Pro-lifers with regard to abortion are sometimes portrayed as fanatics. They only care about one thing. They have some kind of anti-woman, patriarchal agenda. And so on. And, truth be told, influential members of the pro-life movement have allowed this narrative to take hold given some of their rhetoric and their political positions and alliances.
But two pieces of recent news, I think, could lead many of their opponents to understand why pro-lifers sometimes react with deep emotion, and even righteous anger, in certain situations.
The first is the stunning testimony of Planned Parenthood’s Alisa Lepolt Snow during a hearing in Florida’s state legislature on the “Infant Born Alive Bill.” When asked what should happen to a baby who has been born alive after a botched abortion, she said that Planned Parenthood’s position is that this should be a “decision between the patient and the health care provider.”
Often the abortion debate is framed as one about how we should think the law should or should not restrict bodily autonomy. And anyone who fairly examines both the moral and legal issues involved must come to the conclusion that this part of the debate is extremely complex. However, as the case above makes clear, there are many situations in which the reason for the abortion is not about bodily autonomy at all. Rather, the act is actually aimed at the death of a child, whether prenatal or neonatal.
You would think that opponents of pro-lifers, especially in light of cases like this, would at least acknowledge the complexity of the issues and be willing to engage in discussion and debate. And, again if we’re honest, for many opponents of pro-lifers this is indeed the case. But there is an increasingly and disturbingly frequent move being made in our public policy debates about abortion–and that is to simply lump pro-lifers in with groups who have views so horrific and beyond the pale such that a reasonable person should not engage them at all.
This kind of move is apparently what happened recently at Johns Hopkins University when their student government association denied their pro-life group official student club status. Apparently this group was told that being pro-life violates the University’s harassment policy and that their views are in the same category as beliefs in white supremacy.
Unlike other debates which began in the 60s and 70s, the abortion debate at least appears as polarized as ever and definitely shows no signs of going away any time soon. However, if we are going to move beyond polarization to actual engagement of the issues, the first step must be that the players in the debate acknowledge that the issue is a complex one and that their opponents have a legitimate position that is worth engaging. Admittedly, many pro-lifers fail at this when they use they hurl the rhetoric of “murder” and “holocaust” at their opponents, but what happened at Johns Hopkins (a place where, one might think, students would expect to be challenged by a diverse group of ideas) is evidence that there is plenty of blame to go around.
I don’t think the issues at stake have been presented clearly by the conservative media who are clearly trying to make an issue of the Florida hearing for propaganda purposes. First of all, Florida restricts abortion to cases where the unborn child is not viable (that is, third-trimester abortions are prohibited) unless two physicians certify in writing that the abortion is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother, or unless there is an emergency situation in which there is no time for the second physician to be brought in for certification. So post-viability abortions in Florida would be rare. Furthermore, Florida law states the following:
Put briefly, under Florida law, if a doctor performs an abortion late enough in pregnancy that the baby can survive, he or she is required by law to do whatever possible to save the baby.
The Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates issued the following statement April 1:
It seems to me Alisa Lepolt Snow was put on the spot by legislators who should have known the answer to their own question. Under Florida law, if a doctor performs an abortion after viability, he or she is obligated to take care to preserve the life of the baby. If a pre-viable baby lives a short time after an abortion or a miscarriage, it would be grotesque to inflict “lifesaving” care on a tiny infant that cannot possibly live. If there is uncertainty about the possibility of survival of a very prematurely aborted or born infant, then definitely should be up to the doctors and the parents to decide how to handle the situation, but that would not include actively killing the baby. It would be a matter (if so decided) not to provide heroic treatment, but rather palliative care, the same as would be done in any case involving a patient where heroic measures are deemed inappropriate.
It is this kind of manufactured sensation over “infanticide” that causes those who are pro-choice to lose respect for pro-lifers.
