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Issue Clash: Late Abortions

This debate was produced in conjunction with our show "Abortion Providers Under Seige"

Under what, if any, circumstances are late abortions an appropriate procedure?


Troy Newman: The pro-life ethic defines human life from the moment of conception until natural death. Abortion, or the killing of a pre-born child, is never appropriate. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports that there has never been a late-term abortion in Kansas to save a woman's life. The majority of physicians concur that a post-viability abortion is never medically necessary. If there is a life-threatening condition to the mother or child, the baby should be delivered and given the appropriate medical treatment.

Cristina Page: For context, the definition of "late-term" abortion is generally accepted to be abortions that take place at or beyond 24 weeks gestation, the third trimester of pregnancy. They are very rare. Only one percent of all abortions take place after 21 weeks. In Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decided that abortion in the third trimester must take into account the state's legitimate interest in protecting both the health of the pregnant woman and the developing human life which is then beyond the point of viability. States are allowed to, and have, severely restricted access to abortion in the third trimester except when necessary to preserve the woman's life or health. These are the circumstances under which late-term abortion is an appropriate procedure.


Troy Newman: According to Health Department statistics in Kansas, where the majority of post-viability abortions took place, none were ever done to save the life of the mother. Post-viability abortions are never medically necessary. If the mother's life or health are so endangered that delivery is necessary, that can be done without killing the baby. Aborting a viable baby is simply done, not for the mother's life or health, but because that baby is inconvenient, either to the mother or to a referring physician who does not want to be bothered caring for a woman with a complicated pregnancy. Killing the inconvenient is a hallmark of an unbalanced and unhealthy society, not an enlightened one.

Cristina Page: The Cleveland Plains Dealer reported about Phillip Wood and his wife who were "joyfully preparing for the births of twin boys when, midway through the pregnancy, everything went wrong. An amniocentesis revealed a disease of the placenta. .... Doctors at the Catholic-affiliated hospital told them neither twin would survive, and his wife was at risk of a ruptured uterus. That would make her infertile and could threaten her life." If your wife, sister, daughter were in this circumstance, would you recommend she continue the pregnancy? There are a wide array of tragic conditions that can harm a pregnancy, threaten the viability of the fetus and the health and life of the woman. Until you have walked in the shoes of those who have suffered through these decisions, you can never know what the right course of action is.

What impact does access to late abortions have on our society?


Troy Newman: A civilized society is judged by how it treats the weakest of its members. Access to an act that kills a viable baby devalues the lives of all members of society. I believe that drive-by shootings, mothers throwing away their children, and even the shootings of abortionists all stem from the abortion culture that openly implies that a person who is inconvenient is somehow disposable. That creates an environment that fosters violence, and is something that the pro-life movement is working to change.

Cristina Page: I think, to understand the impact, we must hear from women and their families who have needed an abortion at this stage of pregnancy. Typically these are much-wanted pregnancies diagnosed with grave or fatal anomalies. They were women diagnosed with cancer who could not start chemotherapy unless they terminated their pregnancies; women whose babies would be born only to suffer from genetic illness and die soon after; children who were victims of rape or incest and didn't understand they were pregnant until many months along. So, the impact on society can only be measured by the despair lessened and the mercy provided to women, girls and those families in these tragic circumstances.


Troy Newman: There is an adage that states: "Hard cases do not make good laws." For every woman who tells us that they "needed" late-term abortions, we can provide a story from a woman who deeply regretted her late-term abortion because of the negative impact it had on her life. In fact, women who have abortions, late-term or otherwise, are at greater risk for serious problems such as domestic violence, suicide, and drug and alcohol addiction, among other things. In fact, studies show abortion provides no mental health benefits to women and actually increases the risk of mental health disorders. If anything a woman's despair is heightened by abortion, not diminished by it.

