The Rhetoric of Life

Caelan MacTavish

The Supreme Court handed victory to right-wing rhetoricians last week, including Portland’s own favorite cut-and-paster, David Reinhard.

The successful rhetorical strategy was on display in Sunday’s Oregnoian. On the left side of the Opinion page, Susan Nielsen adroitly depicted a right-wing Supreme Court that has successfully taken a chunk out of Roe V. Wade, and has endangered the lives of pregnant American women.

On the right, Reinhard ignored the opposing argument entirely. He went through a gruesome description of the procedure now outlawed in America, and then, he described it again. (Apparently, 750 words is too long for Reinhard to go without cutting and pasting again.)

Intact dilation abortion? Partial birth abortion? A clue that the radical right had already won this rhetorical battle was that now everyone uses the term “partial birth abortion,” despite no medical text using this term. It is now, legislatively, the name of the procedure.

What matters, the Supreme Court has told us, is not what it is called; what matters is that it is gross.

Reinhard did not need to address the progressive objection in the law as passed by Congress in 2003: it provides NO exception for the health of the mother, which is the entire reason the appeal went to the highest court in the land. It removed an option from doctors and patients, despite the fact that at times it is medically necessary.

I know someone who had this procedure ten years ago. When she was five months pregnant with her first child, she had an amniocentesis. This diagnostic tool revealed that the fetus was horribly deformed, and a birth would likely be lethal for the mother. Its head was abnormally large, ruling out the option of a standard abortion. If this now-illegal procedure had not been available, this woman and her husband would have faced a life-threatening labor for a baby that would, if lucky, live for two weeks.

To say nothing of the risk to the mother’s life, the financial costs of such a tragedy were also aborted. Today, she has two healthy children, and she is alive. The family was not forced into medical bankruptcy because of right-wing angst over a gross medical procedure.

For this is the successful key to the argument against partial-birth abortion. They may say that it is unnecessary, that it is cruel, but what really helped them win the debate is that it is gross. Any conservative argument against it includes grisly descriptions intended to make the reader uncomfortable, and this discomfort has helped to endanger the lives of women in order to protect biological constructs that may or may not become people some day.

Take note, lefties. Reinhard and his ilk have won this battle because he does not acknowledge his opponents arguments; indeed, he does not need to. All he needs to do is make us squeamish, and then repeat what he says, again and again.

Cut and paste.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where this technique can win the battle of ideas.

Comments

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    What really irks me about this legislation is the arrogance of the 2003 Republican controlled Congress that passed it using this argument:

    "These findings reflect the very informed judgment of the Congress that a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman, poses serious risks to a woman's health, and lies outside the standard of medical care, and should, therefore, be banned.

    This was Congress assuming the role of doctors. How dare they presume to know better than the medical community what is necessary or risky to a woman's health?

  • Janine (unverified)
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    I'm sure the esteemed Dr. Frist assured them that this was the case...

  • Chris McMullen (unverified)
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    I support a woman's right to choose, but I also recognize that abortions, especially later term, are ending a human's life. I find it extremely hypocritical of the left to be against capital punishment and wars, but pro abortion. And the right's pro-capital punishment and war stance is equally hypocritical.

    The sooner we accept the fact that the killing of a human is justified in some instances, the sooner we can end this whole debate.

  • (Show?)

    I sent the following to the Oregonian yesterday morning:

    Full-term Propaganda

    To the Editor:

    The Oregonian shows its bias regarding reproductive rights by adopting the terminology promoted by those who think it's their business to make women's medical decisions for them. In the Oregonian's reporting and commentary on the Supreme Court's recent ruling regarding a medical procedure, the propaganda term for that procedure has been pervasive. When a letter writer does not use it, the Oregonian inserts it. When commentary does not use it, the Oregonian makes sure that it appears in a headline or other identifier. In doing so, the Oregonian insures that every opinion offered incorporates the device of one side of the argument. It encourages paternalists, including politicians and Supreme Court Justices, in their aim to practice medicine without license. Is it that easy to get the Oregonian to provide cover for propaganda? Is the Oregonian blind to this manipulation, or a willing participant?

