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Voices Online Edition -- Vol. XXII, No. 2
Pentecost 2007

The Abortion Movement Takes Cover

by Sheila Gribben Liaugminas

Long before Roe v. Wade became law in 1973 and certainly ever since, the movement that fought to make abortion on demand legal and widely available anchored its argument in the rights and welfare of women. Activists demanded “choice” and have come to ground every argument, campaign, placard and headline on the ubiquitous declaration of “the woman’s right to choose”. Barrels of ink have now been spilled by tendentious media in covering various “freedom of choice” stories and angles, but pro-life writers have been using some of that ink to pen critiques of just what “choice” means, as in: “Finish the sentence, ‘the woman’s right to choose’ ... what?”

That focus on the reality of abortion has changed over time, from the procedure and what it does to the developing child, to the personhood of the unborn human life, to the craftiness of wordplay that masks a culture that takes killing lightly, to what the natural progression of that culture of death is, to where we are now. The strategy to fight abortion wars has shifted over the decades, but we are now hearing the definitive argument, something we didn’t have at the time of Roe v. Wade. We have 34 years of evidence of the ravages of abortion on demand, and swelling ranks of women ready and willing to prove it.

In the end, abortion really is about choice. And its undoing is turning out to be the persistence of the “pro-choice” movement in covering up the lie that they are giving women one.

Informed consent
For every medical procedure you or your minor or disabled loved ones undergo, you have to sign an “informed consent” document stating that you have been made fully aware of the risks of the procedure and that you accept the responsibility for undergoing it anyway. That is, every procedure except abortion. While clinics do get signatures that cover their own liability, the “consent” being given in abortion is patently not “informed” by any definition other than rudimentary. Abortionists routinely don’t even see the patient until moments before the procedure, clinic staff usually do not spend time talking with women about what they will undergo and clinic workers don’t even know enough about basic human embryology or fetal development to answer questions, if women asked.

That’s no sweeping generalization. It’s information taken from sworn affidavits in the public record from the groundwork laid in South Dakota to craft HB 1166 in 2005, the best informed consent bill in the nation. To figure out what they needed to change, state legislators investigated the status of how things were currently being done in abortion clinics.

The committees in both the House and Senate heard evidence concerning the magnitude of the interests and rights of pregnant mothers who were adversely affected by abortion.... In every instance they testified about the magnitude of their loss and how that loss adversely affected their lives once they understood that the procedure terminated the life of their existing offspring.

Once they understood that? Indeed, South Dakota lawmakers discovered that women generally entered clinics thinking they were carrying a “blob of tissue”, and that the abortion would prevent the child from coming into existence. And nobody told them otherwise. “Those who had counseled a large number of women before and after abortions corroborated the testimony of these women. The picture that emerged from the record before both the House and Senate committees was that it was common for women to sign consents for abortion without being truly informed.... They typically did not understand that the procedure would terminate the life of a human being, and this lack of understanding was further complicated by the fact that abortion providers had misled them at the time of the abortion.”

What information are women given in abortion clinics? The South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion took testimony from the state’s director of Planned Parenthood and a doctor who performs abortions there. “Based on their testimony, it is admitted that the Planned Parenthood facility in Sioux Falls does not disclose any information about the unborn child and that it does not disclose to the pregnant mother in any way that the child, the second patient, is already in existence. Planned Parenthood only discloses what the state requires them to disclose by statute.”

And what is that? “South Dakota Codified Law 34-23A-10.1(2) … requires that the abortion facility simply inform the women by telephone that they have the right to review printed material prepared by the state that provides information about fetal development…. Planned Parenthood still does not volunteer information about the unborn child. The state’s preprinted information does not make it clear that the procedure will terminate the life of a living human being. It only lists aspects of fetal development.”

In other words, how far along a woman is in her pregnancy, which she already knows from the date she missed her last menstrual period. Furthermore, “a message given by the physician is pre-recorded. It is a four-minute recording designed to satisfy the statutory requirement … that the information … be imparted by the physician who will perform the abortion.”

That constituted “informed consent” in South Dakota when legislators investigated it in 2005. They found it unacceptable. “In fact, what is communicated to the women is misleading … [in the Planned Parenthood video], reference is made to the contents of the woman’s uterus in dehumanizing and misleading language. For instance, the video never mentions that an unborn child, embryo, or fetus is even present. It never refers to the unborn child in any way that would imply the existence of a second patient. The language used in the video simply implies that something is removed but does not identify what it is except to claim it is only ‘tissue’…. We find first that Planned Parenthood fails to inform the pregnant mother in any language that her unborn child is in existence. It is impossible for a woman to give informed consent to an abortion if she does not fully understand that her child is in existence and that she is consenting to the termination of the life of her child.” (emphasis added)

Damage control

Out of these findings sprang the 1166 “Informed Consent” bill in South Dakota to protect women from the potentially damaging mental, emotional and physical after-effects of abortion. The testimony of 2,000 post-abortive women formed much of the evidence of that damage, along with testimony from a number of medical professionals. After it was passed, Planned Parenthood challenged it in federal district court, trying to stop the informed consent law from being enacted.

