Media showing new squeamishness in covering the issue

The United States Senate voted 63-34 to end the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion (PBA) but ended up four votes short of a veto-proof majority. Since 1995, both houses of Congress have voted to ban PBA, and each time President Bill Clinton has vetoed the ban.

On Oct. 20, 1999 the Senate once again debated the issue of whether or not a doctor should be allowed to deliver 70 per cent of the baby’s body through the birth canal, stick surgical scissors into the back of its head and suck its brain out to collapse its skull. On Oct. 21, when the issue was voted upon, only 63 senators thought that this form of infanticide should be outlawed.

Fourteen Democrats joined 49 Republicans in backing the ban. Three of the most liberal Republican senators joined 31 Democrats in opposing it. Three Republicans were absent for the vote, including two who support the ban.

The White House has said it will veto the ban again. Clinton claims that only several hundred PBAs are performed each year and always to protect the life of the mother. But Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum said obstetricians tell him “this is never, never medically necessary.”

He estimates that there are about 5,000 second- and third-trimester PBAs each year. PBA defenders claimed that about 300 PBAs are performed each year, but in 1998 one of their own, Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted the number was at least ten times higher.

Both the American Life League and Concerned Women for America have noted that PBA is important for abortionists to maintain because, since late-term abortions leave the body intact, they provide excellent specimens to sell on the baby body-parts market.

Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics Inc., the organization which first exposed the baby parts trade, said fetal-tissue marketing “is the father of partial-birth abortion. There is simply no other plausible explanation why a physician would intentionally create a breech delivery, and to contend that it is done for the well being of the woman is utterly ridiculous.”

Santorum, who is leading the fight to ban PBA on the Senate floor, said he hopes that “At least we should be able to draw the line that when a child is in the process of being born, it’s too late to have an abortion.”

To avoid past problems with the legislation, he provided a clearer definition of PBA. His new definition said the procedure is used when an “intact living fetus” is delivered “partially outside of the mother.” In the past several years, 20 states have had their PBA bans struck down, often because the courts said the ban’s language wasn’t specific enough and risked banning other abortion methods.

Senators voting against the PBA ban had a difficult time defending PBA or even facing the truth of the matter at hand. Hadley Arkes writes in the Nov. 15 Weekly Standard about an exchange between Santorum and California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. Santorum asked Boxer whether a child, once it is born and separated from its mother, could still be legally killed.

Boxer, a strong advocate of abortion, responded: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs in your family and has rights.”

Santorum continued, “Obviously, you don’t mean they have to take the baby out of the hospital for it to be protected!” – to which Boxer responded that she didn’t “want to engage in this” and walked off the Senate floor.

Santorum was following up on a point often made by Washington Post columnist George Will. The debate is no longer when does life begin, but when does the “right” to kill a child end. The PBA debate has reduced pro-abortion senators to blathering about infanticide being an issue best settled between a woman and her doctor, not decided by the Senate.

Such squeamishness about PBA is not limited to those elected to make decisions about when life should be protected. The media has chosen to flinch from telling the truth about abortion.

In journalism school, would-be reporters are taught to avoid generalities when writing. It is a lesson lost on the mainstream media as it reports on PBA, which it now calls “a certain late-term abortion procedure.”

For example, the CBS Evening News gave the recent vote a mere 24 seconds. Anchor Dan Rather called it “a ban on a certain type of late-term abortions.” Two sentences later, Rather said the ban’s proponents call it “a so-called partial-birth abortion.” Good Morning America news reader Morton Dean showed similar reluctance to use the “partial-birth” term, calling it “a late-term abortion procedure, which opponents call partial-birth abortion.” The print media showed silimar reticence.

Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center, told The Interim that media coverage of the PBA debates is “a great example of how liberal reporters use a 10-foot pole of attribution instead of using the vocabulary of the pro-life movement.” He says the phrase “partial-birth abortion might show up in the ninth paragraph” of a typical article on the subject.

Also rare is any description of the procedure. He asks, “Why is it alright to perform these types of abortion, but it is not alright to talk about them?”

Graham criticizes television news for not showing charts that illustrate what PBA is. “If it is tasteless to show it, why isn’t it tasteless to do it?”

He also points out another example of hypocrisy in the media’s handling of the issue. While a Democratic congresswoman was lauded for linking her support for gun control to her experience of family members being killed by guns, the media castigated Senator Santorum for his “emotional blackmail” when he spoke against PBA drawing on his family’s experience of giving birth to a severely disabled child in spite of doctors’ recommending that his wife undergo the gruesome abortion procedure.