Hi David. Can I ask why you focus on side issue Fl law here? The important topic is what a Planned Parenthood official, speaking for Planned Parenthood, said about infanticide when not having the benefit of hindsight and of the need to do damage control after the fact. She was speaking with her first instincts, and her first instincts came out very clearly. They are, of course, sentiments we have heard before from mainstream pro-choice activists and legislators–especially during the partial-birth abortion debate. And with the stories of Gosnell’s clinic (he still doesn’t understand what he is on trial for) and other similar situations in the last few years, this is hardly a theoretical topic. It is also worth mentioning that the prestigious Journal Medical Ethics will have a whole issue devoted to infanticide later this year–I think it will be titled something like “Infanticide: 40 Years Later” and chronicle the best arguments for the practice made over the last four decades.
What I don’t see in the video is a representative of Planned Parenthood accidentally letting slip some hidden agenda involving the promotion of “infanticide.” What I do see is a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood being asked questions that she was ill prepared to answer but that had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood’s objections to the bill. She responded in generalities about leaving things up to the parents and the doctors, which is, in general the pro-choice position about most abortion-related matters. She said nothing specific about what should be done or is done in actual practice by Planned Parenthood clinics, and when pressed she basically took no real position at all. It is fair, I think, to say that at first she appeared to leave open the possibility that the parents and doctors had a right to make a life or death decision for a baby born as the result of a “botched” abortion. But first, she didn’t actually say that, and second, she backed away from it under questioning.
Now, I suppose it is understandable that those who think Planned Parenthood is evil to the core would leap to the conclusion that Snow made a classic Washington-type “gaffe” (accidentally speaking the truth) when she said the fate of the baby from a “botched” abortion should be in the hands of the doctor and the parents. But I think it is only fair to take into account everything she said, including saying that it was a good question who the patient was in the case of a “botched” abortion. And it makes little sense to me to discount Planned Parenthood’s official statement on the matter. Your headline is (in part), “Planned Parenthood Claims Infanticide is a ‘Decision Between Patient and the Health Care Provider’.” Show is not Planned Parenthood. She is a hired lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, and even if she had actually said, “Infanticide is a decision between patient and health care provider,” the official statement from Planned Parenthood, not a lobbyist speaking off the cuff, should be looked to as the position of Planned Parenthood.
Florida law is important here, because Snow was answering questions for Florida lawmakers who seemed to believe Snow was there to oppose the entire bill, which by the accounts I have read, it seems she was not. She mentions only opposition to the provisions of the law that say a woman who has a “botched” abortion that survives is considered to have given up the baby, and a surviving baby must immediately be taken to a hospital. That is not opposition to giving the baby lifesaving medical care, which is already legally mandated in Florida. As I said, the legislators were asking purely hypothetical questions they should have known the answers to themselves—questions which had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood’s objections to the bill—since Florida law already requires doctors to attempt to save the lives of babies in the case of “botched” abortions.
I wonder, in fact, if there is anywhere in the United States where it would be legal for doctors and parents to directly kill a viable or even a pre-viable infant that is born alive for any reason whatsoever. I know when the House of Representatives considered the federal version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, Jerrold Nadler (than whom no one could be more liberal or more supportive of abortion, and who happens to be my Congressional Representative), said the following:
Here is Nat Hentoff writing about, and quoting Nadler on the bill:
It seems to me (and some pro-lifers claim this, as well) that acceptance of abortion in the United Sates is declining, and I see no signs whatsoever that the American people would consider legalization of infanticide in any form. It may be talked about by academics, but it seems to me that infanticide is not in this nation’s future, and it also seems to me that some pro-lifers deliberately attempt to blur the distinction between abortion and infanticide in order to demonize Planned Parenthood and other supporters of abortion so that they can call them “child murderers” instead of abortionists.
Hi David…thanks for engaging.
Once again, however, talk about a “global infanticide conspiracy” or about PP “being evil to the core” are just as distracting from the main point as was the focus on Florida law. Maybe some people believe those things to be true, but I don’t, and most of those who are concerned with what this woman’s answer reveals don’t believe those things. What we are concerned about is a woman who most certainly was prepared to give an answer–this is what the whole bill was about, after all–gave a honest, forthright answer that was deeply disturbing. And, once again, it is an answer we have heard before from mainstream pro-choice people. This woman’s natural instinct–again, without the benefit of a firestorm of protest and the benefit of hindsight–is to privilege the autonomous choice of women even to the choice to infanticide. Now, she is not “Planned Parenthood” in the same sense that John Kerry is not the United States. But she was there representing Planned Parenthood, and was no doubt prepped and coached on what to say by many different PP folks. The words came easily to her–as if they were rehearsed or said out of habit. There was nothing awkward or hesitant about them at all.
