What I learned in a Google+ Chat with a late-term abortionist and her allies
As is pretty well-known by now, PBS showed the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Monday night. Directed by two abortion supporters, it is designed to “change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.”
Yesterday afternoon, PBS' "POV" arm held a Google-Plus Chat with one of the directors, Martha Shane; one of the four late-term abortionists in the film, Dr. Susan Robinson; and a pro-abortion MSNBC reporter, Irin Carmon. It was moderated by POV's Adnaan Wasey, who relayed questions from Google-Plus viewers to the three panelists.
I was one of the people who was on the call. It was quite an educational, if morally reprehensible experience. Below are some of the more memorable things that happened in the 54-minute chat, largely in order as they happened.
First, it was notable that Robinson claimed there are no links between abortion and breast cancer, and abortion and mental illness. As both I and Townhall.com's Cortney O'Brien reported, Robinson's claims are undeniably false.
Second, in an ironic twist on a film that highlights abortionists who claim harassment and threats from pro-life activists, and was created in light of the killing of late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller, Shane said that neither of "After Tiller's" directors have faced any kind of targeting from pro-life activists. She even noted that one group, Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, told its members that the film would be educational for pro-life activists. (The group's executive director, Eric Scheidler, told me that while he did recommend pro-lifers see "After Tiller," that should not be taken as an endorsement of PBS' decision to air the documentary.)
Near the beginning of the discussion, Robinson said that a new doctor is on the scene in the late-term abortion industry. "Her name is Dr. Carmen Landou." According to Robinson, while the rest of the nation's late-term abortionists "are fairly old," Landau is in her thirties.
A few minutes later, Irin Carmon -- who is openly pro-abortion -- said that pro-lifers engage in "propaganda" and attempt "to demonize the women who get later abortions, and kind of not humanize all the other things that may be going on in their lives..." She also lamented that "biased counseling" is required in certain states prior to getting an abortion. I asked Carmon about this on Twitter (below, with her response):
@DustinSiggins on issues of medical accuracy, I defer to the American Medical Association, ACOG, and public health experts.— Irin Carmon (@irin) September 2, 2014
However, as shown by the think tank Just Facts, Carmon's reliance on ACOG is ill-founded. Not only is the organization unwilling to admit when life begins, but during the 1990s it allowed its conclusions to be twisted in order to suit the political needs of the Clinton White House. ACOG has also failed to disclose the scientific realities of when life beings.
Likewise, Just Facts' analysis shows that Carmon has said in the past that "conception" and "life" are not scientific terms. This is in direct contrast to well-established scientific data and textbooks cited by Just Facts.
Carmon also said that pro-lifers "are extremely committed," and that "there are people who are working full-time just on harassing women outside of clinics, whereas on the other side...a lot of the people who are involved in expanding access are doctors who are pretty busy..."
"As a result, you do have amazing pro-choice activism. But you also have people who wake up every day and think that abortion is the biggest abomination that they have ever experienced, and that they will ever see in their lifetime, and they're fully devoting themselves to fighting it."
Carmon did not respond to my Twitter question about this latter claim:
@irin 2. You referenced full-time pro-life efforts. What about Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Emily's List, etc. political arms and huge $$?— Dustin Siggins (@DustinSiggins) September 2, 2014
Additionally, it's ironic that Carmon -- who is a full-time reporter for MSNBC and reports in favor of abortion -- is saying the pro-life side has the activism advantage.
Next, Robinson made a distinction between her work, and that of her fellow late-term abortionists, and that of convicted murderer and late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell. She said that "the people who do this work are not all like Kermit Gosnell." According to Robinson, they think about the morals of what they do, the process, etc.
I wonder, then, how Robinson justifies supporting fellow late-term abortionist and "After Tiller" co-star Dr. Leroy Carhart, who has seen at least several women killed or horribly injured at his clinics.
Unsurprisingly, Robinson managed to work in the idea that women are "autonomous" beings, and thus killing an unborn child is morally acceptable. "My patient is the woman sitting before me," she said, which is reminiscent of the Planned Parenthood lobbyist in Florida who told legislators that a baby who survives an abortion does not qualify as a patient -- only the mother does.
"I am pro-life. I am pro-women's lives. I believe women's lives trump the fetus under all circumstances," Robinson said. Taking away the freedom to have an abortion "...is treating [a woman] as a housing unit," she added, and women as a whole as "second-class" members of society.
Near the end of the chat, Robinson blamed Catholic hospitals for restricting "abortion care," and said that while she thinks most pro-lifers "believe what they are saying," it is not reasonable for a theocracy to be imposed when it comes to abortion.
This claim is common hogwash from the pro-abortion movement. Do I need to point back to Just Facts' evidence of when life begins, or the science O'Brien and I showed that relates to the physical and mental health of mothers who get abortions, or Dr. Anthony Levatino's graphically accurate description of what a late-term abortion consists of?