At that point, US District Judge Karen Schreier had to decide between the “free speech rights of abortion practitioners” not to tell women the truth about abortion’s risks, and the rights of pregnant mothers to hear all the standard risk information any other procedure requires for informed consent. She ruled in favor of the abortion practitioners. That case was appealed, and the 8th Circuit Court in St. Louis ruled 2-1 to uphold the ruling (and the status quo for abortionists) in October 2006.

But it didn’t end there. When Planned Parenthood took on the governor and attorney general of South Dakota in that lawsuit, they also got the intervenors in the case, two crisis pregnancy centers at the heart of the battle for women’s health and interests. They represent the frontline of the pro-life movement now, the real advocates for women’s rights, and the biggest challenge to Planned Parenthood’s dominance in the 34 years since Roe.

In a statement they put out after the 8th Circuit ruling, the Alpha Center, Black Hills Pregnancy Center, and medical associates called on the court to reject Planned Parenthood as an appellant because of their conflict of interest.

For thirty years or so, abortion clinics and abortion doctors have been given standing in the courts to litigate what they claim to be the interests of women. During that time, those clinics and abortion doctors have never raised the fundamental constitutional rights of the pregnant mothers to maintain their relationship with their children; or their right to make informed decisions for their children. Nor have they sought to protect the women’s right to their health by disclosing many of the risks that abortion poses to the mother. It is clear that the personal interests and philosophies of these clinics and abortion doctors conflict with these very interests.

And they went further, saying they understood that the district court had to work through the details of the informed consent case to allow it to pass. “Yet, the opinion in this case exposes many of the weaknesses of Planned Parenthood’s arguments and thus, presents an unusual opportunity to bring the case quickly before the United States Supreme Court to address issues it has never addressed before.”

Whether or not those intervenors intended that as a shot across the bow of the abortion movement, that’s how the abortion movement sees it. Crisis pregnancy centers have, for the past several years, emerged as the great provider for women who face this life-changing choice. They are the vanguard of the pro-life movement, and their concentration on women and their health and rights, which de facto covers those of their unborn children, is the biggest threat abortion activists have faced to their profitable industry. Post-abortive women are joining the pro-life movement in great numbers, working with crisis pregnancy centers, starting their own, and doing advocacy work like the “Silent No More” awareness campaign.

Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America are scrambling to stave off the inevitable showdown at the Supreme Court. They have won temporary victories like the November defeat of South Dakota’s “Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Law” by running an aggressive campaign of disinformation about it. But America is becoming more aware of the ravages of abortion and the deception of the industry that promotes it, so activists had to think of something new.

Use the media

Since disinformation is already an integral part of promoting abortion as a “choice” and spreading its availability, and since the mainstream media tend to lean hard left in favoring abortion laws and related issues, the fit is natural. The abortion movement began a new campaign at the start of this year to discredit crisis pregnancy centers and plant seeds of doubt about them in the public mind through the media.

In January, the Sunday New York Times Magazine ran the cover story “Is There a Post-Abortion Syndrome?” and it seemed amazing that the Times would even ask that question on so prominent a ‘billboard’ for the publication. It went into the details of the pro-life movement’s work with and for post-abortive women, and it wove conflicting information together with unsubstantiated myths, trying to cast doubt on crisis pregnancy workers. But perhaps without intending to, the Times seemed to probe the realities behind the slogans.

It recounts the story of South Dakota and of pro-life activists figuring out “it would be wise to find common ground” in a dialogue about “making abortion unthinkable by making sure that women have better choices.” Whether the Times intended it or not, that quote is an important key to pro-life efforts. Who in the abortion movement can argue against “making sure that women have better choices”?

The Times story covered the work of Georgette Forney and Janet Morana, co-founders of Silent No More, and tried to mischaracterize their words. Morana was quoted as saying: “The suppression of truth about the harms of abortion is the same as the suppression of truth about the harms of cigarettes.” The article then read: “Once the public understands the trauma of abortion, as they now do the health problems associated with cigarettes, then ‘changing the law will be an afterthought,’ Forney predicted”. That’s a strong statement on its own.

But the Times turned it into this: “Forney and Morana compare abortion to smoking.”

This isn’t even credible reporting. And the article had the temerity to question the credibility of scientific evidence for post-abortion syndrome and the credentials of some experts. That’s part of the agenda to discredit the groundbreaking pro-life work focusing on women’s health.

Then, the February 26, 2007 cover story of Time magazine was titled “The Abortion Campaign You Never Hear About”, with the sub-head “Crisis pregnancy centers are working to win over one woman at a time. But are they playing fair?” In the print version, the story inside the magazine is called “1 Woman At a Time”, but the same story online is titled “The Grassroots Abortion War”. They imply two different things.