There is no global infanticide conspiracy and Planned Parenthood is not evil to the core. Indeed, they do much good. However, their wildly extreme views of autonomy fail to curtail (and at times even encourage) violent practices that are aimed, not at women’s health, but at death of prenatal and neonatal Homo sapiens. This is just the logical outgrowth of their extreme views on this question.
What we are concerned about is a woman who most certainly was prepared to give an answer–this is what the whole bill was about, after all–gave a honest, forthright answer that was deeply disturbing.
If you listen to the testimony at about the 4:30 mark, Snow explains Planned Parenthood’s objections to the bill. PP objects to the surrender provisions and the requirement to transport the born-alive infant to the hospital. From earlier testimony, it sounds like PP would like to see a “neutrality clause,” as was included in the the Illinois and federal versions of similar bills. Snow says, “We would like to be in a position to remove our opposition.” There is no indication at all, except from some of the unwarranted assumptions in statements by the legislators, that Planned Parenthood opposes legally requiring doctors to give appropriate care to born-alive infants. It would be very helpful to have more information, but it seems clear to me that Snow has already testified that Florida law already requires doctors to do so.
Now, she is not “Planned Parenthood” in the same sense that John Kerry is not the United States.
I know you are not making an analogy between Snow and Kerry, but even if you did, if John Kerry himself speaking as Secretary of State makes a statement, and the Obama administration then “clarifies,” John Kerry’s original statement does not stand. And Snow is not to Planned Parenthood what John Kerry is to the Obama administration. She is a hired lobbyist not for Planned Parenthood (of America) but for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. It appears to me that Snow is acting on behalf of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates much in the way a lawyer represents a client. She is a paid lobbyist, not a Planned Parenthood official, and she represents many other organizations in that capacity.
But she was there representing Planned Parenthood, and was no doubt prepped and coached on what to say by many different PP folks.
As I noted above, she was representing Planned Parenthood to raise specific objections to the bill, not to oppose the bill in its entirety. She was not there to answer the question of Planned Parenthood’s position regarding born-alive infants. She was there to object to the provisions mentioned above. If she had been prepped to answer that the abortion provider and the parents truly had the right of life or death for a born-alive infant, then why did she back further and further away from her original statement under questioning?
As I understand it, Planned Parenthood clinics to not do late-term abortions. Almost nobody does late-term abortions nowadays. It is impossible to get good statistics on the number of abortions done after viability, since CDC statistics are kept by gestational age and are not broken down after 21 weeks (with viability generally considered to be 24 weeks), but less than 2% of abortions are performed after 21 weeks. The number of abortions in the United States in which it is even possible for an aborted infant to survive a “botched” abortion—24 weeks or later—may very well number less than 2000 out of more than a million, or 0.2% (two tenths of 1%). I think it is reasonable to assume the vast majority of those abortions are not “botched,” so in discussing abortions in which a viable baby is born alive, we are talking about a very small number. It just doesn’t make sense to me to say that Planned Parenthood has a belief that in those small number of cases, the abortionist may deliberately kill the baby. Why in the world would they have such a policy, even unofficially? And if it is their policy, how can they promote it if they officially disavow it.
If you Google for information on Snow and the hearings, all you get is the same story, in mostly the same words, repeated endlessly. Alisa LaPolt Snow has been smeared in the “conservative” press. No one is reporting on this story. They are all repeating the pro-life assertion that Snow advocated “post-birth abortion.” Interestingly, there is extremely scant coverage of the whole episode in Florida newspapers. I can’t find any mention of Alisa Lepolt Snow or her testimony in any of the Tallahassee or Miami newspapers. This seems to be a case of pro-life/right wing media taking an unthinking remark totally out of context and distorting it beyond all reason. I fear for Show’s safety and her future employability. She has been turned into some kind of monster, basically for one or two sentences that she spent most of the time shown in the clip backing down from.