Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Media Crosses a Line in March for Life Coverage

The Daily Beast's photo choice

Today marks 46 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Every year, prolife people gather in Washington, D.C., to protest the Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. The national March for Life also brings attention to the lives lost to abortion. Since 1973 there have been an estimated 59 million abortions.

Prolife people are used to scant or slanted media coverage of the March for Life. However, this year the media and our national discourse crossed a bright red line.

Very few Michigan media publications covered the March for Life in-depth. That all changed with a short online video appearing to show a student at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, Nicholas Sandmann, staring down an older Native American man from Michigan playing a drum, Nathan Phillips. That story got a lot of attention.

The Washington Post led with a story reading like an editorial, not actual news coverage. The story characterized the children as a mob surrounding and hounding Phillips, who said they chanted “build the wall” at him in a demeaning manner. It said the teen facing Phillips “relentlessly” smirked at him. It said Phillips was just trying to escape the whole situation and that the students made an “aggressive display of physicality.”

Additional video evidence has shown that the story and Phillips’s account don’t align with the facts.

The students were waiting for their bus to pick them up, not seeking out the Native Americans to harass them. Several adults were heckling the students with racist and anti-gay slurs before Phillips arrived. The students showed restraint, eventually trying to sing school fight songs to drown out the hate directed at them. Phillips was not surrounded by a mob, he purposefully approached the group of students. When Phillip’s group approached with their drums, the students began dancing to their beats, not mocking them. Zero videos of the event have captured anyone chanting, “build the wall.” Phillips did not come to de-escalate the situation, he stared down Sandmann—banging a drum directly in his face—while at least one member of Phillips’ group antagonized the kids. Video has captured Sandmann moving to de-escalate an argument between one of his fellow students and a member of Phillips’ group.

Almost everything that everyone read about the March for Life and this situation was at best gravely wrong, at worst a cynical lie to hold up a teen as a scapegoat. The media has enabled those false statements.

The episode should remind everyone of how the Planned Parenthood organ trafficking videos were handled. Even though full footage and transcripts were released alongside the featured undercover videos, many media outlets uncritically repeated Planned Parenthood talking points that the videos were deceptively edited. In the case of the Covington kids, the media mostly all ran with deceptively-edited videos without waiting for any background information.

The rush to judgement on the part of the media was a violation of their basic professional ethics. Sandmann is arguably a private figure and a minor. The media ran with an account containing false information without giving Sandmann or anyone a chance to tell their side of the story. Reporters began trying to track down his personal information to expose him to the online mob. The online mob found a person who wasn’t Sandmann, and that person began receiving death threats. A CNN contributor and other members of the media expressed fantasies of committing violence against Sandmann, a minor.

Sandmann has since released a statement that lines up with the video evidence available, which contradicts several key points of Phillip’s account.

Something has to change. People must be held accountable, especially those wishing to commit violence against a teen like former CNN contributor Reza Aslan, who continued reporting about an entirely unproven charge of “build the wall” chants.

Why was a story riddled with false information the only thing most people heard about the March for Life? Why did a non-violent confrontation that happens in similar ways numerous times at political events in America make national news?

Because it fit the prejudices of most media outlets.

Sandmann was wearing a Make America Great Again baseball hat. The “deceptively edited” video captured by Phillips’ group was a perfect vehicle to confirm every prior bad assumption many have about prolife people or Trump supporters in general. In their lust to score web traffic or political points, many media outlets set about destroying the life of a minor they’ve never met and didn’t care to hear from.

President Donald Trump routinely antagonizes the press as spreading “fake news,” and has even called the press the “enemy of the people.” While certainly hyperbolic, imagine it from the perspective of prolife individuals.

For years, legalized abortion has been protected by the media. Roe v. Wade is often characterized as a limited decision, and Doe v. Bolton is never mentioned. Most Americans don’t know the basic facts of the abortion issue. The March for Life is routinely slighted in what can only be described as a purposeful manner. Crowds of hundreds of thousands are labeled mere “thousands.” Misleading pictures of people gathered at the side of the March for Life—pictures that no skilled photographer would be proud of—are used instead of shots of the impressive crowd.

