May 07, 2004

"Unpaid advertising" underscores the intellectual dishonesty of abortion-rights rhetoric

If you're one of the three or four people who read my blog, you might have noticed a number of posts about abortion in the last week or two, where previously there were none. I am staunchly pro-life. I have a number of friends who are pro-life activists in this community. Some of them got on TV and the radio two weeks ago for their counter-demonstration at the so-called "women's rights" march. I stand by them. But I am not formally affiliated with any pro-life organization. Simply put, it isn't my "thing"; I don't define myself as a "pro-life activist" or a "pro-Macintosh activist" or a "Protestant activist" or anything else I happen to have strong views about. But thanks to the marches held in Washington and elsewhere last month, as well as a few soundbites from the media, this is a subject that has been on my mind.

A friend of mine drew my attention to an online "breaking news" story on yesterday's Globe and Mail Web site. This article is a particularly egregious example of the sort of typically bad pro-abortion rhetoric I've been highlighting over the last few days. I suppose that because of the length of this post, it sort of represents my "coming out," as it were, as an outspoken pro-life advocate.

The article purports to be an editorial "comment" by someone named Peter Wilson, about a new abortion-rights advocacy group, Canadians for Choice. Interestingly, when you get to the bottom of the article, you see the following byline:

Peter Wilson, director of communications with the Nunavut Planning Commission, is a member of Canadians for Choice steering committee.

In other words, it's not a balanced news report by a disinterested reporter, nor is it an op-ed piece by a commentator who happens to agree with the goals of Canadians for Choice. Essentially, it is a press release to further the aims of this organization, prepared by someone who helps set its agenda. It is, in short, advertising masquerading as journalism. (I am hopeful that since the "story" is Web-exclusive content, its readership is only marginally higher than my own.)

The article begins:

The establishment this month of a new pro-choice group in Canada signals a new era in abortion-rights activism. Like other human-rights struggles before it, the challenges today are more about funding, education and awareness than about protests or court battles.

Make note of the wording. This is an other human-rights struggle. Wilson is trying to cast the argument for abortion rights in the same light as the fight for racial equality, as his following anecdote (about his witnessing a black family discriminated against in a Georgia gas station) demonstrates. He closes the story:

I am reminded of this story now, so many years later and so far away, because it parallels the struggle for abortion rights in Canada. That struggle has emerged victorious from its own black days, only to be faced with the challenge of getting through the final locked door.

Wilson is right: The debate over abortion is a debate over human rights - only not in the way he claims it is.

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the decision in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case, in which Scott, a black man who had lived in free territory and then moved to the slave state of Missouri, sought to be recognized as a free man. The Supreme Court ruled that Scott was property and therefore not entitled to protection under law. When the Founding Fathers had written in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," they had not had black persons in mind. Effectively, Scott was not a person.

The situation is practically identical for the unborn today: under law, they are effectively not considered human persons and therefore are not entitled to equal protection under law.

But this is the crucial issue in the abortion debate. What, exactly, are the unborn? Basic biology, the principle of biogenesis, states that they are human beings. People who reproduce make more people, who for the first nine months of their existence are small, undeveloped, and dependent upon the environment of their mother's womb for their survival. This is a no-brainer, or at least it ought to be.

Dred Scott was later overturned by the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, black people are entitled to equal treatment under law because of who and what they are: human persons. Similarly, the unborn ought to be entitled to equal protection under law, including the right to life, because of who and what they are: human persons.

By contrast, Wilson makes a completely irrelevant comparison. He compares equality under law for black people (based on who they are) to the right of women to have an abortion (based on what they do). This is apples and oranges. And it is based on a false premise. There is no absolute right for a woman to do what she wants; in fact, there are plenty of laws on the books describing actions that people may not do.

The Dred Scott case is rightly recognized today for the sophistry it was. We can only hope that in time, more and more people will come to recognize the obvious when it comes to the unborn, as well.

Wilson's screed continues:

From the time of Confederation until 1969, abortion was a criminal act; women bled to death or died of infections as a result of desperate coat-hanger attempts to end unwanted pregnancies.

Sooner or later you can usually count on the pro-abortionists to trot out the old standby, the "botched illegal back alley abortion" argument.

