Erasing History in the Abortion Debate

To the Plainsman staff and the members of the Auburn University community:

Last week, I picked up a copy of the Plainsman like I do every Thursday. Imagine my surprise as I leafed through the pages when, nestled amidst ads hawking car insurance, I found a large tabloid advertisement mysteriously entitled Life is Full of Suprises and plastered with images of cute, mostly white babies burbling at the camera. The mystery began to dissolve into suspicion as I noticed the name Human Life Alliance across the top. And as I leafed through, I found the contents totally unsurprising, but also outrageous and disturbing: sure enough, our campus newspaper had graciously distributed hardline anti-abortion agitprop to the campus community!

I am not sure how I should think of this insert. Since it’s marked as an Advertising Insert, I suppose that they paid for the space. Yet the insert is so full of lies that the Human Life Alliance should surely be liable under the law for false advertising. For example, they insist that there is a known medical link between breast cancer and abortion, when actually studies after Brind’s did not confirm his results. The article insists that abortion causes the problem rather than being pregnant in the first place, when in fact studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that full-term pregnancies do increase the risk of breast cancer.

In addition to the pamphlet’s problems with medical facts, I am appalled by its callous psychological manipulation. Just as they change misinformation into so-called medical facts, they also change unborn fetuses into babies, rename clinics to abortion mills, and refer to women who have chosen not to carry a pregnancy to term as aborted women. The articles always focus on late-term abortions, since these are more dangerous and can be described in more gruesome terms — even though these are only 10% of all abortions performed. HLA insists that they want fair and balanced counseling for pregnant women, yet their website lists only Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) for women to turn to. Investigations have repeatedly exposed CPCs as fronts for anti-abortion groups, and found that their counseling subjects women already in an agonizing situation to misinformation, outright lies, and traumatizing emotional bullying. Much like what the HLA’s pamphlet does, actually, except that HLA sticks to pictures of cute babies instead of bloody slide shows of aborted fetuses.

The worst part of all, however, is HLA’s blatant attempt to erase history in favor of its political agenda. They erase the fact that the late-term abortions that they are so appalled by, virtually all occur either because of medical emergency, or else because women are held back by the legal red tape created because of groups like the HLA and anti-abortion lobbyists. And while they raise questions about the risks of abortions today, they ignore the over one million women every year who were forced into illegal back-alley abortions, and the 5,000 every year who died. Many were mutilated by untrained providers. Others died in fevers or blood poisoning from unsanitary conditions. Some women even poisoned themselves with lye and other chemicals in last-ditch desperation. The HLA plasters their pamphlet with pictures of cute little babies and stories from a select few women who have had bad experiences with abortion, but they attempt to silence the literally millions of women across the nation who organized from virtually scratch, spoke out, and fought tooth and nail, in order to win the most basic human right — the right to control your own body — for themselves and all future women. Trying to undo their work and return women to the butchery of illegal abortion is not pro-life. It is anti-choice, anti-life, and anti-woman.

Twenty eight years ago on the day I am writing this letter (January 22), the United States Supreme Court made the revolutionary decision that women do, in fact have a constitutional right to exercise control over their own uterine walls, and therefore states cannot force women to carry unwanted pregnancies. I wonder if the HLA knew that they were marking the anniversary with this effort to bring women’s bodies back under the boots of the State. I ask all members of our community to reject the so-called Human Life Alliance’s crude attempt at propaganda, and to celebrate January 22 as a landmark day in the human rights and liberation of women nationwide.

Sincerely,
Charles W. Johnson, AU’02

I sent this to the Plainsman to be published in the issue immediately following the issue in which the advertising supplement was distributed. Apparently the LTE editor lost the copy of the letter I handed to her, and so it did not appear in next week’s issue and wasn’t up on the website. Eventually I found out what had happened and resubmitted the letter, sending in an e-mail copy to make sure they wouldn’t lose it. It was published the next week.

13 replies to Erasing History in the Abortion Debate Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. E.

    You said it wasn’t an article; you said it was an advertisement. I fully agree with Voltaire, that I may not like what you have to say but you have the right to say it. If you would like, pay for your own advertisement. Don’t blame the newspaper for printing it. And although I do not have the exact facts of the case, a Planned Parenthood or some other organization was sued (this was a while back, which is why I do not have the exact facts) for claiming that the breast cancer and abortion link was false. They had to reprint their pamphlets; what I am saying is, there are a lot of studies, some good, some bad; anti-abortion groups cannot print that abortion causes breast cancer but they can claim that there is a link.

    [originally posted on 28 February 2001 on Themestream]

  2. Charles W. Johnson

    E.,

    I fully agree with you that the Human Life Alliance has every bit as much right to free speech as I do. However, that implies that I have every right to protest what it is that they are saying and to counter it with a contrary view.