  • ws (unverified)
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    Reinhard is a piece of work. Just the idea that he would take advantage of this development to so graphically depict the questioned procedure in a major newspaper is something to consider. The mentality he reveals smacks largely of obsession with gruesomeness to the exclusion of other concern for human welfare.

    His contribution to the public conversation on abortion rights doesn't seem healthy, but the Oregonian aparrently considers him to be a playing piece too effective not to put into play. I suppose though, if the Oregonian keeps on giving him rope, he may eventually hang himself just like Imus did.

  • Jim Holman (unverified)
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    Chris writes: "I find it extremely hypocritical of the left to be against capital punishment and wars, but pro abortion. "

    There's an important distinction here. I'm not "pro-abortion" either. In many, if not most cases, I think the morality of it is questionable. But the issue is who gets to make that call -- the government, or the woman in question. I'm not pro-abortion but I am in favor of the woman being the person who decides the morality of abortion for herself. What that means is that the woman may make a decision with which I disagree, even though I believe she should be the one making the decision -- not me, not the church, not the government.

    Pro-choice folks are often portrayed as believing that abortion simply has no moral consequences -- that it is a matter of personal taste, being of no more moral significance than choosing one thing or another from a restaurant menu. I reject that completely. I believe that abortion is a very moral issue. In that sense, I'm both pro-life, believing that in most cases abortion is immoral, and pro-choice, believing that the woman herself is the one who has to make that determination. I see it not as either/or but as both/and. I believe the woman has to make that decision, because in the early stages of pregnancy there is no moral consensus in the country on the morality of abortion, the point at which the fetus has moral significance, and so on. In the later stages of pregnancy the moral consensus is clear; no one suggests, for example, that an abortion one day before birth should be permitted. The general principle to which I appeal is that where there is no moral consensus, the person who is most affected by the decision has to be the one to make the decision -- even if I disagree with the decision.

  • Dan (unverified)
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    Caelen,

    Do we have any valid estimtes (provided by hospitals, not politicians) on how many women will die due to not being able to have a "partial birth abortion"?

    Please site the study that backs this up.

    If you can't provide this, your arguement rings more hollow than your moral convictions.

  • LeoXXIII (unverified)
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    I hope people remember this when Gordon Smith is out looking for your moderate vote.

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)
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    Pro-choice folks are accurate when they say that, taking the anti-abortion argument to its extreme, many forms of birth control would be outlawed.

    However, they don't seem to realize that, taking their own arguments to an extreme, a woman could order an abortion during her labor pains, or at any time before the baby actually exits the birth canal.

    I, too, would like to see an unbiased medical report that substantiates Caelen's anecdotal story.

    And furthermore, the pro-choice left seems to conveniently forget that Roe v. Wade itself gave the state substantial leeway to restrict or even prohibit abortion during the third trimester. And the 1992 Casey decision took this further, giving the state such rights after "viability," would could occur before the third trimester.

    Also, the recent Supreme Court decision wasn't written by Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. It was written by Anthony Kennedy, one of the authors of the Casey decision in 1992 that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade.

  • Oregon Bill (unverified)
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    David Reinhard - another Catholic bigot, like our five Catholic Supreme Court imams (Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas), who ruled that women just aren't capable of making difficult medical decisions without their involvement.

    For "moral" reasons.

    From a church about to pay $75 million, in Oregon alone, to victims of its lonely, unmarried employees (including $20 millions for those guaranteed FUTURE claims).

    Catholicism = Hypocrisy, Inc.

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)
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    Take note, lefties. Reinhard and his ilk have won this battle because he does not acknowledge his opponents arguments; indeed, he does not need to. All he needs to do is make us squeamish, and then repeat what he says, again and again.

    Too true. Whether the underlying message is "yuck" (anti-gay rhetoric) or "fear" (pro-war propaganda), the right wing spin machine has continually beat the Left to the punch in the war of words, defining the debate in terms which invariably causes the mushy middle to cave in and vote against their own self interests.

