Patterico's Pontifications


More Clever Wording on Abortion from the L.A. Times

Filed under: Abortion,Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 7:01 am

There is yet another example of clever wording by the L.A. Times‘s David Savage this morning. Like last night’s example, today’s story tells the literal truth about abortion, but distorts the facts in a way that would fool unsophisticated people into thinking there is more evidence for the pro-abortion position than actually exists.

If you went to a trial and watched 6 people testifying that the light was red, and 6 people testifying that the light was green, would you go home and tell people: “The plaintiff testified the light was red, and other witnesses backed up his testimony” — and leave it at that?

Only if you were already prejudiced in favor of the plaintiff.

And so it is with Savage’s story this morning. Savage reports that the Bush administration has filed a brief in the Supreme Court supporting the federal Partial Birth Abortion Act. Here is how he describes the state of medical support for the procedure from the trial in Stenberg v. Carhart, the previous partial-birth abortion case decided by the Court:

In Nebraska, for example, Dr. Leroy Carhart was the only physician who performed midterm abortions, and in 1997 he filed a legal challenge to a state law banning intact dilation and extraction procedures, contending the law was unconstitutional. He testified that the intact removals were safer than other methods because there was less chance of bleeding and infection.

Other medical experts backed up his testimony, agreeing that, in some instances, the procedure was a better method of performing abortions.

Literally true. And very misleading — because other medical experts disputed Dr. Carhart’s testimony.

Clearly, from his record, Savage is a supporter of abortion rights. So he tells you that doctors agreed with Carhart — and completely fails to mention that other doctors didn’t.

For example:

From Justice Kennedy’s dissent:

No studies support the contention that the D&X abortion method is safer than other abortion methods. Brief for Respondent 36, n. 41. Leading proponents of the procedure acknowledge that the D&X has “disadvantages” versus other methods because it requires a high degree of surgical skill to pierce the skull with a sharp instrument in a blind procedure. Haskell, 139 Cong. Rec. 8605 (1993). Other doctors point to complications that may arise from the D&X. Brief for American Physicians and Surgeons et al. as Amici Curiae 21—23; App. 186. A leading physician, Frank Boehm, M. D., who has performed and supervised abortions as director of the Fetal Intensive Care Unit and the Maternal/Fetal Medicine Division at Vanderbilt University Hospital, has refused to support use of the D&X, both because no medical need for the procedure exists and because of ethical concerns. Id., at 636, 639—640, 656—657. Dr. Boehm, a fellow of ACOG, id., at 565, supports abortion rights and has provided sworn testimony in opposition to previous state attempts to regulate abortion. Id., at 608—614.

The Court cannot conclude the D&X is part of standard medical practice. It is telling that no expert called by Dr. Carhart, and no expert testifying in favor of the procedure, had in fact performed a partial-birth abortion in his or her medical practice. E.g., id., at 308 (testimony of Dr. Phillip Stubblefield). In this respect their opinions were courtroom conversions of uncertain reliability.

Not to mention that plenty of other evidence in the record before the Supreme Court not only contradicted the idea that D&X was safer, but actually indicated the opposite. From Justice Thomas’s dissent:

In fact, there was evidence before the Nebraska Legislature that partial birth abortion increases health risks relative to other procedures. During floor debates, a proponent of the Nebraska legislation read from and cited several articles by physicians concluding that partial birth abortion procedures are risky. App. in Nos. 98—3245, 98—3300 (CA8), p. 812. One doctor testifying before a committee of the Nebraska Legislature stated that partial birth abortion involves three “very risky procedures”: dilation of the cervix, using instruments blindly, and conversion of the fetus. App. 721 (quoting testimony of Paul Hays, M. D.).22

There was also evidence before Congress that partial birth abortion “does not meet medical standards set by ACOG nor has it been adequately proven to be safe nor efficacious.” H. R. 1833 Hearing 112 (statement of Nancy G. Romer, M. D.); see id., at 110—111.23 The AMA supported the congressional ban on partial birth abortion, concluding that the procedure is “not medically indicated” and “not good medicine.” See 143 Cong. Rec. S4670 (May 19, 1997) (reprinting a letter from the AMA to Sen. Santorum). And there was evidence before Congress that there is “certainly no basis upon which to state the claim that [partial birth abortion] is a safer or even a preferred procedure.” Partial Birth Abortion: The Truth, S. 6 and H. R. 929 Joint Hearing 123 (statement of Curtis Cook, M. D.). This same doctor testified that “partial-birth abortion is an unnecessary, unsteady, and potentially dangerous procedure,” and that “safe alternatives are in existence.” Id., at 122.