The prolific spread of crisis pregnancy centers around the country, and their work with pregnant women to give assistance and information at a vulnerable time, has gotten the attention of the abortion movement. And because it is working successfully “one woman at a time”, Planned Parenthood and NARAL have taken the “abortion war” to the grassroots to engage that battle. But their efforts to win over hearts and minds have focused on disinformation.

The Time story does get inside a crisis pregnancy center and describes how they work with women as “the new face of an old movement: kind, calm, nonjudgmental”, helping women “navigate the social-service bureaucracy, sign up for Medicaid and begin prenatal care”, among other services. And it gets good information out there about what the centers are and how to reach them “(PREGNANT AND SCARED? 1-800-395-HELP. WE’RE HERE 24/7).”

And then, Time also runs the requisite disclaimers about abortion risks, straight from the Planned Parenthood talking points. Especially the denial of a connection between abortion and breast cancer (www.bcpinstitute.org is the best place for information on that). But overall, the Time cover story at least planted some seeds of hope along with doubt, and it centered attention on the “personal and more pastoral strategy” of the pro-life movement at work in these crisis pregnancy centers.

On March 25, 2007, the Chicago Tribune ran a story on its front page under this headline: “To foes, pregnancy sites blur the abortion picture; Crisis pregnancy centers offer alternatives to abortion, but critics say they are misleading.” That’s a telling headline, and the article is full of choice language. “The facility … is part of a burgeoning movement of pregnancy centers set up by abortion opponents to dissuade women from terminating pregnancies.”

It dropped big news. “Although a few existed in the US as far back as the 1970s, there are now more pregnancy centers than abortion providers, which have been decreasing in number for 15 years. Estimates of the number of crisis pregnancy centers nationwide range from 2,300 to 4,000 compared with about 1,800 facilities that perform abortions.” That’s a sea-change in America. And it’s why the abortion movement is working through the media to discredit the centers, criticizing “their tactics” in giving women assistance and information.

But crisis pregnancy centers give complete information “to help women make fully informed choices”, the Tribune piece quoted one worker as saying. This worker, Kristin Hansen of Care Net, even goes on to say that they don’t want women to feel coerced by anyone to make their decisions. “We would like each woman to make the decision for herself, but having received all the information she needs and knowing that if she decides to carry the pregnancy to term she’s not alone.”

The facts of life

Information is at the divide of the abortion battle, and women’s lives are on the line along with their developing unborn children. Planned Parenthood doesn’t want informed consent, which is what started the legal battle in South Dakota, and a similar one in New Jersey. In that one, Rosa Acuna makes the case that her doctor had a duty to tell her that she was carrying life, and that the embryo was an existing human being. “A key issue is whether her trial will include evidence about the human status of the fetus”, reports the New York Times in that Sunday Magazine cover story. “The doctor’s lawyers say it is a religious and philosophical question.” Acuna’s attorneys make the case that it is a medical fact.

South Dakota’s informed consent law requires this disclosure of the medical fact of life. But the Times pointed out that in granting the injunction against it, the federal district judge “agreed with Planned Parenthood that the law would force doctors to articulate the state’s viewpoint on ‘an unsettled medical, philosophical, theological and scientific issue, that is, whether a fetus is a human being’.”

The state of South Dakota did not determine when human life begins. It’s settled and always has been, not by decree or edict or finding … or “viewpoint”. Reason settles that. Life in the womb is not a religious, philosophical, theological or metaphysical question. It is a fact that life created in the womb — or even a Petri dish — is of the species Homo sapiens, human life.

The South Dakota battle over informed consent gets a higher profile now that the 8th Circuit Court has granted an en banc rehearing based on its merits. The full 11-member court considers the case of the 1166 bill in April 2007, on the law to make sure women are not denied information from abortionists and their clinics about the risks of the procedure. And about life already in existence in every pregnancy.

It will be precedent-setting. “These issues have never been decided by the US Supreme Court,” says the Alpha Center and Black Hills Pregnancy Center in that statement after the 8th Circuit’s three-judge ruling last October. “The law is intended to protect the women against an abortion clinic or Planned Parenthood’s out-of-state doctor who may devalue those interests and impose their own personal values upon the women. The statute was designed … to provide basic information necessary for a pregnant mother to make an informed decision before she gives up her fundamental rights. In the process, it allows her to apply her own personal, moral, and ethical values to the facts once they are disclosed.”

As abortion activists roll out their campaign of disinformation further, informed Americans ought to be asking the movement that calls itself “pro-choice” what, exactly, they have against information that helps women make one. Because the battle over life, and lives, is about choice after all.


Sheila Gribben Liaugminas, a member of the Voices editorial board, was a reporter for Time magazine for many years. Sheila was host of “The Right Questions” on Relevant Radio and “Issues and Answers” news show. She lives in Chicago with her husband; they have two sons, one is a seminarian and the other a college student. Follow updates on this story (and contact Sheila) at www.inforumblog.com.


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