    Why has the "Party of Hollywood" been so ineffectual using the same tactics? I know we have the talent to fight on this level. The amount of snark and cynicism demonstrated on liberal leaning blogs is incredible. Unfortunately, it seems to be most often aimed at the established leaders or up-and-comers in the progressive movement, as well as at each other. I am guilty of this myself.

    My appeal: fight fire with fire, but take it easy on each other. Apologies in advance where i fail to follow my own plea.

  • Caelan MacTavish (unverified)
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    Dan,

    If only statistics and a flowchart could keep an argument from "ringing hollow," then every personal anecdote would be inapplicable to any debate without a PowerPoint presentation.

    I don't have the statistics, but I do have a friend who survived because of this procedure. The survival of one person who I know is enough for me to think it should be available as an option.

    And, Urban Planning Overlord-

    While Casey did give the states leeway to restrict third-trimester abortions, the latest Supreme Court decision oversteps these bounds in two ways:

    1-it applies to ALL states, removing the "state's rights" to make this call

    2-It is a procedure now banned in both the second and third trimesters.

  • Dan (unverified)
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    Caelen,

    thank you for you response. I appreciate your honesty in not quoting some drummed up study by Planned Parenthood.

    If anyone else has a peer-reviewed study that provides some type of actuarial basis that shows a material risk to pregnant women, please pevent such.

    Put up or shut up.

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)
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    If Dave thinks the procedure should not be done because it is too 'gruesome,' I have to tell you taking out your gallbladder or appendix isn't too pretty either. This is a procedure that needs to be available to protect the life of the mother. We shouldn't value the life of a fetus over the life of a mother. End of story, case closed.

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)
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    a woman could order an abortion during her labor pains

    Do you know of any cases where this has actually occurred?

    Truth in advertising: i have never had an unplanned pregnancy. i have never caused an unplanned pregnancy. The odds of my involvement in such is next to nil as i am married to another fella (or at least used to be until our marriage was annulled by the majority vote of our fellow Oregonians, thank you democracy very much).

    So i probably have a tin ear when it comes to this topic. My gut reaction to Caelen is there there might be worse consequences than the possible deaths of a few women such as his friend who opted for "the procedure." In the course of the pro-choice fight all the way to the Supreme Court to keep intact dilation abortion safe and legal, perhaps a few political races were lost due to the progressive candidate being forced to support something with such a huge "yuck" factor. I'm simply submitting that in the macro, it might have been better for the Choice lobby to have taken an early dive in this fight.

    That said, only recently have i been made aware how in gawdsname such a procedure could have ever been determined to be necessary. Again, i'm speaking out of ignorance here. But much to the joy of my jewish mother, i married a doctor. And he explained to me the rare and tragic situations when in the third term of pregnancy a diseased fetus (which will never live) will in fact cause a woman to die unless the pregnancy is terminated. As it was explained to me, the sheer size of a fetus made the "procedure" the safest alternative for the patient.

    Why did Planned Parenthood fail to make a credible public case?

  • Ed Bickford (unverified)
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    Really, EB Thom, you don't see a principle worth taking heat for defending in this issue: that the government has codified moral judgments as law dictating how you can run your life, be it what medical procedures to which a pregnant woman in dire straits can have access, or whom you may marry?

  • Dan (unverified)
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    Amazing. Or...not really.

    I actually expected this little.

    I asked someone to support with relevant statistics (no provided by a political ally) that backed up what percent of pregnancies (or even the raw number) required a partial birth abortion for the mother to retain her life.

    Nobody responded. Your whole arguement in support is heresay. You are all pathetic for staking out, so vehemently, a position you can't back up. Typical, emotional, liberals.

    If you've got some info, bring it!

  • Caelan MacTavish (unverified)
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    Dan,

    Would a specific percentage point sway your decision? If 2.6% of pregancies versus 2.4% could be changed by the availability of this procedure, would you ever change your angry little mind?

    I don't think so.

    You prefer waving and hollering about how nobody is providing you with statistics. Well, do your own google work.