Prolife people have seen this for 46 years. When President Trump calls the media the “enemy of the people,” many prolife people nod their heads. Their cynicism is confirmed on a routine basis. This ongoing hit-job on a teen whose only crime is standing while an adult bangs a drum in his face is yet another example making it hard for us to reassure prolife people that the media isn’t their enemy.

Many prolife people send their children to the March for Life. Next year, parents will have to decide if sending their child is worth the danger of having reporters threaten violence against their child as they work to systematically spread false information to destroy their child’s future. It doesn’t matter how much they prepare their children for dealing with protestors, something as simple as awkwardly standing in place is enough to incite a mob.

A media claiming the mantle of the First Amendment is chilling the very ability of young people to gather peacefully and express their free speech rights without fear of reckless and irresponsible retaliation. Something must change.

On Monday, Right to Life of Michigan contacted several Michigan media sources that ran with the false story and asked for explanations, apologies, follow-up stories—anything to restore at least some modicum of respect for journalism as a profession. The few that have responded so far have blamed the national media for getting the story wrong, even though they ran those flawed stories attacking children. Those that responded expressed zero sympathy for the death threats these kids have received. None showed any awareness of how far over the line they’ve crossed.

There are some outlets that put in real effort to cover the March for Life. They are to be commended for following their journalistic ethics and desiring to be fair. However, they are the exception.

Prolife people in the future must change as well. Even people who’ve been to the March for Life itself and understand the incredibly peaceful nature of the event joined in the crowd to denounce Sandmann and the Covington kids before the facts of the story were known.

Moving forward, prolife people should adopt a 24-hour rule. Please wait a day for genuine reporting to occur before believing what you read. Mainstream media outlets can not be trusted to follow their own professional ethical rules, including treatment of private figures, collecting full details from sources, or giving the subjects of their hit pieces a real opportunity to respond.

The Covington kids are the latest in a long train of outrageous incidents. Mistakes happen and people get stories wrong, but why are the mistakes always slanted in favor of abortion? Why does Planned Parenthood always get favorable coverage of their false talking points? Why was America’s most prolific serial killer, Kermit Gosnell, dismissed as a local crime story unworthy of mention? Why do instances of prolife people being verbally abused, harassed, or mocked never turn into the outrage of the day on social media?

For many prolife people, this was the last straw. We have heard their messages to us and understand their frustration. Right to Life of Michigan will always work to apply standards that journalists fail to apply to themselves, though of course we will stand for our beliefs. We will honestly try to give the full details about stories. We would not single out pro-abortion teens at events as avatars of our rage and seek to destroy their lives.

If prolife people misbehave, Right to Life of Michigan will call it out. Our policy is always to follow the law. We’ve gone as far as running TV ads in the past to call for peace and respect for civil discourse.

When journalists choose to ignore their own professional ethics, we will call it out as well. We will continue to do their job for them, giving you in-depth information and background details for free.

If our civil discourse has any chance to recover, the media needs to adopt changes that show they are serious about treating the abortion issue fairly. This goes beyond half-hearted corrections to get out in front of potential libel lawsuits. Half the country is prolife and they are not going to subscribe or provide advertising revenue to publications treating them as an enemy to be destroyed.

Most prolife people believe that if the media was 50/50 fair with news coverage of abortion, we would have made many more significant gains. In spite of biased coverage and major political and cultural institutions set against us, we continue to change hearts and minds, increase legal protections, and abortion rates continue declining.

How many more lives would have been saved if the American people were given a free choice to look at the issue and decide for themselves?

Since 1973, 59 million human beings have had their lives erased by abortion. Each life lost is a tragedy. The catastrophe of abortion—the leading cause of death in America if counted—should be treated as better than a side issue.

Every year, we’ll continue to highlight the March for Life, the egregious abuses of power in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, and the real human lives lost. We’ll keep doing it—even if we’re the only ones doing it—until one year we don’t have to anymore.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Will Sex Ed End Abortion? No, it Won't

Ray Buursma recently wrote an editorial in the Holland Sentinel entitled, "Time for Pro-Lifers to Lobby for Sex Education."

