The Corner

Abortion, Infanticide, and the New York Times

Pro-life bloggers are not displeased to find the Times exposed for its latest example of sloppy pro-abortion reporting. I thought there was something very odd about the passage in question when I first read it. Here’s what Jack Hitt wrote (reg. req’d., I think):

[Carmen Climaco’s] story came out in fits and starts. She said that she was innocent and had never done anything illegal. Then she said, “I keep asking God to pardon me for what I’ve done.” She said that the day it happened, she felt dizzy and collapsed at home. She woke up covered in blood. “I stood up and it felt like something fell out of me.” It took her a while to understand just what had happened. “I put my hand on its throat to see if it was moving,” she said, “which is why my fingerprints were found on its neck.”

I spent the better part of an hour watching Carmen Climaco’s face, listening to her whimpering pleas to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and tiny prayers to me to believe in her innocence. Like anyone serving time in prison, she has inhabited the details of her story to the point that they no longer sound true or false. She has compressed her story into a dense, simple tale of innocence — she just woke up covered in blood — to hold up against the public accusation of baby-strangling. I kept looking at her face, incapable of seeing the innocent girl she described or the murderer the prosecutor sent to prison. The truth was certainly — well, not in the “middle” so much as somewhere else entirely. Somewhere like this: She’d had a clandestine abortion at 18 weeks, not all that different from D.C.’s, something defined as absolutely legal in the United States. It’s just that she’d had an abortion in El Salvador.

Today’s dispute concerns whether the child died at 18 weeks or later. An El Salvadorean court found that it had died at term, and Hitt didn’t mention its finding.

But let’s assume it happened at 18 weeks. I didn’t question that when I read it. But Hitt’s passage struck me, and still strikes me, as extremely murky writing. What was the sequence of events? If she had fully delivered the child and then killed it, even at 18 weeks, then that wasn’t a clandestine abortion, and it wasn’t something that would have been “defined as absolutely legal in the United States.” The Born-Alive Infant Protection Act covers cases just like this hypothetical one: Once the fetus has completely left the mother’s body it is counted as a baby with a right not to be killed. As bad as the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on life issues is, it’s not that bad.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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