Let's note right from the start that this argument falls apart on first principles. It assumes that a fetus is not an unborn human person. Thus it sidesteps the real issue: whether it is justifiable for one person to take the life of another, and therefore a "safe and legal" environment ought to be created for the act. (We could argue, on equal logical grounds, that that since a man who assaults his wife runs the risk of having his manhood sliced off or waking up to find his bed on fire, the government ought to set up publicly-funded "discipline centres" where he can administer "physical correction" in a safe environment. This, of course, is idiotic.)

This is an emotionally compelling argument, because no one wants to see women die at the hands of a quack. The problem is, it's not true. It probably never was. Abortion rights activists would have us believe that before abortion became "safe and legal," thousands upon thousands of women died in botched illegal back alley abortions. It "preaches well," but the numbers simply don't add up.

If the claim were true, for example, then starting in 1973 or thereabouts, we would expect to see a sharp drop in the number of deaths due to illegal abortions. There is no such drop - at least, not in 1973. This drop actually takes place in the 1940s. Why? Because contrary to popular belief (and pro-abortion propaganda), the vast majority of illegal abortions were not conducted in back alleys with bent coat hangers. They were done by respectable (though lawbreaking) doctors in offices and clinics. The drop in the death rate can be attributed to the widespread use of better antibiotics as well as general improvements in surgical technique and technology. As a result, the death rate due to illegal abortions dropped more or less steadily. In 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade made abortion on demand "safe and legal" for any reason or none, the number of deaths attributed to illegal abortions was - get this - 39. Since only a tiny minority of illegal abortions were performed outside of the doctor's office, the number of deaths attributable to "botched back-alley abortions" would be smaller still.

There were no "desperate coat-hanger attempts" - at least, not in any quantity that would precipitate a crisis for which abortion on demand was the solution. Peter Wilson is fearmongering.

What about the commonly believed claim that 5 to 10,000 women died because of botched abortions in 1972? Bernard Nathanson was one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). He later repudiated his support for abortion and became a pro-life activist. According to him, the number was a complete fabrication, which was maintained because it was useful to the pro-abortion cause. In his book The Hand of God, Nathanson writes, "There were perhaps three hundred or so deaths from criminal abortions annually in the United States in the sixties, but NARAL in its press releases claimed to have data that supported a figure of five thousand" (Nathanson, The Hand of God [Washington: Regnery, 1996] 90-91; see also Aborting America [New York: Doubleday, 1979] 193).

After a brief history of the pro-abortion-rights movement in Canada, Wilson sums up the current situation with the following:

Today, abortion is safe, legal and publicly funded in Canada. But too many women are still facing a final locked door. A CARAL study last year concluded that more than four out of five Canadian hospitals do not perform abortions. In Prince Edward Island not a single hospital provided the service. Across the Prairies, women can obtain abortions in only 5 per cent of hospitals.

Finding a hospital that performs abortions is hard enough, but in many cases that's just the first of many obstacles. Gestation limits range from 10 to 23 weeks, CARAL found, noting that inconsistencies exist even within individual hospitals. In New Brunswick, in direct contravention of the law, the approval of two doctors is required. . . .

This isn't a Georgia gas station we're running here; the Canada Health Act is supposed to ensure accessibility, and shouldn't be undermined by the personal bias of front-line employees behind the counters of our community hospitals.

Wouldn't a consistent "pro-choice" position not only allow women to choose to have an abortion if she wishes, but also allow doctors to choose whether to perform them? Would it not also mean that those who choose to have an abortion are the same ones who choose to pay for the procedure? This is why I have consistently refused throughout this article to refer to Peter Wilson and his views as "pro-choice." He and "Canadians for Choice," for whom he presumably speaks, are pro-abortion. They will whine at the label, but it is true. For Wilson, "pro-choice" means allowing pregnant women to murder unborn persons for any reason or none. It means obliging doctors to perform those abortions, whether they choose to or not. It means obliging hospitals to accommodate them, whether they choose to or not. It means requiring taxpayers to fund them, whether they choose to or not. And, of course, the unborn persons being murdered get no choice at all.

Remember that the next time you hear Wilson or his fellow activists call the pro-life position "extreme."

Update: At the time of writing (very early Saturday morning), apparently there are a whopping two people who took notice of this piece in the entire blogosphere. Unfortunately, CathieFromCanada takes the opposite position.