The abortion debate deserves a lot more respect and accuracy than the blatant misinformation we’ve seen so far

Consensus was never going easy, but it’s not going to be possible at all if prominent progressives continue to lie with the express purpose of terrifying some portion of the public into thinking women of all ages will be denied life saving care throughout the country.

Abortion is a serious issue, morally and medically.  A woman confronted by an unwanted pregnancy faces a momentous choice, one that affects both her and the future life of an unborn child.  This choice can be made even more difficult if the health of the baby or mother is at risk.  It can be absolutely crushing if the woman is a victim of rape or incest.  There are consequences, emotionally and physically, and potential risks whatever advocates may claim.  Abortion is not a decision anyone wants to be faced with independent of any specific situation.  No one in their right mind wants to have to make this choice.  The choice itself has become even more complicated in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, when laws regarding abortion are more in flux than they have been for the past 50 years and each state, or even local jurisdiction, can have it’s own unique restrictions and intricacies.  Women, particularly in Republican states, have every reason to be concerned and confused about whether or not they can still terminate an unwanted pregnancy, even for medical reasons, unsure what the prevailing laws are and who to contact for guidance.  This is perhaps the first time in US history when what was perceived by many to be an inalienable, protected right has been rolled back, replaced with a patchwork of state-by-state debates and resulting frameworks.  It is uncharted territory for both the country and individual citizens, each with their own needs and positions.  Anyone who purports to care about women in need should necessarily be treating the issue with the utmost respect, striving for accuracy in their statements and ensuring people know all the facts, empowering them to make the best possible decision for themselves and their loved ones.

Unfortunately, the progressive instinct, at least as of this writing, has been to spread fear, lies, and rumors, spinning wild, unsubstantiated claims of everything from 10-year rape victims forced to travel out of state to doctors refusing to treat life-threatening complications. The story about the 10-year old is particularly troubling, appearing to have originated with the Indianapolis Star a few short days after the initial ruling.  “On Monday three days after the Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, took a call from a colleague, a child abuse doctor in Ohio,” the report began. “Hours after the Supreme Court action, the Buckeye state had outlawed any abortion after six weeks. Now this doctor had a 10-year-old patient in the office who was six weeks and three days pregnant.”  The Star claimed that this child was forced to travel outside of Ohio by law for an abortion or face severe, potentially life-threatening complications.  It quickly went viral with no regard for the thin sourcing or the actual facts, receiving mentions in The Hill, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The Independent, and other publications, then making its way to the White House. Last week, President Biden gave a short speech about protecting “access to abortion” and declared this poor child “was forced to have to travel out of state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life.”  “Imagine being that little girl,” he added. “I’m serious, just imagine being that little girl. Ten years old!”

A curious thing happened while the story was being heard around the world, however:  No one, from The Washington Post’s resident fact checker, Glen Kessler, to Snopes, could actually verify any of the details.  The lone source referenced by the Indianapolis Star was Dr. Bernard herself, who didn’t actually treat the patient, did not provide the name of the colleague who did, and who has a long history as a radical abortion activist, actually suing the state of Indiana over their restrictions on the procedure.  Mr. Kessler noted that the story was “very difficult” to prove even after contacting child services throughout Ohio, searching for any record of this child.  Dr. Bernard refused to provide any additional information and didn’t respond to requests for comment.  The Star itself would only claim “The facts and sourcing about people crossing state lines into Indiana, including the 10-year-old girl, for abortions are clear. We have no additional comment at this time.”  As Snopes put it, “Dozens of Snopes readers searched our site or contacted us wondering whether that had actually happened. To find out, we reached out to Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist based in Indianapolis and who spoke to The Columbus Dispatch, about the headline-generating story.  As of this writing, Bernard had not returned our request for an interview, and we had not been able to independently corroborate the abortion claim.”

Some skeptics were quick to point out that a sexual incident involving a 10-year old girl would automatically prompt an investigation by the proper authorities, and yet there was no record of any police report or legal proceeding.  Nothing.  This week the Ohio Attorney General, Dave Yost, came forward and told Fox News’ Jesse Watters that there wasn’t a “whisper” of the case in his office or a shred of evidence in the crime lab. “Not a whisper and we work closely with the centralized law enforcement system in Ohio. We have regular contact with prosecutors and local police and sheriffs. Not a whisper anywhere. Something even more telling, Jesse, is my office runs the state crime lab. Any case like this you are going to have a rape kit, you are going to have biological evidence, and you would be looking for DNA analysis, which we do most of the DNA analysis in Ohio. There is no case request for analysis that looks anything like this.” Last night, Fox News appears to have corroborated that a 10 year old girl from Ohio traveled to Indiana to have an abortion, because the Indiana doctor who originally informed Dr. Bernard about the case is subject to a health privacy violation.  No other details remain known and it remains an open question whether the child was simply referred out of state to a specialist or forced.    Reporter  Aishah Hasnie told Special Report, “What is still unclear tonight is whether this girl was forced to cross state lines as the president alleged or was she simply referred to an expert in a different state.”  Ohio AG Yost insists abortion law in the state would not force the child to leave, and the truth remains entirely unclear two weeks later.

