Misusing Dylan

supreme courtYou might think that Linda "I am the Alpha and Omega of All Things Factual" Greenhouse would be particularly careful when resuming her Supreme Court coverage for The New York Times. After all, she made a strong statement advocating abortion in a recent public speech. She was also reprimanded years ago for marching in an abortion rights rally. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Greenhouse's story starts out with that helpful context, for which she is rightly praised:

In defining the permissible limits on access to abortion, only six years after declaring a similar restriction unconstitutional in a case from Nebraska, the court must go a long way toward defining its stance toward precedent, its relationship to Congress, and its view of its own role in the constitutional system. As it decides the new cases, the still-emerging Roberts court will inevitably be defining itself.

That much is clear from briefs submitted to the court by the abortion rights side, where many believe that their only hope of prevailing lies in persuading Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to reconsider the position he took in an emotionally laden dissenting opinion in the Nebraska case. Justice Kennedy said then that states should be able to outlaw "a procedure many decent and civilized people find so abhorrent as to be among the most serious of crimes against human life."

Very well done. And the vast majority of the piece looks at how legal arguments are being crafted with the goal of convincing Kennedy. But as we get to the end of the piece, the center has trouble holding. Take this, for instance:

Abortion opponents are now the ones who describe the procedure as rare, seeking to offer reassurance that banning it would not deprive women of access to safe second-trimester abortions.

In fact, in their eagerness to portray the procedure as aberrant, the statute's sponsors declared in the preamble that "no medical schools" teach it. In fact, it is taught at leading medical schools including Columbia, Cornell, Yale and New York University.

What Greenhouse must know is that major medical schools added the procedure to their curriculum in the past few years. Pro-life critics allege that this was a transparent move to help the abortion movement.

Whether or not she agrees with the charge, the manner in which Greenhouse presented medical schools' support of the procedure is insufficient. Is she ignorant because she only spends times with pro-choice activists and thinks her opinions on abortion are unquestionable facts? Is she actively letting her bias on this contentious issue dictate her coverage? Will The New York Times' public editor think that Greenhouse has never been accused of bias because I'm not writing this directly to him?

bringing bigHere's another problem area. Keep in mind that in the first paragraph of the story, Greenhouse used the positively marrowless phrase "terminating a pregnancy" to describe abortion:

"Infanticide" is a potent label, frequently used by abortion opponents. One brief describes the procedure as "killing a child in the birth process." While this description is true in the sense that uninterrupted gestation leads to birth -- "He not busy being born is busy dying," in the words of the Bob Dylan song -- it is well off the mark as a description of what actually occurs.

The standard procedure used by Dr. Warren M. Hern, the author of a widely consulted textbook on abortion and one of the leading providers of abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, is to "induce fetal demise" by injecting a drug one or two days before the abortion.

As pointed out by Matthew Franck at Bench Memos, the Supreme Court will look at legislation passed by Congress that defines partial-birth abortion as one in which

(A) the person performing the abortion deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother for the purpose of performing an overt act that theperson knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and

(B) performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus;

Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter Greenhouse must know that. So even if it is true that my fellow Coloradoan Hern -- a bit of an outlandish character in the abortion battles -- thinks that late-term abortion is usually performed by killing the fetus in utero, that has absolutely nothing to do with the Supreme Court debate at hand. The type of procedure he describes would not be banned by the federal law. The Supreme Court will look only at the federal ban on -- as the brief she derides states -- abortions performed on partially delivered fetuses. That's a huge error on her part.

Hopefully Greenhouse will do better as the Supreme Court's term proceeds.

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