing viable fetuses as late as
26 weeks. Note that, once again, charges were only filed after the
abortionists botched an abortion and seriously wounded a patient. The
case was always a long shot, relying on applying a law that was
originally designed to protect pregnant women from violent attackers and
that had an exemption for abortions, so it’s no surprise prosecutors dropped the charges last month.

Far from being unique, Gosnell’s case highlights that the problem of
murdering babies who survive the initial stages of a late-term abortion
could be widespread. LifeNews has additional stories.

And that’s the iceberg underneath the Gosnell case: that here in this
country the laws about abortion are not moderate. They are not
reasonable. They are not, most Americans would agree if they knew the
reality, acceptable. Pro-choice journalists absolutely do not want to
start down that road, not because it’s a political strategy, but because
they don’t want to see the reality for themselves, either. It’s just
too hard to live with.

Reminder: Human Beings Are Not Commodities

[Today’s guest post is by SPL member Nathaniel Givens. It was originally posted on his personal blog and is reprinted with permission.]

Earlier this month, the New York City Health Resource Administration
unveiled a series of posters designed to combat teen pregnancy. The
posters have drawn widespread criticism,
including drawing fire from both sides of the abortion debate. The
primary complaint is that they stigmatize pregnant mothers, and that’s
valid. There’s an even more sinister message, however, but it’s not
drawing as much attention because it’s much more subtle.
2013 03 15 I'm Less Likely To Graduate
Think about the logic of that statement: “I’m twice as likely not to
graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” The unstated question
is: As opposed to what? By waiting, could you have had this
child at a later stage in your life, a stage when this child–this
particular curly-haired kid–would have had a better shot at life? No.
You couldn’t have had this child at any other time. You would have had
different child.

What the poster is implying is that human beings are interchangeable.
If you get pregnant at 17 your kid is more likely to have a bad life.
If you get pregnant at 27 they have a better chance. But it’s not the
same child. Conception is the moment when a new organism is created.
Unless you save that particular sperm and that particular egg for 10
years, we’re not talking about improving the life of a specific child.
We’re talking about two entirely distinct children.

Does that matter? Yeah, I think it does. I think it does because
Madonna going around and adopting children like they were Pokemon
(“Gotta catch ‘em all!”), parents in India and China sex-selecting their
children by killing off the girls, the fact that 95% of babies with
Down syndrome get aborted, the entire industry of IVF that tends to
treat children as an upgraded model of those purse-dwelling toy dogs,
and the looming bioethical quandary of designer children all
contribute to the commodification of human beings.  Implicit in all of
this is the idea that–as long as you terminate the pregnancy before
birth–you can have a do-over. As though a human being were like a laptop
or a car or a cup of coffee: a purchase you can postpone by returning
the merchandise or a transaction you can unravel if the situation
changes.

Yes, I’m pro-life, but you don’t have to be pro-life to be troubled
by this trend. Even those who think abortion should be legal can
recognize that a living human organism has some moral value,
and that we ought to treat them as something qualitatively distinct from
products. I’m not saying that these posters are creating that
perception, but they sure are disturbing reflections of it.

The Case for the Rape Exception (Sort Of)

[Guest Blogger Nathaniel presents a nuanced perspective on the rape exception.  Secular Pro-Life takes no formal stance on the rape exception, but encourages discussion on the issue.  For more information, see here.]

It’s hard to make nuanced arguments in the abortion debate because folks on both sides tend to see a debate primarily as a chance to prove their commitment to their cause to themselves and their friends. This is where you get the concept of symbolic beliefs, which are extreme beliefs people claim solely as a way of demonstrating their passion.

Secular Pro-Life does a very good job of raising the bar when it comes to the debate, and so I want to take a shot at making an argument about abortion and rape that hinges on the kind of fine distinction that wouldn’t survive most ordinary arguments.

The distinction I want to make is between active and passive abortion.  The vast majority of abortions performed today are active.  They use surgical instruments or drugs to actively and directly kill the developing human being.  But at least one kind of theoretical abortion is passive.  According to some pro-life arguments, the emergency contraceptive Plan B can act to block a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus without doing it any direct harm.  This is a passive abortion, and I called it “theoretical” because there’s not a lot of clear evidence that it actually works this way.  For the purpose of my argument, however, what matters is that it could.

To see how this distinction matters in the case of rape–and why I support legal access to abortion in the case of rape (sort of)–I’m gong to dredge up the (in)famous 1971 article by Judith Thompson: A Defense of Abortion (full text).  Thompson assumes for the sake of argument that the unborn human being has full ethical and legal status as a person, and so will I. (If you think that the unborn human doesn’t have human rights, then obviously abortion should be legal not only in cases of rape but in all cases, and so I’m setting that aside.)

One of the central thought-experiments in the paper is to imagine that a woman wakes up one morning to find that during the night someone has surgically attached her to a concert violinst to save him from being poisoned.  No one asked the woman for her opinion on this decision, she was simply kidnapped and the violinist was attached.  This makes the thought-experiment incredibly poor for talking about abortion generally (unless you think pregnancy happens by kidnapping, I guess), but it’s clearly relevant in cases of rape.

So the question Thompson asks is–starting with this scenario–does the woman have a legal right to refuse to donate her body to support the innocent concert violinist?  Thompson argues that she does, and therefore abortion ought to be legal in cases like this.  But wait: does Thompson mean active abortion, or passive abortion?