On December 3, Buursma wrote an article accusing the prolife movement of scamming people, claiming that we don't really want to end abortion. He issued a challenge, saying that if anyone can show him that laws limiting abortion have been passed in Michigan or nationally, then he will admit his mistake!

On December 6, the Holland Sentinel published our response, in which we noted such laws we've passed. Sadly, the Holland Sentinel chose to delete a paragraph featuring our most compelling example, our 1988 ban on Medicaid-funded abortions that has reduced abortions by more than 225,000 since then, according to our best guess. We pointed out that we accomplished several important things in the last eight years with Governor Rick Snyder, who wasn't honestly prolife.

Buursma admitted our response makes a point, but he stopped short of admitting his mistake. He said our response wasn't good enough, and even though we had a governor who wasn't prolife, we should have done more.

He then quickly shifts the conversation from his concern for our supporters being duped by us to blaming those same supporters for stopping us from focusing on sex education. Buurmsa's criticism is a frequent argument we hear: we should be reducing abortions by stopping our efforts to educate people about the value of unborn children and stop advocating for their legal protection. Only by focusing on sex education (or contraception) can we achieve abortion reductions, they say.

First of all, what then? Let's say totally devoting ourselves to sex education and contraception cuts abortion rates in half (let's believe that bad assumption for a moment). What then? Instead of nearly 1 million abortions a year, we still have 500,000 a year, a titanic loss of life on par with cancer or heart disease. What then? Are prolifers then allowed to educate others about the value of every human life and seek their legal protection?

Buursma tellingly never mentions eliminating abortions, only reducing them. Why reduce abortions? If you think abortion takes the life of an innocent human being, what's an acceptable legal level for that? Who would argue we should cap homicides at 10,000, and not care so long as the number stays below that?

Let's address Buursma's point, however. Does sex education meaningfully reduce abortions? He acknowledges contraception is already widespread and easily accessible. His article lays the blame for abortion especially on teen pregnancy, and suggests better sex education will help solve that problem.

A study of the Texas panhandle region showed that the teen pregnancy rate decreased dramatically after the 19 Planned Parenthood locations in the area closed. Planned Parenthood is the country's leader in promoting contraceptives and sex education for teens in America, so if Mr. Buursma were correct, what went wrong with the study? Shouldn't their leaving a region of Texas show a drastic increase in unplanned pregnancies?

Much of the decline in teen pregnancy rates in the past several years can be attributed to teens having less sex overall. From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found the percentage of high-school students who had engaged in sexual intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent.

However, the vast majority of abortions have nothing to do with teen pregnancy. The teen abortion rate in 1987 was 36.6 per 1,000 teens. In 2017, it was 7.3. That's lower than the 2017 abortion rate for women 30 and over, which is 8.9 per 1,000. You're welcome for those reductions, Mr. Buursma.

A majority of abortions in the state are done on women 25 and over. Women ages 25 to 29 accounted for 30.9% of the abortions in Michigan in 2017, followed closely by women ages 20 to 24 at 31%. Women 30 and over had 29.3% of abortion. The demographics of abortion are aging, with women 25 and older accounting for a greater share and increasing abortion rates.

Perhaps Buursma should be suggesting remedial sex education classes for women in their 30s rather than focusing on teens.

Perhaps instead he should focus his message on Planned Parenthood itself. In Michigan, 51.4% of all abortions are repeat abortions. 23.1% of all abortions are done on women who've already had two or more abortions. Women are visiting Planned Parenthood for abortions, and many keep coming back again and again. What is the nation's leader in contraception and sex education doing about this repeating cycle of abortions in older women, other than profiting from it?

In his article, Buursma lauds a few countries as examples for us to emulate. However, there are many other countries that mandate sex ed who have high abortion rates. It's worth noting some countries Buursma mentions have significantly more restrictive abortion laws than the United States. Germany mandates a three-day waiting period, bans many late-term abortions, and women have to receive counseling at a government-approved center. These are laws that would cause Planned Parenthood to meltdown and declare that America is indeed the Gilead depicted in the dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale.

Buursma mentions Scandinavia as one such place for us to emulate, yet Sweden's abortion rate (20 per 1,000) is significantly higher than America's (14.1 per 1,000). Sweden gets fawning media coverage of their sex ed program, so what gives Mr. Buursma?