Sadly, we’ve seen a similar disregard for the truth when it comes to treatments that will be available for women facing life-threatening complications, such as an ectopic pregnancy.  Ectopic pregnancies occur when the fetus begins development in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus proper.  They are thankfully very rare, with less than 200,000 per year in the United States on average, but they are also extremely dangerous and life threatening because the fetus grows so large inside the tube it ruptures nearby organs and causes severe internal bleeding.  The condition can be treated with medication if caught early, but later stage pregnancies require a surgical procedure that is effectively an abortion.  There is not a person I am aware of, however stridently pro-life, that has publicly stated women in later stage ectopic pregnancies should be denied treatment or that this treatment would be banned, but that hasn’t prevented numerous progressives from making that precise claim, insinuating that conservatives and others in the pro-life camp would prefer to watch a woman die.

So far, this claim has been made by progressive House members Judy Chu, Jan Schakowsky, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as those who should certainly know better such as Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe. It is also mentioned frequently in the mainstream media.   Recently, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter after Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was forced to leave Morton’s Steakhouse when protestors gathered outside to disrupt the operations of the restaurant, “Poor guy. He left before his soufflé because he decided half the country should risk death if they have an ectopic pregnancy within the wrong state line,” but she and others making this assertion are completely and totally incorrect.  First, most ectopic pregnancies are treated medically by drugs that are not classified as abortifacients because they do not function in the uterus itself.  The common abortifacients of choice, mifepristone and misoprostol, are not used in cases of an ectopic pregnancy.  Even if they were banned by the state, the medications for ectopic pregnancy would still be available. Second, even the most restrictive state laws contained specific exceptions for procedures related to ectopic pregnancies.  Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, for example, all include clauses such as “An act is not an abortion if the act is performed with the purpose to… remove an ectopic pregnancy” to use the precise language from Oklahoma.  If any state were to pass a law that didn’t include such a clause, many legal experts believe the state courts would be inclined to treat life-threatening medical conditions as exemptions.  Similar to the 10-year old rape victim story, the claim about ectopic pregnancies is spreading largely from hearsay without any regard for the facts or the law.  Jia Tolentino, writing for The New Yorker, claimed that “abortion bans will hurt, disable, and endanger many people…who encounter medical difficulties…One woman in Texas was told that she had to drive fifteen hours to New Mexico to have her ectopic pregnancy—which is nonviable, by definition, and always dangerous to the mother—removed.”  It appears the woman in question was pregnant in 2021, long before the recent Supreme Court decision, nor was any explanation provided as to why she was not properly treated at the time, assuming the story is even true in the first place given it was sourced second-hand from an abortion hotline.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s decision to rollback Roe v. Wade is an opportunity for a robust debate on a complex, controversial issue.  The people of the United States, as organized throughout 50 states and through their federally elected representatives, have finally been offered the chance to develop a much needed consensus on when abortion should be allowed and when it shouldn’t.  This is a debate 50 years in the making with real consequences for the future of the country.  Coming to this consensus was never going easy, but it’s not going to be possible at all if prominent progressives continue to lie with the express purpose of terrifying some portion of the public into thinking they, their sister, or their daughter is going to die because of ectopic pregnancy or a 10-year old rape victim, whose life would also be at risk carrying a child to term at that age, can’t receive the care they need.  One can’t help but wonder why the political party that insists “disinformation” is a threat to democracy itself also insists on spreading it far and wide with little care as to who they hurt, especially on an issue specifically affecting a segment of the population they claim to speak for.  Putting this another way, what is the goal here?  If you are a woman suffering from an ectopic pregnancy or the victim of rape, and you hear these lies, you might well think seeking care is hopeless and it could cost you your life.  If you are a doctor that provides potential lifesaving care, you might be hesitant to properly treat at-risk patients.  If you are a family member asked by either, you might spread this “misinformation” further and wider.  These are serious matters, among the most serious a person could ever face, and they require serious people to lead the discussion.  Unfortunately, we are not likely to find them anytime soon.

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