Here’s why it matters.  Suppose that the woman says “I don’t have a legal obligation to be attached to this concert violinst, so I’m cutting the cord”, and with that she takes scissors and severes the connection between the two of them, leaving the concert violinist to die.  This, Thompson argues, is permissible.  Maybe so, but would it also be permissible for the woman to say “I don’t have a legal obligation to be attached to this concert violinist, so I’m killing him.” and then take her scissors and stab the violnist in the throat?  I don’t think so.

There’s a serious disconnect between the philosophical abstraction of abortion, in which a woman merely says “I refuse to donate my body”, and the specific reality of abortion, in which a doctor carries out that wish by first ending a life, and then only afterwards removing the unborn human being from the woman.  The ordering might not be so clear-cut because the fetus is removed in pieces and it’s not clear when death occurs vs. the first limb being extracted, but you get the picture–there are clearly two activities here: killing and removing/withdrawing support.  Thompson’s argument supports the latter, but not the former.

The end result of all this is that, in the case of rape, it is arguably permissible to end a pregnancy by passive abortion (which, for all intents and practices, does not presently exist) but not through active abortion.  This is why I support a rape exception… sort of.

The practical problem is that if we start changing the way we do abortions–for example, carefully snipping the umbilical cord rather than dismembering the fetus–then we’ve made the fatal mistake (from the pro-choice standpoint) of acknowledging that the unborn human being deseves some consideration.  Once we start that kind of deliberation abortion as it currently exists in the United States simply cannot survive, because any genuine consideration of the interests of the unborn human being kickstarts our sense of empathy, and it’s all downhill from there for abortion-as-birth-control.  This is a reason why I suspect that virtually no pro-choicer would ever agree that we ought to restrict abortion to passive abortions, even in theory and even if they are the kind of pro-choicer who can agree that the unborn human being is, in fact, a person.  It’s a Pandora’s box that they do not wish to open.

There are a couple of additioanl perspectives I want to consider, however.  The first is the perspective of the woman herself.  If the critical flaw of the pro-choice perspective is to refuse to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn human being at all, the corresponding flaw of the pro-life perspective (though perhaps not as widespread) is to refuse to think seriously about the costs of unwanted pregnancies on women.  Too many pro-lifers just don’t want to talk about it because to acknowledge the pain and sacrifice is to introduce ambiguity into the discussion.  No activist likes ambiguity.

In Thompsons’s article the violinist is just attached in the middle of the night in an apparntly painless procedure.  That’s not a very good description of rape.  (I can’t overstate how different they are, so I’m not going to try.)  The legal health exception as defined in Doe v. Bolton is a joke, but there is a real self-defense argument to be made on health grounds.  You are authorized to use deadly force to protect yourself not only from a threat to your life, but also from serous injury (including rape).  If a pregnant rape victim’s suffering is severe enough and if an abortion will alleviate that suffering–or if the pregnancy is seen as a continuation of the rape, for example–then there is an argument to support even active abortion.  Since I don’t know the answer to whether or not abortion can help rape victims in the long run, I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on the issue one way or the other, but it’s certainly a reasonable position.

On the other hand, there is the concept of necessity as a justification for otherwise criminal acts.  To give credit, I first read this argument in a post by Rebecca Kiessling–who was conceived by rape herself.  This is how she explains it:

In tort (personal injury) law, we have the long-standing “necessity doctrine.”  This doctrine allows, for example, a boat in a storm to dock in someone else’s “safe harbor.”  The right of the individuals on the boat need not be granted or bestowed by the dock owner — it exists independently, regardless of whether or not a sailor in peril has permission to be in the private harbor.  The reasoning here makes sense:  the lives of those on board are valued more than the right of the dock owner to have his property free from intrusion.  That right, along with any inconvenience the dock owner suffers (even to the extent that the private dock is thereby destroyed) is subsidiary to the right to life at stake here.  This remains true even if those on board the boat were in such a predicament because they had themselves been incredibly irresponsible in ending up out on the water in a treacherous storm in the first place.  Likewise, an unborn child cannot ever be found to have been irresponsible in any capacity for ending up in such a vulnerable position and should, therefore, be granted at least the same consideration nd should be afforded his or her right to life.

Of course property isn’t the same thing as a person’s body, but this is a philosophical basis for the idea that even passive abortions ought to be banned in cases of rape, because the unborn human being’s life is in danger (they can’t survive outside the womb), and that danger will pass once they are born. How solid is this legal/philosophical basis?  As with the question of the mental health of rape victims the honest answer is that I’m just not an expert and so I don’t really know.

So what’s the final verdict?  Is abortion permissible during rape?  The answer is still just “sort of”.  I’d say that passive abortions should be legally permissible, but I can also see good arguments that active abortions should also be allowed or that not even passive abortions should be allowed.  Here’s the thing: I don’t really care that much.

In terms of scale, the vast majority of abortions have nothing to do with rape, incest, life of the mother, fetal abnormality, or any of the other edge cases.  95% or more of abortions are done on healthy women who have healthy pregnancies with a healthy unborn human being developing normally.  In terms of both the scale of the problem (lives lost) and also the moral and ethical outrage: that’s where the problem lies and that’s where I think the pro-life side needs to focus, rather than becoming distracted with infighting or leaving our case vulnerable to soundbites by taking a hard line on cases like rape or incest or fetal abnormality.

The other thing to keep in mind is what I alluded to earlier: abortion can’t survive as it currently exists in the US (on demand and endemic and used as birth control) in a context where we as a society have started to genuinely consider the perspective of the unborn human being.  I’m not sure what the right answer to the rape question, but I actually have a lot of confidence that our society will reach a good conclusion once we can move past the ideological logjam caused by the Roe v. Wade regime.  Everything changed when Roe v. Wade was implemented, and everything can change again once it is overturned.

Until then?  I support a rape exception.  Sort of.