Bench Memos

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Rip Van Toobin?


Among the distortions in Jeffrey Toobin’s “Five to Four” essay in the New Yorker is this whopper:  partial-birth abortion is “a procedure performed rarely, often when there are extraordinary risks to the mother, the fetus, or both.”


More than ten years ago, the New York Times reported that Ron Fitzsimmons, the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted that he had “lied through my teeth” in claiming (in the Times’s paraphrase) that partial-birth abortion “is rare and performed primarily to save the lives or fertility of women bearing severely malformed babies.”  In truth, “the procedure was common,” and “[i]n the vast majority of cases, the procedure is performed on a healthy mother with a healthy fetus that is 20 weeks or more along.”  In Fitzsimmons’s words, “The abortion-rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so, probably, does everyone else.”  Except that, somehow, ten years later Jeffrey Toobin still doesn’t know it.


This 2003 memo from National Right to Life contains additional documented refutation, including:


Even before Fitzsimmons blew the whistle on the disinformation campaign, the PBS program Media Matters (in January, 1997) devoted a segment to examining how the news media had erred in accepting what turned out to be wildly erroneous and self-serving claims from the abortion lobby.  In this program, Washington Post medical writer David Brown, M.D., was shown saying that based on the Post investigation of the use of partial-birth abortion, “Cases in which the mother’s life was truly at risk were extremely rare.  Most people who got this procedure were really not very different from most people who got abortions.”  

Kansas became the only state to enact a law that requires reporting of partial-birth abortions separately from other abortion methods.  The first year the law was in effect (1999), Kansas abortionists reported that they performed 182 partial-birth abortions on babies who were defined by the abortionists themselves as “viable,” and they also reported that all 182 of these were performed for “mental” (as opposed to “physical”) health reasons.  See pages 10-11 of the Kansas Health Department report.

In January, 2003, the Alan Guttmacher Institute — an affiliate of Planned Parenthood — published a survey of abortion providers that estimated that 2,200 abortions by the method were performed in the year 2000.  While that figure is surely low (for reasons discussed by NRLC elsewhere), it is more than triple the number that AGI estimated in its most recent previous survey (for 1996).

In March, 2003, Ron Fitzsimmons — still the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers — was asked if he wanted to withdraw the assessment he gave to The New York Times in 1997 (quoted above).  Fitzsimmons replied, “No, no, no, no.  I’m not recanting any of that stuff.  In terms of when it’s done or how it’s done, nothing has changed, as far as I know.”  Informed of a news story that asserted that the method is used mostly to save a mother’s life or in cases of fetal deformity, Fitzsimmons said, “It’s amazing that a lot of people still think that, despite the evidence to the contrary.”

Tags: Whelan


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