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Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2003 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5764

Evan Gahr

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NYTimes partial truths on abortion: Calling — literally — a reporter on her errors | Almost everyone lies at one time or another, but throughout its battle to insure that abortion-on-demand remains the law of the land, the "pro-choice" movement has exhibited a particularly problematic relationship with the truth.

Often times, the whoppers are so brazen they might even put Bill Clinton to shame. For example, Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in "Roe v. Wade", later claimed that she had lied at the behest of her lawyers when claimed to have been impregnated by a rapist. And let's not forget NARAL president Kate Michelman. When the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted saying "we think abortion is a bad thing," she repeatedly insisted — even to a congressional committee where she was presumably under oath — that she had "never said" any such thing. The paper's tape-recording of the interview showed otherwise.

Of course, abortion rights advocates don't always outright lie. Sometimes, they merely disseminate misinformation to journalists. Curiously, the journalists, normally so cynical and skeptical, report the information unquestiongly. The end result is that journalists, either due to laziness, ideological bias or some combination thereof, help advance NARAL's spin.

The most recent example: The New York Times repeatedly gave the impression that the partial-birth abortion ban that President Bush signed on Nov. 6 lacked, just as pro-abortion groups complained, no exception for the woman's "health."

Well, actually, it has a big one: The law specifically allows partial-birth abortions necessary to save the mother's life. Presumably, saving her life is good for her health. However, by ignoring this provision, but speaking of the lack of a health exemption, readers would conclude logically, but ultimately erroneously, that even if the women has a life threatening condition she can't have an abortion. Presto: anti-abortion groups seem remarkably callous and pro-abortion groups seem altruistic — animated not by the crass by the crass abortion-on-demand ethos which most Americans reject, but merely a poignant desire to safeguard the woman's health.

Thus speaketh the Paper of Record.

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In her June 5, 2003 New York Times story on the House passage of a ban on partial birth abortions, Robin Toner says that "Opponents of abortion have long resisted adding a 'health exception,' arguing it would become a huge loophole allowing such abortions for vague reasons of mental health."

True as far as it goes. But Toner neglected to mention that abortion opponents did not resist an exception to the prohibition against partial birth abortions when the procedure is necessary to save the mother's life. Saving her life is presumably beneficial to her health. The opposition of anti-abortion groups to health exceptions therefore isn't quite as absolute as Toner leads readers to believe.

Similar Times coverage attended the Senate's passage of its own partial-birth abortion ban in late October. In her October 22 story, "Bill Barring Abortion Procedure Drew on Backing from Many Friends of Roe v. Wade," Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote that the legislation, which the Senate had approved 2 days previously, criminalizes any ''overt act'' to ''kill the partially delivered fetus."

Any over act?

Actually, the text of the bill states clearly and unambiguously that the prohibition against partial birth abortions "does not apply to a partial-birth abortion that is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself."

Got that?

Apparently not, after the final version of the bill was signed into law by President Bush, Robin Toner wrote a news analysis that might just as well have been a NARAL press release.

"Abortion rights supporters ... noted that the legislation failed to include a health exception." They certainly "noted" that. But why didn't Toner note information to the contrary?

In a brief telephone conversation with, Toner was asked why all of her stories failed to include a seemingly crucial bit of information that was reported in other major papers, including the somewhat liberal Washington Post. Her answers would be easy enough to ridicule. But a far more entertaining tack is to quote her accurately.

Toner: I don't think it was all my stories.
JWR: So it's ok to omit crucial information in just 4 out of 5 stories?
Toner: If you're suggesting this was a political agenda you would be wrong.
JWR: Why did you leave the information out?
Toner: I've just given you my answer.
JWR: Is this something New York Times readers didn't need to know?
Toner: I will not be browbeaten. [click]

Quite forthcoming. Is Toner simply a sloppy hack who unwittingly advanced NARAL's agenda because she was ignorant of a key part of the legislation? That's the most charitable explanation. The more serious is that Toner had knowingly kept the exception to save the mother's life from editors and readers. Her "answers" to follow-up questions leave that possibility open.

JWR: So you knew about the exemption but deliberately left it out?
Toner: We have covered this legislation extensively.
JWR: So you won't deny that you knew about the exemption?
Toner: [click].

Evan Gahr is a journalist based in the Washington, DC area. To comment click here.


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03/07/00: Bob Jones hypocrisy: Liberals are lecturing Americans on "anti-Catholicism"?
02/03/00: The red and the Black: The Left-wing Extremist in Bill Bradley’s Camp
01/06/00: Looking backwards: An anchorman's version of the 20th Century
12/16/99: Yellow journalism for the Pink Lady?
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© 2003, Evan Gahr