Are most pro-lifers religious, and do those religious beliefs influence support for life? Absolutely. Does that make standing for life the imposition of a theocracy? Absolutely not.
While most of the questions given to the panel were softball questions, one of my six was finally asked. The question:
Martha, you just mentioned "patients" and avoiding "abstractions" when it comes to patients. Why didn't the film show the non-abstract realities of what late-term abortion does to an unborn child?
Shane's response, with light edits for extraneous language and relevance:
I believe that this person is talking about why didn't we show the abortion procedure in more graphic detail. Our reason for that, first of all, as filmmakers we were committed to giving the patients a certain level of privacy, and I think that was an important line to draw that we wouldn't be present for the actual procedure itself.
We were in the room for many of the medical steps leading up to the procedure. I think, also, what was most important to us was that people really understood exactly what this procedure entails, and so at the beginning of the film we have a counselor who goes through and explains that this is a labor-and-delivery process, and explains exactly how it's performed.
"Misconceptions" about late-term abortions were cleared up for many viewers, according to Shane, and "most people who saw that were relieved to finally have a clear understanding of what that is."
Robinson also voiced an opinion:
I wonder if the questioner has any idea what a late abortion consists of, that he's saying that it should have been showed in the film. What would have been shown in the film is the pre-term delivery of a stillborn fetus. And I'm not sure that's something that needs to be graphically shown.
It's a sad moment. But there's nothing that's going to be revealed by that. Maybe he doesn't know what a birth looks like.
This was my response to Robinson, posted on the Google-Plus page but unasked by the moderator:
Thank you for asking my question, Adnaan. In response to Dr. Robinson, this former abortionist said babies' heads are crushed: Doctor Who Did 1,200 Abortions Tells Congress to Ban Them - 5/23/13
So that was pretty much it for the call. However, the results of the call don't end there. Like many pro-lifers, I have been writing about PBS' decision to air "After Tiller" since last week. While I have been critical of the decision in opinion pieces, I have also written several "hard news" articles, such as this one, which included responses from POV's communications department defending the decision to air "After Tiller."
In their initial response, received last Friday, POV said the following:
POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."
When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."
"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue."
Yesterday, I asked POV why no abortion opponents were on the panel. Their response:
This is a panel about the film, which included one of the directors, a journalist who covers the issue and one of the film's subjects. POV's Google+ chats are not designed to cover every aspect of every issue, and there are many other forums for those discussions, including our website, www.pbs.org/pov/, where we invite people to express their views.
The directors of "After Tiller" haven't stated that their film was made to promote the legality of late-term abortion, as it's already a legal procedure. Rather, their aim is to add to the discussion.
Also after the film, I emailed PBS spokesperson Jan McNamara for information on PBS' public funding. Here is what she told me:
PBS is a membership organization whose membership is made up of local public television stations, each of which are locally owned and operated.
By statute, the majority of the federal funds appropriated for public media are distributed directly to local public television and public radio stations.
In FY2013, approximately 8.6% of PBS’ total revenue came from the federal appropriation, which was $51 million. These funds were used for content, curriculum-based media and services for children, the interconnection system that allows public television stations to receive and share programming and other mission-driven work.
I also asked McNamara about the perception of bias in favor of abortion at PBS. For example, shortly after the death of Tiller in 2009, a segment of NOW asked if pressure against abortion doctors "is...the new face of domestic terrorism." Likewise, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which divvies up money for PBS and other media organizations, according to The Wonk Blog's Brad Plumer in 2012 -- let its ombudsman defend the segment.
While the ombudsman had critiques of the segment, he also had this to say:
Overall, the program was strong and convincing on this point: radical, anti-abortion opponents, including Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, are guilty of promoting domestic terrorism. They always deny that their rhetoric promotes and condones the violence directed at doctors who are performing services protected under the law. However, little question remains from the reporting on "NOW" that they are guilty of inspiring the murderous outcomes they encourage. There were 3,291 acts of violence against abortion providers in the US and Canada between 2000 and 2008, including bombings, shootings and letters threatening Anthrax contamination.
So, my question to McNamara was this: What has PBS done to promote the pro-life side of the abortion debate?
PBS’ role is to present programming that includes a broad range of viewpoints and experience.
The complex issues surrounding the debate over abortion are explored in many programs airing on PBS, especially our news and public affairs series, such as Frontline, PBS NewsHour, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and others.
When I asked for a specific example of promoting the pro-life perspective, she was unable to provide one:
We don’t categorize our content in those terms, and we present over 3,000 hours of unduplicated content each year, so I am not able to produce a list for you, especially not in the timeframe you are asking for.
If you take a look at the web sites for the series I mentioned, you will see many examples of programming that examines the issue from many sides.
One sequence I happen to remember is an extended interview with Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life and Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America from NewsHour last year.
For the record, I don't consider competing opinions between a pro-lifer and a pro-abortion advocate to be a segment promoting life. Nonetheless, I appreciate both POV and McNamara's willingness to provide multiple answers to my questions.