    More importantly, this debate was occurring within my own campus’s student newspaper. In a student forum the most important voice to express should be the voices of students, not outside groups who have the money to buy their way in, and it’s ridiculous to require that I as an individual student be able to match a national organization’s funding resources. This doesn’t mean that the HLA should have been censored, it just means that I have every right to have my say in response. Fortunately, this right was vindicated, since the letter was eventually published in the Plainsman.

    As to your medical claim, as I said, the evidence on this topic is equivocal. Brind’s studies indicate a link; other studies do not indicate a link; still other studies indicate that there is a link, but the link is due to the existence of the pregnancy rather than ending it. However, the so-called Human Life Alliance didn’t represent the situation this way: it simply asserts the conclusions of Brind’s studies as if it were accepted medical fact, where there is actually no medical consensus. This was in line with a larger pattern of distortion and misinformation by the pamphlet which is quite typical of this kind of anti-abortion literature and the CPCs which it supports.

    I hope this helps clarify some of my points.

    [originally posted 28 February 2001 on Themestream]

  3. Zenia Kim Larsen

    Even if there should be a link between abortion and breast cancer I can’t see why it should be a reason to make abortion illegal. There have been proven many links between cars and cancer, but it hasn’t made driving a car illegal! (And many people are killed and damaged in car accidents each year as well)

    I’m glad that you’re back here, and I hope to see more from you soon!

    [originally posted on 28 February 2001 on Themestream]

  4. S.

    I can’t believe you could write something like this. I could go on for pages and pages disproving everything you say, but I am saving that for a nice lengthy article this weekend. And BTW, the so-called fetuses ARE babies - they have heartbeats, and are usually fully-formed when they are killed. I’ve seen a video of a baby being aborted…it’s quite clear that it is a HUMAN BEING being MURDERED.

    [comment originally posted on 28 February 2001 on Themestream]

  5. Tamara Shipp

    Charles, excellent article. I was thinking I’d have to commend it to my e-mail pal E., but I see she beat me to it. With all due respect to her (I am fond of her and find her to be an engaging and thoughtful writer), she pretty much ignored most of your article in favor of focusing on a tiny point about abortion and breast cancer. If getting pregnant itself increases one’s risk of breast cancer (BC), then of course there would be a link between BC and abortion, as well as BC and full-term pregnancy, miscarriage, and all other results of pregnancy. However, as pointed out by another commenter, the link to breast cancer is nowhere near, by itself, being a good enough reason to outlaw abortion. If someone thinks it is, then I guess we’d better talk about cigarettes and sun worshipping, as well as many other products and practices linked with cancer.

    What many people fail to realize, and others would prefer to ignore, is that forcing women to continue pregnancies already conceived is a tiny step in front of forcing women to conceive in the first place. We must decide once and for all if people, both men and women, have a right to decide for themselves how they will use their bodies, whether before conception or after. We must reject the frivolous apples-and-oranges comparisons of abortion to slavery, murder, and the holocaust. The anti-choice movement’s most powerful weapon is the red herring.

    Thanks again, Charles. I know you realize your ratings will take a beating because you took on this subject, despite the fact that there are few, if any, anti-choicers who come close to the eloquence you demonstrate. I’ll do what I can by rating this article Excellent.

    [comment originally posted on 1 March 2001 on Themestream]

  6. Charles W. Johnson

    Tamara and Zenia,

    Thank y’all both for your kind comments. As it turns out, my ratings haven’t really taken a beating; the article is holding steady at three stars.

    I agree with both of you that the issues I’m combatting in the HLA’s pamphlet are really pretty peripheral. The fundamental reason I’m pro-choice is not any kind of argument over the medical aspects of abortion, or even the horrible conditions of illegal abortions (although I don’t ignore either of these issues). The basis of my support is simply that women have a right to control their own uterine walls, and any government which says otherwise is legalizing slavery.

    However, I didn’t touch on that much in this letter, since I was specifically focusing on the kind of techinques that the HLA and similar groups use to psychologically manipulate people in their agitprop - such as false “medical facts,” focusing on extremely rare procedures as if they were used for any other reason than emergencies, and erasing the entire history and reasons for the struggle for reproductive rights. Worse, the HLA also happens to be opposed to medical contraception and family planning, so they erase the fact that the ideas they advocate are helping create a lot of the need for abortion in the first place. It’s very frustrating to see this kind of stuff printed in your own campus newspaper (and not even printed by a student, but just put in by a big group that has the money to buy its way in), and I felt like I had to say something against the tide.

    Anyway, I’d like to thank both of y’all for your encouraging comments, and for helping bring out some crucial issues where I didn’t have the space to.

    [comment originally posted 1 March 2001 on Themestream]

  7. Jennifer Dowling Liles

    I think perhaps THE critical issue in the abortion debate is that making abortions illegal does not substantially lower abortion rate…it merely dramatically increases maternal death rate. What the pro-life movement forgets is that making abortions illegal in this country will not prevent abortions…it will only kill more women.

    Excellent article, Charles. Glad I found you.

