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The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard
for Human Life
by Ramesh Ponnuru
Regnery Publishing, 2006
(320 pages, $27.95, hardcover)
reviewed by Jennifer Roback Morse
The mainstream media do not look very good in Ramesh Ponnuru’s account: They look more like cooperative lapdogs for the abortion lobby than objective reporters of truth. The overwhelming theme of The Party of Death, written by a senior editor of National Review, is that sustaining the Party of Death has required a massive amount of denial and outright fraud about abortion and its impact on society.
The title has generated more controversy than the contents. It is meant to indicate that the pro-abortion position has gradually morphed into a more general position in favor of the legally permissible killing of the innocent, and that the book traces how the pro-abortion constituencies became so dominant within the Democratic party.
In the introduction, Ponnuru states flatly: “Everything you think you know about Roe v. Wade is a lie.” And the lies are not only those of the mainstream media, but those of the abortion lobby and pro-abortion politicians as well, with the media often serving as the conduit for the lies of those with a financial or ideological interest in the promotion of abortion.
The lies began with Roe v. Wade’s plaintiff. Jane Roe, the pseudonym of Norma McCorvey, later revealed that she had not been raped as she stipulated in her case trying to obtain an abortion. Whether her lawyers knew this at the time, Ponnuru does not say. He does report that her lawyer said in retrospect that “she would have picked a different plaintiff, who might have better represented the case,” once McCorvey apostatized from her pro-abortion position and became a Catholic Christian.
Roe v. Wade did not simply legalize abortion in the first trimester, as is often said; it required that any ban on later-term abortions include an exception allowing abortion to protect a woman’s health. But Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton, defined the health exception so broadly that it removed any possibility of restrictions at any time during pregnancy.
Similarly, “everyone knows” that Roe v. Wade was a moderate ruling, well in line with public opinion at the time and today. The fact is that Roe instituted abortion on demand and struck down more restrictive laws in all fifty states.
Only a few states, notably New York and Hawaii, had significantly liberalized their abortion policies in the decade before Roe, and even those states only changed, but did not repeal, their abortion laws. Other states, including Montana, New Mexico, Iowa, Minnesota, Maryland, Colorado, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Ohio, and North Dakota, considered and rejected abortion liberalization laws. The Massachusetts House voted by a landslide to bestow full legal rights on fetuses from the moment of conception. All this was swept away by Roe.
Ponnuru also discloses the well-kept secret that America’s abortion laws offer less legal protection to the unborn than those of any other Western democratic country. The United Kingdom limits abortion on demand to the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, Sweden to 18 weeks, Denmark to 12 weeks. After this, doctors or hospital committees must approve the request for abortion. France requires counseling and a one-week waiting period, even for women seeking abortion in the first 14 weeks.
Besides making misleading and incomplete claims, abortion advocates actually make things up. Ponnuru quotes Barbara Boxer saying, “Prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, an estimated 1,200,000 women each year were forced to resort to illegal abortions. . . . According to one estimate, prior to 1973, as many as 5,000 women died each year in the U.S. as a result of having an illegal abortion.”
As Ponnuru shows, the mainstream media repeat these numbers uncritically, when in fact, the number of abortions in 1974, the year after Roe, was only 899,000, and it was only one million in 1975. Senator Boxer claims that more abortions were performed when abortion was illegal than after it was legalized.
Likewise, the claim that 5,000 women died each year prior to Roe from illegal abortions does not pass the most elementary laugh test. According to the Center for Health Statistics, the number of women’s deaths due to illegal abortion in 1940 was 1,313. By 1966, well before Roe, that number had declined to 159. In 1972, on the eve of Roe v. Wade, the number of maternal deaths due to illegal abortion had dropped all the way to 41.
Responsible observers attribute the bulk of that drop in maternal deaths to the introduction of antibiotics, not to changes in policy. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the original founders of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), who later changed his mind about abortion, has acknowledged that those high numbers of illegal abortions and maternal deaths were simply made up.
Ponnuru tells a similar story about the Congressional drama surrounding the debate over partial-birth abortion. The abortion lobby claimed that only a few hundred such abortions were performed each year. The news media bought that story.
Later, Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, told American Medical News and the New York Times that he had “lied through his teeth” when he said that partial-birth abortions were rare and performed only in extreme cases. In truth, the vast majority were performed on healthy mothers with healthy babies. “The abortion rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so probably does everyone else.”
Yet More Lies
Ponnuru dissects the use of euphemism to discuss abortion. Abortion does not kill a baby; it simply removes a “clump of cells.” An abortionist does not suck out a baby’s brains; the abortion provider “evacuates the cranial contents of the fetus,” or even better, “reduces the fetal calvarium.” The judge in one partial-birth abortion case used the curious phrase, “the fetus was disarticulated,” which sounds so much more tame and innocent than “was dismembered.”
In fact, many in the media avoid even using the term “partial-birth abortion.” They prefer to call it a “method of late-term abortion” or “an abortion procedure described by opponents as ‘partial-birth abortion.’” As Ponnuru wryly notes, “The kids at Hogwarts speak the name of Voldemort more freely than the New York Times editors use the phrase partial-birth abortion.”
The chapter called “The Corruption of History” details an amicus brief written by 281 historians urging the Supreme Court to re-affirm Roe in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. The historians argued that even at the American founding, Americans had a recognized right to abortion. They claimed that nineteenth-century legislators introduced abortion restrictions for reasons that either no longer apply (to protect women from unsafe abortions), or for reasons most moderns would consider suspect (to prevent Catholic immigrants from becoming too large a proportion of the population).
Ponnuru dissects this brief and shows that the historians’ arguments were not only unconvincing but, in some cases, outright fraudulent. The brief quoted from some works that have since been discredited and from other works that flatly contradicted the brief’s key claims. That did not stop numerous commentators from relying on the historians’ brief as if it were gospel truth.
A Truthful Book
The only thing missing from this valuable book is an analysis of how abortion on demand has affected our sex lives and the lives of families. But that would require an entire book on its own. This book is accomplishment enough.
Every advocate for life should have The Party of Death on his shelf. So should everyone who values truth.
Jennifer Roback Morse is the author of the recently published Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World and Love & Economics, both published by Spence Publishing. A research fellow at the Acton Institute, she is also founder of Your Coach for the Culture Wars, a business helping organizations take a stand in the culture wars. She can be contacted through her website: www.jennifer-roback-morse.com.