How can you tell the viewpoint of a book or movie? Common wisdom says it's usually in the longest, most eloquent speech of the story.
I don’t pretend to know the innermost thoughts of anyone at the Washington Post. But with its sort-of news article on the state of the anti-abortion movement after the last Trump-Hillary debate, it could sure look that way.
The article reports the disarray of the anti-abortion movement after that debate. Donald Trump's assertion that later-term abortion requires doctors to "rip the baby out of the womb" has dismayed pro-lifers and, they fear, set back their painstaking progress:
Earlier this year, he suggested that women who have abortions should be punished, a position he later reversed. His campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said in a recent interview with the New Yorker that the remark was "a great example of him just undoing decades of work where we worked really hard."
And Wednesday, in a nationally televised debate, he criticized his opponent for wanting women to have access to a procedure in which, he said, doctors "rip the baby out of the womb . . . just prior to the birth" — a crude description of abortions that he claimed occur late in pregnancy.
"Politically, we’re on defense," said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. "There are some really serious things at stake in this election, and we’ve seen the legislation we fought hard for being rolled back by the Supreme Court."
First, some praise for the Post. It gets deeper into the pro-life movement than any secular news story I've ever seen. It quotes veterans like Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, and Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. And it shows some respect, with a lack of bias adjectives and sarcasm quotes.
Here's a sample:
"To have Donald Trump be the standard-bearer for the pro-life movement is horrific, because we’re on the verge of overcoming so many of the bad stereotypes about the movement" as driven by "old white guys with lots of money telling women what to do," said Charles Camosy, a bioethics professor at Fordham University and a board member of Democrats for Life.
Added Scheidler: "It would be more encouraging to have [as the nominee] somebody we know has been with us for a long time, and really understands the issue deeply and is able to articulate it, and not make some of the stumbles we’ve seen along the way from Donald Trump."
Balancing the pro-lifers are similarly top-rated pro-choice leaders, such as Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood; and Diane Horvath-Casper, an obstetrician with Physicians for Reproductive Health.
But I still see a difference. When pro-lifers are quoted, it's about image or strategy. When abortion advocates are quoted, it's often about abortion itself and the arguments in defense of America's current abortion laws.
Like when the Post says that during the debate, Hillary Clinton "more directly spoke to the challenges faced by women":
"The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make," she added. "I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions."
The fact-checking section, too, seems to be gamed -- it's all aimed at Trump. An example is quoting "medical professionals who said Trump’s description of abortions late in pregnancy is medically inaccurate."
Then the text segues into Diane Horvath-Casper's quote:
She said that if, in the third trimester — the time of pregnancy Trump was referring to — there is a medical complication or the fetus is not viable or dead, doctors typically induce labor, with the woman delivering vaginally. Depending on the circumstances, if a fetus is alive its heart can be stopped with a cardiac drug, she said. According to the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, abortions in the second trimester typically use a procedure called dilation and evacuation, in which the fetus is removed with surgical instruments.
Now, those assessments certainly belong in the story. Obviously, many medics favor abortion and oppose outlawing it. But others do not -- and with its knowledge of anti-abortion leaders, you'd think the Post would have noticed.
JustFactsDaily, for instance, excerpts a long list of articles -- sometimes from the mouths of abortion advocates themselves -- denying that most late-term abortions are done for medical reasons. (Thanks to my colleague Julia Duin for the link.) And Ron Fitzsimmons, former executive director of the now-defunct National Coalition of Abortion Providers, told the New York Times that he had lied outright:
A prominent member of the abortion rights movement said today that he lied in earlier statements when he said a controversial form of late-term abortion is rare and performed primarily to save the lives or fertility of women bearing severely malformed babies.
He now says the procedure is performed far more often than his colleagues have acknowledged, and on healthy women bearing healthy fetuses.
Sure, those are from two decades ago. Would abortion advocates say the same today? Who knows, unless someone like the Washington Post asks?
The paper could also find more recent material at LifeNews.com. The site has a string of articles just since the debate, claiming that a late-term abortion does tear a fetus apart.
As you know, a controversy, by definition, has at least two sides. And the advocates cite their versions of facts and logic to support their side. You can quote them evenly, even respectfully. But if you leave out their reasons, you make them look, well, unreasonable.
Whether it's in a book, a film or a newspaper, a story with cardboard foes needs development.
Thumb: "Views of a Foetus in the Womb," drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. Public domain via Wikimedia.