England is a great example as our closest cultural sibling. England's teen pregnancy rate is well below ours, yet their abortion rate is higher than America's (16.7 per 1,000), and rising. Why? One reason is that when you subsidize something, you get more of it. In England, abortions are paid for by their universal healthcare plans. In addition, the advent of non-invasive prenatal testing is meeting the juncture of aging societal demographics of sex, marriage, and childbearing. Babies are being screened prenatally for any possible disability and then destroyed through abortion if found "defective."
Looking at these numbers, teen pregnancy and lack of comprehensive sex education don't seem to be the real issues at all. Even if we eliminated every single teen pregnancy and abortion, we would still have more than 24,000 abortions in Michigan every year. This issue is much deeper than sex education.

Why do countries that heavily promote contraception and sex ed still have large numbers of abortions? Could it be that because once abortion is made legal, many believe it is acceptable, even good? Could it be that we have so devalued human life that society now feels it is OK to destroy a mere "fetus" due to our circumstances, aspirations or the child’s potential disability? We treat a child a day before birth as property, but a child a day after birth as totally human. Though, even that's becoming a shaky proposition as some circles argue the infanticide of disabled babies is morally good.

Ending abortion will not come from sex education or more contraceptives. Right to Life of Michigan doesn't even take a position on true contraceptives or sex ed in general. In some ways, they are irrelevant to achieving our mission. According to the Guttmacher Institute that Buursma cites, 51% of women having abortions were using contraceptives in the same month of the abortion. They've already taken sex ed, and it didn't help them.

The latest public relations campaign of the abortion industry, "Shout Your Abortion," claims abortion is a good thing. They are willing to say abortion is an acceptable method of birth control itself. They've taken sex ed, and they frankly don't care. They don't want to reduce abortions at all. Really, that's a more coherent position than Buursma's. Either abortion is a horrific moral injustice or it's not at all. A child in the womb has human rights or they don't.

Only when society embraces once again the ideal that every single human being is equal and entitled to legal protection will we see the end of legalized abortion.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

59 Million and Counting

On the 46th anniversary of the court cases Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion, we remember the 59 million lives lost to abortion since January 22, 1973.

Large numbers like 59 million can be difficult to wrap your brain around, because there aren’t many tangible examples of numbers that big. We decided to put together a few examples of what the number 59 million could represent.

One common use for numbers is, of course, the dollar. $59 million could go a long way—it could send just a few kids to college, or it could buy several different houses and properties. There are also a few less practical, but no less interesting, ways to spend that much money. $59 million could buy front-row, Saturday night Hamilton tickets on Broadway for the entire city of Lansing, MI, with a few thousand tickets left over. $59 million could buy the famous wedding dress of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, 152 times. $59 million could buy one of Washington, D.C.’s historical monuments of either Presidents Lincoln, Washington, or Jefferson, and you would still have few million left to save towards your next favorite monument.

In addition to signifying what an item was sold for, numbers quantify how many items were sold or how many people bought it. In movie sales, Avatar holds the world record for the highest-grossing film ever made. 97 million tickets were sold while it was in the theater. The missing 59 million people could have increased the tickets sold by 60%. Other famous box office hits, including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Spiderman 2, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Finding Nemo, and Back to the Future, each sold around 59 million tickets. The missing 59 million people could have doubled the tickets sold for these movies.

If each person lost to abortion was represented by 1 second of silence, this would take 683 days— nearly two years—of silence.

If each person lost to abortion was represented by one square mile, the space needed would be 2 million square miles more than the land area of the globe.

Though 59 million people can’t realistically be in one physical place, millions can come together through the World Wide Web. Millions of people can be united in one interest or follow the same celebrity on social media. President Trump, for example, has around 57 million followers on Twitter. The missing 59 million people could double his Twitter account. Former President Obama has 20 million followers on Instagram. The missing 59 million people could quadruple his Instagram account.

One physical space that does give a comparable example of millions of people together is large cities. On the crowded streets of a city like New York, you can barely stretch out your arm without it hitting someone else. Even then, it is impossible to visualize how many people are really in the entire city. But imagine for a moment the busy streets, packed coffee shops and restaurants, and sky-high office, hotel, and apartment buildings in some of the world’s most popular cities: Beijing, Tokyo, London, Paris, Los Angeles, and New York. Now realize: the entire population of these six famous cities combined comes to roughly 3 million people less than the missing 59 million.

