One of the most deceptive traps I’ve encountered in journalism is the use of a headline that makes the reader think that the writer of the article is an impartial observer of an issue who is about to present you with a middle ground that you’ve never thought of before.
The absolute worst example I’ve ever seen of this trap is the December 17, 2015 cover story in Newsweek magazine titled, “America's Abortion Wars (and How to End Them): Extremists on both sides of the abortion battle are hypocritical and ignoring an easy—and moral—solution.”
Wow! A neutral way to end the abortion wars that will satisfy both sides!? An article from the mainstream press that calls out both pro-life and pro-choice people for their hypocrisy!? This is unheard of! I must read this article….
And then you start to read it.
In sum, the writer of the article, Kurt Eichenwald, is a pro-choice activist posing as a middle-grounder on abortion. He spends the vast majority of the article building the case that pro-life people are liars, their positions lead to death, and they are really anti-abortion, not pro-life.
Does he challenge the pro-choice movement’s usage of their moniker? Not at all. He lets pro-choicers keep their self-selected title without questioning its use or logic at all, despite the fact that there is an enormous amount of evidence that many pro-choice people would be more accurately represented by the term “pro-abortion.”
He presents several challenges to the pro-life position, but no real ones to the pro-choice position. He states up front that he is “opposed to abortion,” but then provides absolutely no explanation or evidence regarding his supposed opposition.
He makes a feeble attempt to explain the pro-life position, and it sounds nothing like any pro-life argument I’ve ever heard in my life. He cites the Golden Rule. I have been around pro-life people for most of my life and have been working in the pro-life movement for a year and a half and I have never heard a pro-life person cite the Golden Rule as a rationale for their position.
Unfortunately, Eichenwald also makes several claims in the article that have been all but proven to be false, citing outdated or debunked research and reports. He is an award-winning journalist. He could have found out whether his claims were reliable. But he chose not to. Here are a few examples:
- He states that only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion services. This statistic is misleading as it manipulates data to understate the amount of abortions Planned Parenthood performs. It has become nothing more than a PR stunt by Planned Parenthood that journalists like Eichenwald blindly parrot.
- Speaking of those other services, Eichenwald states that, “Abortion activists and political leaders want the 97 percent destroyed to strangle that 3 percent. They never say where the millions of poor people who depend on Planned Parenthood for their health care can turn.” This is inaccurate to the point of absurdity. For starters, an entire website called GetYourCare.org was developed to highlight the thousands (compared to 600+ PP locations) of community health centers that provide everything that PP provides, minus the abortions, that poor people can use. Moreover, there have been congressional resolutions introduced to acknowledge the work of the thousands of pregnancy centers across the country, many of which provide basic health services like ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, and STI testing for free. Moreover, according to their own annual report, Planned Parenthood cut back all of those "other services" by 25% in the last year.
- Eichenwald goes into the Planned Parenthood talking points playbook again when discussing the exposé videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. He wrongly states that PP was simply “receiving reimbursement for the cost incurred in getting the tissue to researchers.” Did he miss the parts of the videos where the PP employees were negotiating over prices and talking about wanting to make more than break-even amounts (that’s called profit, by the way)? You don’t need to negotiate over cost reimbursement.
- Eichenwald states that after the state of Texas passed laws that forced abortion clinics in the state to shut down, that as many as 250,000 women in the state induced their own abortions. Any impartial analysis of that statistic shows it to be a fabrication.
- He also cites, as fact, the widely debated (and mostly debunked) research on the number of deaths from illegal abortions before Roe V. Wade passed. He writes, “…during the 1940s more than 1,000 women were known to have died each year from complications caused by an illegal abortion….” First of all, why would he cite data from the 1940s and not from the decade leading up to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973? He does this because it wasn’t until after World War 2 that antibiotics were developed that reduced maternal (and everyone else’s) mortality. The best estimates for what was happening right before Roe passed was that there were around 15 to 35 deaths per year from illegal abortions (from page 312 of Abuse of Discretion). A far cry from the thousands Eichenwald claims. This is borderline unethical deception. Either way, for an analysis of the data, you can read chapter five in the brilliant book, Abuse of Discretion, by Clarke D. Forsythe. It is called “The Medical Myth that Drove the Outcome in Roe (and Its Continuing Impact).”
- Eichenwald states, as if it is settled science, that 22-week-old fetuses do not feel pain. But expert testimony given to Congress by medical professionals would, at a minimum, show that his assertion is, at best, debatable.
- He continues to dip into the pro-choice talking points bucket by referring to human embryos as “globs of cells.” He must know that a developing embryo at just 22 days after the last menstrual period has a heartbeat. Do “globs of cells” have heartbeats? It is a cheap play to dehumanize human life so he can make his pro-choice activist points.
Despite all of these transgressions, the most frustrating aspect of the article is that he spends more than half of the article calling into question the motivations, morality, honesty, and logic of the pro-life side, but does little to nothing to question anything coming out of the pro-choice movement. He acts as if there are no logical inconsistencies within pro-choice ideology that need to be examined. For starters, he could have simply used some of the questions from this blog post to “test” whether or not pro-choice logic and rationale is sound. But since he is a pro-choice activist, he did not bother.
Eichenwald's article is pro-choice activism posing as unbiased journalism.
And since you have all been waiting with baited breath for the big reveal of what his easy (and moral!) solution to the abortion debate is… well, it is nothing new, and nothing terribly interesting. Really it is mostly a laundry list of government programs designed to reduce poverty so that poor women would have less reason to have abortions. He says that both pro-life and pro-choice people are “hypocritical” for not supporting these ideas, because if poor women had more money and support they wouldn’t be forced to choose abortion. I guess there is some “truthiness” to that, but it is a red herring for two reasons. One, it conflates “supporting the poor” and “more government programs.” There is plenty of evidence that more government programs do little to nothing to help the poor, but that is an argument for another day.
Second, it ignores much more commonly debated potential middle-ground stances on abortion. For example, Americans’ support of abortion dramatically diminishes when asked if they support abortions in the third trimester. So, couldn’t a “moral, easy” middle ground be to make third trimester abortions harder to get or even illegal. That we can debate.
Instead, Eichenwald’s phony middle ground has the United States leaving its abortion laws untouched and in line with only a handful of other countries on the entire planet – e.g. China, North Korea, and Canada. Even our liberal neighbors in western Europe have more conservative abortion laws than we do. How is Eichenwald’s solution a middle ground solution?
The lesson we should all take from this is that it is very difficult for the mainstream press to write balanced news stories about abortion. Eichenwald’s article stretches journalistic ethics to a breaking point, as he is a pro-choice activist deceiving readers into thinking that he is writing an unbiased article on a touchy issue. This was an opinion piece, not a “report” for the news section. It should have been labeled as such. However, even opinion pieces need to be fact checked. This article was not thoroughly fact checked, as highly debatable or debunked points were presented as unqualified facts.
Don’t be deceived. Do your own research. Do your own thinking.
Because Newsweek certainly isn’t doing it for you.