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Jewish World Review August 21, 2000 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5760

George Will

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Consumer Reports

The Partial-Birth Censors -- TODAY'S MEDIA are not known for their exacting standards of good taste. However, some media are protecting the public from something they consider in poor taste and "too graphic" for public consumption.

On Aug. 11 The Washington Post carried a full-page ad placed by Focus on the Family, a religious organization based in Colorado Springs. The ad's purpose was to arouse opposition to partial-birth abortion.

In this late-term procedure, the baby is turned so that the legs rather than the head enter the birth canal first. The legs are pulled down until all of the baby but the head is delivered. Then a hole is punched in the skull, the cranial contents are sucked out and the skull is collapsed.

The right-to-life movement has encountered refusals, by print and broadcasting organizations, to run ads that accurately describe, as in the preceding paragraph, the procedure. Too graphic and disturbing, say the refusers.

The Focus on the Family ad in The Post was different. It featured a six-panel cartoon strip, with brief commentary below it.

Panel one shows the head of a sleeping unborn infant, his head on his arms. The words in the panel are: "It was a big day for the little one! He was just minutes away from being America's newest citizen!"

In panel two the baby's eyes are open. The words are: "The time had come. He heard new sounds! He felt movement!"

The baby's head and shoulders have moved toward the bottom right of panel three, in which the words say: "He was being pushed through a small place! A gloved hand grasped his tiny feet!"

Only the head remains in panel four, which reads: "He felt air touch his body for the first time! His hands were free!"

Panel five, in which the baby's eyes are again closed, reads: "Then he felt a sharp pain at the base of his skull! He jerked violently! And then . . . it was over!"

The sixth panel, showing the facade of the Supreme Court, reads: "And the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, said, 'So, what's the problem?' "

Below the cartoon strip, the ad reads: "Here's the problem: Five more seconds and they'd go to the cradle, instead of the grave. Partial birth abortion. Does this seem right to anyone?"

Focus on the Family says it first tried to place the ad in USA Today, which refused to run it. A USA Today spokesman says the paper never discusses any particular ad, but the paper judges any ad by three standards: Is it fraudulent? Is it libelous? Is it in poor taste? USA Today must have considered the ad in poor taste. Focus on the Family says that the New York Times (which, like USA Today, editorially supports partial-birth abortion) refused the ad, calling it too graphic. The Los Angeles Times ran the ad Thursday.

If that moving but mild ad is objectionable to USA Today and the Times, then they probably consider any criticism of partial-birth abortion unfit for public consumption. Such censorship--in the name of compassion protecting the public's tender sensibilities--represents a novel understanding of the duties of journalistic institutions. How far will that duty extend?

Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) has a bill, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, currently before Congress. It would extend to infants who survive abortions--who are entirely disconnected from their mothers--the protection the law owes to persons. Testifying for the bill, Jill Stanek, a nurse, said:

"One night, a nursing co-worker was taking an aborted Down syndrome baby who was born alive to our soiled utility room because his parents did not want to hold him, and she did not have time to hold him. I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a soiled utility room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. He was 21 to 22 weeks old, weighed about half a pound, and was about 10 inches long. He was too weak to move very much, expending any energy he had trying to breathe. Toward the end he was so quiet that I couldn't tell if he was still alive unless I held him up to the light to see if his heart was still beating through his chest wall."

Such public testimony, as well as the existence of Canady's bill, has gone almost entirely unreported. Perhaps the media, practicing compassionate liberalism, are protecting the public from the distress that would be occasioned by confronting some consequences of public policy.

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