If the people in these cities all disappeared from one cause, would the world pay attention? Because they had faces that were visible, and they could make sounds you might hear? Or would there still be some who made excuses, saying that the world was overpopulated anyway, or that so many of those people probably lived in poverty or with disabilities, and led worthless lives anyway?

Let us be the first to pay attention and stand up for the 59 million lives lost and be the first to recognize the sanctity of every human life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Farewell to Rick Snyder

Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press
On Friday, December 28, former Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed our bill which would have made our state's ban on webcam abortion permanent, finishing his last term as governor with a final disappointment for prolifers.

In 2012, Snyder signed the original ban on webcam abortions, but he insisted it include a sunset provision that made it expire in 2018.

Though there has been no change in the process since the original ban, and the process still involves ending human life, Snyder commented that medical abortion should be treated like any other telemedicine procedure: “On a daily basis, our health care professionals thoughtfully and deliberately determine when any health care delivery method is safe, including telemedicine for other areas of care. Telemedicine for medical abortion should not be any different.”

A webcam abortion allows a doctor to prescribe the abortion pill, RU-486, to a woman after only "meeting" her through a webcam. The abortionist never once examines the patient. This makes it cheaper for Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities to give out the abortion pill without having a doctor on staff, and more dangerous for the woman because of an even starker lack of necessary follow-up care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received reports of 22 deaths associated with use of the abortion pill.

Though the veto is a disappointment, it is unfortunately not a surprise. The past eight years with Snyder have been a long trail of lukewarm acknowledgement at best, and vetoes and betrayals at worst. Snyder’s two terms have been another reminder to prolife voters that elections have real consequences, especially in primary races. Voters had a chance to choose a passionately prolife candidate for governor in the crowded 2010 Republican primary election. The RLM-PAC endorsed Mike Cox, but there were three other prolife candidates running, as well as Snyder.

Snyder publicly told voters he was "prolife." We did our best to inform voters that he was not being upfront with them. Snyder won the crowded primary with only 36 percent of the vote, and was eventually elected governor for two terms.

Snyder was a better alternative to his general election opponents, whose support for abortion was total. We were able to pass several significant pieces of legislation, often thanks to dogged effort and assistance from prolife allies. This includes a ban on fetal organ trafficking, a ban on partial-birth abortions, and an overhaul of how abortion facilities are regulated.

In the end, Snyder's legacy on prolife issues will be scores of missed opportunities. We spent a lot of effort collecting petition signatures to override Snyder's veto of legislation to stop expansion of abortion funding through health insurance reform. A ban on barbaric dismemberment abortions could have passed, expanding our partial-birth abortion ban and providing us with a potential U.S. Supreme Court showdown. Many more bills addressing ongoing abortion industry abuses could have been achieved. Bills addressing abortion and disabilities and creating a choose life license plate remain unfinished.

With a prolife governor, our legislative agenda revolves around coming up with the best policies we can pass that will save the most lives. With Snyder, our legislative agenda revolved around guessing about what he might be willing to sign. We had to put in twice the effort to make half the gains with a governor who seemed to have only stood for life on his own terms.

The missed opportunities represent real lives lost. Our prolife issues are aren't about scoring political victories or "bringing home the bacon." Will abortions increase as Planned Parenthood exploits the end of the webcam ban? How many women will be impacted by a lack of follow-up care? How many lives could have been saved by ending dismemberment abortions, or supporting the work of pregnancy help centers through a choose life license plate? These are questions Rick Snyder was unwilling or incapable of facing.

We now face a term with a pro-abortion governor in Michigan. At least Governor Gretchen Whitmer makes it clear she doesn't stand for the unborn, letting us know exactly what to expect. Just as we have made progress with a governor who doesn't really believe what he told to voters, we are committed to making progress with a governor who didn't really tell voters the scope of her support for abortion.

Ultimately, the progress we make is limited by the officials we elect. For prolife people, elections have life and death consequences.