    [comment originally posted 5 March 2001 on Themestream]

  8. Ginger Sitler

    Well said!!! Bravo! This is perhaps the best article I have read to date that fully explains our side of this issue! Your comment to the Plainsman was brilliant. I wonder how your letter ‘mysteriously’ disappeared?

    Things like that happen here in my town too, where our local paper is owned by a staunch conservative. And it’s not even worth reading the editorials. They are all one sided. But that doesn’t keep me from writing in, even though I know my letters will not be printed. Or if they are they are taken so out of context, and words are added or subtracted to make me seem like an idiot. This is a common practice here. Unless, of course, you agree with their conservative views.

    Once again, Great Job! Four Stars! I am now a subscriber!

    [comment originally posted 6 March 2001 on Themestream]

  9. Goes Crunch

    Great article. Beware the anti-choicers who have heads full of half-assed propaganda. Especially beware those who’ve seen that sham ‘the silent scream’. I’ve subscribed to your articles, and look forward to seeing more from you. BTW, feel free to drop by either of these clubs:

    http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/secularabortiondebate http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/abortioncelebration

    [comment originally posted 9 March 2001 on Themestream]

— 2003 —

  1. Sandra Ramirez

    Although I realize that I am probalbly writing this is vain because it will probably not be posted, or if it is, it will be censored, I would just like for you to reconsider a few of the things you have said. You state, “The basis of my support is simply that women have a right to control their own uterine walls, and any government which says otherwise is legalizing slavery.” In case you didn’t realize, our pro-choice government DID legalize slavery. The words have changed, but the arguements used for slavery, and now, used to justify abortion are the same: They’re not people; if you’re against it don’t have one; they have no rights under The Constitution, etc. Writes Tamara Shipp, “We must reject the frivolous apples-and-oranges comparisons of abortion to slavery, murder, and the holocaust.” The reason these analogies are used is because in order to recognize the genocide taking place right now, we must see the striking parallels between today’s Holocaust and Hitler’s.

  2. Ron KIng

    I have been reeding these comments about abortion, from all of you on both sides of the issue. The point that has never been taken is that the choice you so want to protect, was made when the women had sex. The sex was her choice. So the women who wants athe abortion, not only wants to make the choice to have sex, but also the choice not to deal with the consequence of her decision. With that type of thinking,would a speeder choose to get a ticket, of course not. The ticket is the result of her choice to speed.

— 2004 —

  1. Rad Geek

    Ron King claims that discussions of “choice” in the abortion debate are misguided: “The point that has never been taken is that the choice you so want to protect, was made when the women had sex. The sex was her choice. So the women who wants athe abortion, not only wants to make the choice to have sex, but also the choice not to deal with the consequence of her decision.”

    There is, in fact, a philosophical response to this; it rests on the principle that the right to control over one’s body is inalienable and so nothing one does can end up forfeiting that right. (Even if a woman made up a contract, in triplicate, notarized, and signed in blood stating that she would carry a pregnancy to term, that would not actually make it O.K. to force her to carry the pregnancy to term if she later changed her mind. And of course chosing to have sex is not an explicit contract at all.)

    However, the full elaboration of that response is beyond the scope of this comments section. For the time being, then, a polemical response will have to do. Mr. King objects to pro-choice arguments that “So the women who wants athe abortion, not only wants to make the choice to have sex, but also the choice not to deal with the consequence of her decision. With that type of thinking,would a speeder choose to get a ticket, of course not. The ticket is the result of her choice to speed.” The argument here raises the question: is having a child, unplanned, supposed to be a matter of PUNISHMENT for a transgression? Can you think of a more dismal, anti-child, anti-life understanding of what parenthood is about?

  2. Rad Geek

    Sandra Ramirez objects to my statement that “The basis of my support [for abortion rights is simply that women have a right to control their own uterine walls, and any government which says otherwise is legalizing slavery.” Ms. Rodriguez objects: “In case you didn’t realize, our pro-choice government DID legalize slavery. The words have changed, but the arguements used for slavery, and now, used to justify abortion are the same: They’re not people; if you’re against it don’t have one; they have no rights under The Constitution, etc.”

    The claim here seems to be that foetuses are being treated like slaves in that their human rights are not protected by the government. But this simply misses the point of my argument. An abortion is only a violation of the human rights of the foetus if two conditions are satisfied: (1) the foetus is an actual person with a right to life, and (2) the foetus has a right to the use of its mother’s body and lifeblood for its nourishment.

    Whether (1) is true or not leads us into the debate over when personhood begins. I think that that debate is both endless and fruitless; but it is also, as it turns out, irrelevant.

    The reason why is that NOBODY, not even a full-grown person with a full set of rights, has any right to use another person’s body against their will. This is true even if someone needs to use another person’s body to survive: if I need a new kidney to live, I still do NOT have the right to cut out one of yours against your will. A foetus is being treated like a slave in abortion only if it is being denied something it has the right to have: but nobody has the right to another person’s body, and so the foetuses rights, whatever they may be, cannot possibly be violated by the procedure.

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