Cristina Page: If you believe the "abortion culture" leads to all of these horrendous outcomes, why are you not committed to the strategies proven to prevent the root cause of abortion—unintended pregnancy? For 36 years, the anti-abortion movement has held big graphic signs outside of clinics and attempted, often aggressively, to persuade patients on their way in to not proceed. Not only are these tactics ineffective; they are also a little late. Why not help that woman never need to be in this predicament in the first place? Yet, nowhere on Operation Rescue's website or in its history has the organization done anything to help prevent the root cause of abortion, unplanned pregnancy. The countries that have the lowest abortion rates are not those that have outlawed abortion or have an active anti-abortion movement. They're the ones that have invested most heavily in prevention and supports for struggling families. These countries—like Denmark and the Netherlands—have achieved the goal you claim to seek. Most anti-abortion Americans support prevention measures, like increased access to contraception. Why don't you and your organization?

At what point does an anti-abortion protester become a domestic terrorist?


Troy Newman: We at Operation Rescue were shocked to hear of the homicide of late-term abortionist George Tiller and were among the first groups to denounce the cowardly act that took Tiller's life. It was not justice, but vigilantism, which must be abhorred by a society that embraces the rule of law over anarchy.

Social justice begins in the womb or it does not exist at all. The spark of life is so precious that the matter of abortion demands we expose it for what it is: the brutal and immoral destruction of a unique human being.

Operation Rescue uses legal tools at our disposal, including the justice system, law enforcement, the legislative system, regulatory boards, health departments—even our ironclad First Amendment rights—to display pictures of aborted babies brutally killed through the euphemism of "choice". We do this to expose the violence of abortion and provide as much protection as possible for women and their pre-born babies.

Cristina Page: Terrorism is the intentional intimidation or use of violence against others by a person or persons for the purpose of imposing a belief on them. The anti-abortion movement, which espouses non-violent measures to achieve its goals, has been tremendously injured by domestic terrorists independently acting under the banner "pro-life." Troy's organization, Operation Rescue, has been ensnared in the murder of Dr. Tiller because the assassin had been in regular touch with a staff member who (herself served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic.) This staff member provided the assassin information on Tiller. In the wake of this tragedy, Troy, who has since been outspoken in opposition to the use of violence, has a tremendous opportunity to transform his organization into a beacon for non-violence in the abortion conflict. For the sake of his cause, Troy should take steps to de-escalate the rhetoric, continue to send strong and consistent messages in opposition to terror though the media and to his organization's members, and alert law enforcement to unstable people like Roeder.


Troy Newman: Attempts to smear Operation Rescue with false accusations of culpability in the brutal murder of Tiller fall flat. Accusations that our rhetoric caused the slaying are untrue and only serve to inflame emotions. The pro-life movement is the most peaceful social movement in our nation's history. We preach and teach a message of life while refusing to skirt the truth of the painful fact that an abortion is, in and of itself, an act of violence that kills an innocent child. The truth is that Roeder has reportedly been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Early police statements were that he appeared to have acted alone. A lone student shot up Virginia Tech, but not all students are murderers. Postal workers have been known to kill fellow employees, but not all mailmen are terrorists. Muslims killed 3,000 Americans in the 9/11 attacks, but not all Muslims act out Jihad. However, all abortionists murder children.

Cristina Page: Troy, in many ways the nation has trained its eye on your organization as the one most closely—and possibly unfairly—linked to the murder of Dr. Tiller. You listed on your website his home address and the address of his church, where he later was murdered, and your staff member was in regular touch with the alleged killer, Bruce Roeder, in the months leading up to his murder. It would seem in your best interest to take seriously the "guilt by association" aura that now hovers around your organization. You have come out with strong-sounding statements against violence but why not take it further; why not attempt to stop the violence?

You currently appear to be in a friendly network with those who support the murder of Dr. Tiller. Dan Holman, of Missionaries to the Preborn, told CNN he "cheered" when he learned of Dr. Tiller's murder. Neal Horsley, of the Nuremberg Files, told the Guardian UK that Tiller's murder was "justifiable homicide". These are your friends, at least according to your Facebook page. How can you be considered a legitimate voice against anti-violence in the abortion conflict while maintaining relationships with those who celebrate and try to inspire more of these acts? You, more than anyone, are poised to help prevent future acts of violence by alienating and condemning these forces or by helping to try to rehabilitate these extremists. Otherwise, all the anti-violence talk is simply meaningless.

The opinions expressed belong solely to the participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOW, PBS, or local stations. The facts stated by the participants have not been verified by NOW.

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