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.
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.