Implication goes too far in column

Strong suggestion that woman underwent partial-birth abortion likely misled readers

by David Kopel

Nov. 8, 2003

In detailing the story of an anonymous Colorado woman who underwent a late-term abortion in Boulder, Bill Johnson's Oct. 29 column in the Newsoffered powerful criticism of the new federal ban on partial-birth abortions. There was only one problem with this compelling column: by strongly implying that the woman had a partial-birth abortion - which she almost certainly did not - it was grossly misleading.

Johnson's column introduced the readers to an anonymous woman named "K.," and announced Johnson's hunch that advocates of banning partial-birth abortion have never "met a woman like K."

Although K. was personally opposed to abortion, during one of her pregnancies the doctors found that the fetus had a severe chromosomal abnormality, and would probably die inside. If the fetus lived, it would be a vegetable, knowing nothing but constant pain. K.'s HMO referred her "to a Boulder clinic" for a late-term abortion.

When interviewed for Johnson's column, K. "pondered the question of what she would have done had the procedure she underwent been illegal." In that pondering, K. regrets her former view that partial-birth abortion is for "maniacs," and she is dismayed that no one in partial-birth abortion debate "ever talks about women like me."

But did K. really have a partial-birth abortion? One of the very few late-term abortion providers in the United States, and the only one in Boulder, is the clinic of Dr. Warren Hern. Although Johnson did not respond to my e-mail query, it is reasonable to conclude that Hern's clinic must have performed K.'s abortion.

Hern, though, insists that he doesn't do the kind of abortion covered by the partial-birth abortion ban. In a letter published in the Boulder Daily Cameraon June 18, Hern stated, "I do not know anyone who performs abortions in this manner. I don't, and neither does the one other physician in the United States who does late abortions."

A reply letter from Douglas Johnson, published in the Daily Cameraon June 22, acknowledged the accuracy of Hern's claim not to perform partial-birth abortions (both letters are reprinted at www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/PBAHernJohnson.html ). Instead, Hern uses a different late-term abortion method that is not affected by the new federal law.

While Johnson did a good job of showing why a compassionate person might choose a late-term abortion, his column's focus on the new federal law appears to be inaccurate. Ironically, Johnson's column was titled, "Abortion politics don't always tell the real story." Nor do newspaper columns about abortion politics.

Disclosure: In a 1997 article in the Connecticut Law Review, Glenn Reynolds and I argued that a federal ban on partial-birth abortions is unconstitutional, because it is not a legitimate exercise of congressional power to regulate interstate commerce.

One of the especially loathsome tactics of anti-Semites these days is to equate Jews with Nazis, calling them "Zionazis." Neither the Newsnor The Denver Postwould ever run an editorial cartoon making such a vicious claim.

Yet on Nov. 3, the Postran an opinion cartoon by Ann Telnaes in which one woman holds a newspaper saying "Taliban Retaking Land in Afghanistan." The woman says, "Looks like those religious political extremists are gaining ground again."

Another woman replies, "No joke," and in her hands is a newspaper headlined "Christian Right Strengthened by Legislative Victories."

This is simply hate speech aimed at conservative Christians - equating them with murderers who assisted Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists and who ran one of the most evil, totalitarian regimes of all time. As David Limbaugh points out in his new book Persecution, anti-Christian bigotry is the one form of religious bigotry that is not merely allowed, but actively promoted by mainstream media.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is pushing legislation to reform asbestos liability law. The Newslocalized the story by interviewing Coloradans who suffer from asbestos-related diseases, and Colorado plaintiffs' lawyers who do asbestos cases. In the 35-paragraph article, only four paragraphs of balance were provided; a Senate Judiciary spokeswoman argued that the Hatch reform would help victims collect sooner, without having to pay hefty legal fees.

A better-balanced article would have told the readers two important but missing facts:

The first is that the major cause of the current round of corporate bankruptcies created by asbestos lawsuits is lawsuits by people who suffer no medical problems, yet who collect huge awards based on the theory that they might someday get sick from asbestos.

Second, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly complained that national asbestos litigation is a disaster, because "delays are routine; trials are too long; the same issues are litigated over and over; transaction costs exceed the victims' recovery by nearly 2-to-1; exhaustion of assets threatens and distorts the process; and future claimants may lose altogether" (Ortiz v. Fibreboard, 1999; Amchem v. Windsor, 1997).

By failing to explain the horrible problems with asbestos litigation - and by relying only on plaintiffs' lawyers for legal analysis - the article unfairly painted Hatch as a villain.

 

 

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