Savage correctly states:

The Supreme Court opinion said that “substantial medical authority supports” the doctor’s claim that banning this procedure “could endanger women’s health.”

But, while this language sounds impressive, it doesn’t mean that much. Savage ignores the fact that the even the majority opinion acknowledges (in Section II.A.4) that there is a “division of opinion among some medical experts over whether D&X is generally safer [than D&E].”

Did you pick that up from Savage’s description? Of course not.

Savage’s language is cleverly designed to make it sound as though, according to the court record in Stenberg, medical professionals were unanimous on the issue of the relative safety of partial-birth abortion.

Don’t fall for it.

10 Responses to “More Clever Wording on Abortion from the L.A. Times”

  1. But isn’t Mr. Savage one of these objective reporters I keep hearinga bout? You know, perhaps they have blinders but they try to be honest.

    Hard to see this “reporting” as anything but partisan argument of the most strident variety.

    What a tool, as they say.

    Kevin Murphy (9982dd)

  2. Gosh, the la times? All my intellectually superior liberal friends believe what they read in there.

    What if my liberal friends read REAL reporting, REAL facts, the whole story? That would really confuse them.

    Maybe people will stop buying that paper.

    JoeS (ff0bfe)

  3. Patterico:

    If you went to a trial and watched 6 people testifying that the light was red, and 6 people testifying that the light was green, would you go home and tell people: “The plaintiff testified the light was red, and other witnesses backed up his testimony” — and leave it at that?

    I’d go home and say, “dang, that guy really needs a pair of nose-hair clippers.”


    Dafydd (f8a7be)

  4. Patterico:

    You make a good point, as always; but Savage’s savaging of the truth is simply part of the continuity on partial-birth abortion.

    This includes wildly underestimating the number of D&Xs performed, wildly overestimating the number that were for any medical reason at all, and suppressing evidence that it’s dangerous and unnecessary.

    The L.A. Times just falls in line with the preestablished pattern of deceit.


    Dafydd (f8a7be)

  5. This is amazing and appalling. How anyone can defend the procedure as anything but murderous butchery is beyod me.

    DigSauce (263854)

  6. DigSauce–not a defense, only a suggestion that if you knew how rarely this procedure is actually performed, you would recognize the “partial birth abortion” ban for what it really is: a brilliant move to get the pro-choice folks on record having to protect on principle a gruesome-seeming procedure–because the wording is so vague–effectively skewering them in the PR dep’t. This issue is a total win/win for the right–a wonderful look at framing 101.

    Tom (eb6b88)

  7. It’s so seldom used that the star medical witness who testified against the ban later admitted that he lied and that it used far more frequently than he claimed.

    But I guess that’s just framing.

    eddie haskell (8fd1a1)

  8. Medicine is more art than science. Many things done are judgement calls. x may be statistically safer than y but that does not make x better in ALL cases.

    I’d like to see the de-politicization of medicine. Let doctors and patients decide. Politicians ought to stay out of it. What are the odds of that?

    We see the same crap in the drug war. The DEA decides if doctors are managing their patient’s pain correctly. If te DEA decides the doctor isn’t doing it right – 25 years in jail. For a mistake (if it is that) in judgement.

    It is looking more and more like drug taking is a form of self medication i.e. the drugs can be thought of as a symptom of an underlying cause. In the case of pot it looks like PTSD (mostly – some ADD/ADHD and bipolar too [BTW pot is much safer than lithium]). The #1 cause of PTSD in America is child abuse. So do we deal with child abuse to reduce drug use? Of course not. In America we know a priori what is right. And what is right? Persecuting the victims of child abuse for self medicating.

    Since the government got involved in the practice of medicine, medicine has gotten more and more screwed.

    At one time conservatives were against meddling (except of course for alcohol prohibition – they were so sure it was the cure for alcoholism). No longer. Right or left government knows best. Because, by now every one knows – socialism is best.

    The situation disgusts me.

    There don’t seem to be any conservatives in America any more. Now we just have a bunch of folks who, like liberals, know how others ought to live their lives.

    The motto of true conservatives used to be “mind your own business”. Now all we have are socialists of the right and left.

    M. Simon (6cc010)

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