Sunday, April 29, 2007

Clinic Bombings and Infanticide Rhetoric: "Partial-Truth Abortion" Is a Dangerous and Duplicitous Game

Via the Associated Press, Arrest Made in Bomb at Texas Clinic:

A 27-year-old man has been arrested in connection with a makeshift bomb that was found outside a clinic where abortions are performed, authorities said Friday....

The bomb was discovered Wednesday, and authorities had asked area abortion providers to be vigilant after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that banned a type of late-term abortion.

The bomb was found in a bag in the parking lot of the Austin Women's Health Center. After an employee found the package, a bomb squad detonated the device. It contained an explosive powder and two pounds of nails, said David Carter, assistant police chief. Had the bomb detonated, it could have injured people 100 feet away, police said.

What did "pro-life" groups have to say in response?  According to

Texas Alliance for Life director Joe Pojman said that pro-life advocates are peaceful people and that any political movement has individual vigilantes that act on their own wrongheaded ideas. "We get painted with the same brush as someone who is a criminal. We only condone peaceful legal activities," he said.

Really.  If you knew that infants and children were being slaughtered at a hospital, would you call someone who used force to try to stop it "wrongheaded" and "criminal?"  When "pro-life" advocates and the Supreme Court invoke the language of infanticide in addressing abortion, "pro-life" activists can hardly be surprised that some are moved to violence by their rhetoric. 

In the context of the federal abortion ban, the infanticide rhetoric begins with the made-up name, "partial-birth abortion," the inspiration of Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life Committee and Florida Republican Congressman Charles Canady.  The term intentionally, but falsely, implies that babies in the process of being born are instead brutally killed before they fully emerge.  (For more on why this impression is false, see the note below.)  Anyone who buys Douglas Johnson's claims that "partial-birth abortion" is somehow a neutral, legal "term of art" ought to read the NARAL quotesheet, "Partial-Birth Abortions": Anti-Choice Leaders Reveal True Intentions, which exposes the calculated nature of the campaign.  For example, Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, conceded in 2003:

"(The) partial-birth abortion ban is a political scam but a public relations goldmine...This bill, if it becomes law, may not save one child's life...The major benefit of this bill is the debate that surrounds it."

For a fuller account of the history of the carefully orchestrated "partial-birth abortion" campaign, see Gambling with Abortion: Why Both Sides Think They Have Everything To Lose, by Cynthia Gorney (Harper’s, November 2004). 

The recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal abortion ban is steeped in infanticide rhetoric. Justice Kennedy's calculated use of language in Gonzales v. Carhart conflates abortion and infantide:

A description of the prohibited abortion procedure demonstrates the rationale for the congressional enactment. The Act proscribes a method of abortion in which a fetus is killed just inches before completion of the birth process.... The Act expresses respect for the dignity of human life.

Congress determined that the abortion methods it proscribed had a "disturbing similarity to the killing of a newborn infant" ... and thus it was concerned with "draw[ing] a bright line that clearly distinguishes abortion and infanticide." ...

Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child.... It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form.

But this infanticide rhetoric is not only factually misleading but utterly disingenuous.  In this decision, the Court purports to leave intact the right to abortion, while banning only one method.  Unless and until the Court is truly ready to treat abortion as infanticide, it is playing a cold-hearted and dangerous game in exploiting this language.  It has left the public with an indelible but false impression that has shaped the debate over so-called "partial-birth abortion" bans and that only adds fuel to the fire for those who would commit violence to stop women from obtaining abortions.


Note on the intact D&E procedure:  The reason, in fact, that the fetal skull is reduced before removal in the intact D&E procedure (a method that is not limited to the late stages of pregnancy) is that the woman is not ready to give birth.  Her cervix cannot yet reach the necessary dilation to permit the fetal head to pass through.  (Any woman who has experienced vaginal childbirth and -- even at full term -- waited through hours of painful contractions for her cervix to dilate sufficiently will know exactly what I am talking about.)  Removing the fetus intact in this manner results in fewer insertions of sharp instruments into the uterus and is therefore considered by many physicians to carry safety advantages for the woman.

Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Gonzales v. Carhart, State and Local News, Supreme Court | Permalink

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