nlike some folks I know of the other political persuasion, I revel in reading the other side’s point of view, so this morning I read Why I Plan to Emulate Dr. George Tiller by med student Rozalyn Farmer Love on AlterNet. I really don’t want to put the story into nomination for the Most Ridiculous Story of 2009 because Love has, on the surface at least, tried so earnestly to bridge an all but unbridgeable gap.
That’s worth kudos and shouldn’t lead to catcalls of “Ridiculous!” Had the author been honest in her examples, I might have been citing this article as a must read instead of including it in this year’s running.
Let’s get the formalities taken care of: To be considered, a piece must be written by a serious writer about a serious subject in all seriousness, yet go far beyond the sublime, settling heavily into the imbecilic. By those criteria, I suppose that Love will be an also-ran come December 31 (especially given the stories in the hopper thus far by a couple Rulers of the Ridiculous, Gary Kamiya and Glenn Greenwald), but let’s see how this stacks up.
The author starts by seeking affinity, which may seem odd given that the piece is on the decidedly left-wing AlterNet, but don’t give her demerits for that; it was originally published in the Atlanta daily. Here’s her pitch:
I’m a third-year medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I plan to become an obstetrician-gynecologist. I dream of delivering healthy babies, working with families and supporting midwifery. But as part of my practice, I also envision providing abortions to women who need them.
The road I took to get here isn’t your stereotypical one. My parents are conservative Christians who believe abortion is wrong. Growing up, I naturally shared their view. But I’ve also wanted to be a doctor since I was 4 years old, and in high school, I began to feel drawn to issues of women’s health. In college, I designed my own major to broaden my understanding of women’s health by including psychology, sociology and women’s studies.
OK, so she’s from a conservative, church-going background, she’s focused and driven, and she’s gone out of her way to pursue her life-long dream. Kudos, we can all relate. But why, then, does she start the column with this intro:
If I’d passed her on the street, I probably wouldn’t have known her. Her gait is a bit stiff and her left eye somehow different from her right. She’s not famous, exactly, but some people might know her name: Emily Lyons. She’s the nurse who survived the 1998 bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham at the hands of Eric Rudolph.
It’s a bit curious to me that someone who works in an abortion clinic should get heroic status, but Love tells us:
Watching her walk slowly into our fund-raiser on her husband’s arm — a woman who’d endured more than 18 operations — I thought of all she’d been through and knew that I’d come to the right decision in my support of reproductive rights.
Everyone in their right mind has to feel sorry for the tragedy that was interjected into Emily Lyons’ life. It should never have happened. Of course, had she chosen a more morally acceptable field of medicine to practice in, she would have lived a different life. Providing abortions is hardly a high-risk occupation, with a mortality rate of, what, one a decade or so? But Lyons’ career choice ended up costing her a lot, because of the evil and irrational reaction it created in Eric Rudolph’s mind.
Next we learn of another moment of inspiration to Love, related in her usual inclusive, mellowing style:
I agree that ending an unwanted pregnancy is a tragedy. When I advocate for reproductive rights, for choice, I don’t claim that abortion is morally acceptable. I think that it’s a very private, intensely personal decision. But I was stunned when one of my professors, a pathologist and a Planned Parenthood supporter, told me that decades ago, entire wings of the university’s hospital were filled with women dying from infections caused by botched abortions.
Really? Entire wings?! Let’s assume conservatively that it was just two wings of the university’s hospital and they had, oh, 20 beds in each wing. That means 40 beds filled with women dying from infections from botched abortions at any one time. Let’s assume, again conservatively, that it took them two weeks to die. That means we would have been cycling through 40 deaths 26 times a year, or 1,040 botched abortion deaths per year in one hospital.
According to wiki.answers.com, there were 7,569 hospitals in America in 2005, so let’s say, conservatively again, there were 5,000 “decades ago.” If all these women were in fact dying in all these hospital wings as Love has so gullibly believed from such a credible source as a Planned Parenthood leader, why, we would have been racking up 5.2 million botched abortion deaths a year in this country!
Why didn’t Planned Parenthood do a better job of letting us know this back then?
Any deaths from a botched abortion is horrible, and it presents a morally credible argument for abortion, whether you accept it or not. Judging the relative value of one human being over another is at its heart a moral issue, and the case can be made that the value of protecting grown women from painful deaths justifies the taking of a pre-born life. But it is immoral to present your moral arguments with wildly skewed, incorrect evidence.
Another driver for Love was this:
At the same time [she was studying women's health issues], I found myself shocked at how little many of my friends — women who were studying biology and planning to become doctors — knew about their own sexual health. They didn’t know about or couldn’t get the reproductive health care they needed because of barriers put up by their culture, their religion and their parents. (emphasis added)
This is a third-year med student, so we are talking here about women who are currently in their 20s and 30s. Why are federal, state and local governments giving millions of dollars a year to Planned Parenthood and various sex education/health clinic programs if smart women who are in pre-med can’t get the care they need? Didn’t the SCOTUS rule that anti-abortion demonstrators can’t block clinics? Do you need your pastor’s permission to get an abortion?