    And, as for "your whole argument is heresay" (sic)? My whole argument is that I know someone personally who is alive because of this gross medical procedure.

    Do YOU have some info that she would still be alive, even if it had been illegal ten years ago?

    "If you've got some info, bring it!"

  • Dan (unverified)
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    Caelen,

    You submitted the post that echoes the hollow arguement of your fellow feminized liberals.

    By the way, I am glad that your friend it alive, but one anecdotal report doesn't back up this nationwide arguement point.

    I hope you libs keep on pounding on the "conservative court" about his issue, as moderates will understand just how twisted the far left is. And yes, you and about 70% of the posters here on BO are on the far left.

    I can't wait to watch the Democratic Presidential candidates get trapped on the partial birth (baby murder) ban in a debate amoung themselves over the next 18 months.

  • Caelan MacTavish (unverified)
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    Dan,

    To say you and about 70% of the posters here on BO are on the far left is oxymoronic, not to mention, moronic.

    If 70% of the Oregon progressives have similar feelings, that is by definition the moderate left, because it is the area of consensus.

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)
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    The problem with the logic behind the argument that intact dilation abortions are a constitutional right as a fundamental liberty interest of the mother - is that where do you draw the line? That's why I stated that the logic behind the argument made by Caelen and many on this blog is that a mother could order an abortion for her baby during the onset of actual labor, or at any time until the baby actually comes out of the birth canal. It is the logical parallel of the absurd argument "pro-lifers" make that many forms of birth control should be outlawed as forms of abortion because they kill off the embryo even a millisecond after the sperm cell has done its work.

  • dan (unverified)
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    Caelen,

    Moronic?

    I hope your daddy or uncle have a job for you, as without some type of handout, you will struggle in a world of logic, hard work, and intellegence.

    Time for you to take a few more classes on what defines the middle of the bell curve. Blue Oregon is not the middle of the bell curve. It is definitely 1 to 2 SDs out to the left.

    By your definition of logic, if a room full degenerates all showed up at the same place they wouldn't be degenerates, because their degenerate opinions would form a consensus, thus making them moderates. (Oops, looks like I've just described the majority of BO libs.).

    Now, please continue on with your PSU degree in barista 101.

    Congrats Caelen. If you and the hard core liberal praise band that constitutes Blue Oregon have your way, the US will resemble China, where babies are aborted in mass to acheive the goal of raising baby boys.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Caelan:

    While Casey did give the states leeway to restrict third-trimester abortions, the latest Supreme Court decision oversteps these bounds in two ways:

    1-it applies to ALL states, removing the "state's rights" to make this call

    2-It is a procedure now banned in both the second and third trimesters.

    Bob T:

    What do you expect in a "living Constitution" era, i.e. the document means everything, and nothing.

    Besides, despite Casey, Roe did not guarantee choice up until the moment of birth. So you were being less than candid when you implied otherwise.

    Choice was already limited by Roe, good or bad.

    Bob T

    Bob Tiernan

  • Caelan MacTavish (unverified)
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    Dan,

    Since you brought up logic, let's look at the logic in your assertion.

    By your definition of logic, if a room full degenerates all showed up at the same place they wouldn't be degenerates, because their degenerate opinions would form a consensus, thus making them moderates.

    These are your postulates:

    If R (room full of degenerates) And S (same place) Then C (they all agree) Therefore ~R (they wouldn't be degenerates)

    In formal logical notation:

    (R+S->C)=~R

    You are missing a few necessary arguments. (Any PSU student in Logic 101 could tell you that.) You need the operator (C->~R) and something to back up your assertion that R+S->C, or R and S together necessarily lead to C.

    Your argument would adhere to the rules of logic if it went like this:

    If a room full degenerates all showed up at the same place they wouldn't be degenerates, because when degenerates are all in the same place, they all agree. Their degenerate opinions would form a consensus, thus making them moderates, since if everyone agrees, no one is a degenerate.

    <h2>There, Dan! My gift to you, your very first logical argument. It's still stupid, but at least it has an internal logical consistency.</h2>

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