What did these women need, anyway? Late term abortions on the pew of a church? I can’t imagine what they couldn’t get. Honestly, you’d think Love was talking about tribal women in north Africa, not American women in the late 20th and early 21st century.
So Love, who tells us she still goes to church and is considered “a good person” by her old Christian friends, has gradually abandoned the morality of her youth, and accepted the morality of the abortionists. But late-term abortion? Letting a baby drop into the birth canal and sticking a gizmo into its brain and scrambling it? Cutting it apart to get it out? Well, that took her a while:
As I continue my education, my views on abortion are still evolving. Take late-term abortions. When I first heard about them, I was horrified.
It wasn’t until I spent time in ultrasound rooms in graduate school that I began to see late-trimester abortions in a very different light. In one case, the patient’s baby had just been diagnosed with a lethal congenital anomaly. The high likelihood was that it wouldn’t survive after birth for more than a few minutes. As long as the baby remained in her mother’s womb, however, she would live. I asked the physician what this woman’s options were. The answer was, not many. She could choose to continue the pregnancy, but then she might be waiting for almost 20 more weeks to give birth to a baby that would never take more than a few breaths on its own. She was past the point where she could legally terminate the pregnancy in Alabama. If she could get an appointment in Atlanta within the next week, she might be able to have the procedure there. Beyond that, there were only a few physicians in the nation who would perform an abortion in such a case.
I could hardly wrap my mind around the agony that this woman and her husband must have been facing. They needed a caring physician to help them through this dark moment, and if they chose not to continue the pregnancy, they also needed a physician who was both skilled enough and brave enough to provide them with the care they needed. They needed Dr. Tiller.
Again, Love cites a morally defensible position, whether you agree with it or not. Is a two-breath life a life worth living? But how many partial birth abortions are like the tragedy she presented as her motivator? Such stats are all over the board, as you can imagine, so let’s go to the abortionists’ mouth and see what they have to say:
Kansas requires physicians to report reasons for performing PBAs. Of the 240 PBAs [Partial Birth Abortions] reported in Kansas in 1998 and 1999, there were none where the mother’s life was at risk; in every case the attending physician certified “that continuing the pregnancy will constitute a substantial and irreversible impairment of the patient’s mental function” [i.e., she didn't want a baby] and that there was not a substantial physical risk to the mother from the pregnancy. No PBAs have been reported since 1999 in Kansas, but other abortions performed at 22 weeks gestation or later must similarly be reported. For these as well, few if any are cited as involving risk to the mother’s life; typically, risk to the mother of “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” is cited.
Physicians who perform large numbers of PBAs have stated that many are performed for elective reasons. In an interview with American Medical News, M. Haskell stated that about 80% of the PBAs he performed were purely elective, with the remainder performed for genetic reasons. In testimony to Congress, J. McMahon reported that for about 2,000-2,100 PBAs he had performed, 1,183 (56%) were for fetal “flaws” or “indicators”, 175 (9%) were for maternal “indicators” [see next paragraph], and the remainder (about 700, or 35%) were elective. McMahon further indicated that elective abortions comprised 20% of those he performed after 21 weeks gestation, and none of those he performed after 26 weeks.
McMahon’s 1995 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee gave more detailed statistics, which have been analyzed by physicians P. Smith and K. Dowling. Among maternal indicators, the single most frequent was maternal depression (39, or 1.9% of total), with 28 attributed to maternal health conditions “consistent with the birth of a normal child (e.g. sickle cell trait, prolapsed uterus, small pelvis)” (1.3% of total) and the remainder (5% of total) for other maternal factors ranging from maternal health risk to “spousal drug exposure” and “substance abuse”. Those performed for fetal indicators included some for lesser conditions such as 9 (0.4% of total) for cleft lip-palate, 24 (1.1% of total) for cystic hydroma, and other for conditions either surgically correctable or involving lesser degrees of neurologic/mental impairment.[32, 33] (emphasis added, Johnston Archive)
Love picked the easy way out, the minority case she could justify. What will she do when a woman comes into her clinic and says, “I know I’m in my last weeks, but my junkie boyfriend just left me for a stripper and I’d rather not deal with a kid, at least until I’m off parole. Could you just kill the little f***er for me?” Where’s the nobility of purpose in that? What is the moral justification?
For all her considerable efforts to connect with us so we understand her position, Love leaves us with an argument about as compelling as a Planned Parenthood position paper arguing against letting pregnant women see sonograms. She has picked her cases very carefully, presented them unrealistically, and created a perfect world for justifying abortions.
Give her credit for bravery and points for trying, but to use a fantasy world to argue a real-world position is just ridiculous.