Abortion Distortions 

Political ads dissected and explained.
July 14 2000 11:30 PM

Abortion Distortions 

"Compassion" was produced for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund by Laguens Hamburger Stone. "Appeal" and "Push Back" were produced by Haddow Communications for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. For transcripts of the ads, click. Click here to see "Push Back" on Freedom Channel (scroll down).

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From: William Saletan

To: Jacob Weisberg

Planned Parenthood The narrator of Planned Parenthood's commercial characterizes Bush's abortion views while walking through a background of giant quotes from and about Bush. The quotes, which are supposed to back up the characterizations, are rigged. Consider this one from the Des Moines Register: "Bush would prohibit federally funded family planning clinics from mentioning abortion." A conservative would have written the sentence differently: "Bush would prohibit family planning clinics that mention abortion from taking federal funds." By shuffling the verbs, the Register turns a prohibition on funding into a prohibition on "mentioning"—which Planned Parenthood, in turn, boils down to a "gag rule."

Another trick is the removal of context. The ad closes with the narrator standing in front of this Bush quote from Meet the Press: "I would support a constitutional amendment ..." Why the ellipses? Because the full quote is, "I would support a constitutional amendment with the exceptions of life, incest, and rape. I want to tell you something, though: The country is not ready for a constitutional amendment. There is no chance, at this moment, that there'd be a two-thirds vote out of the House and the Senate." Yes, Bush says he supports the amendment. But the complete quote is a greater affront to pro-lifers than pro-choicers. It basically says he's paying lip service to the amendment. Understandably, Planned Parenthood is frustrated that pro-lifers aren't making a fuss about this. But that doesn't make the quote's truncation any less misleading.

The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy ads are interesting for several reasons. They're essentially but not officially political. They're about a court case—the June 28 Supreme Court decision striking down Nebraska's "partial-birth" abortion ban—which pro-choice groups would like to develop into a campaign issue. This isn't the first time pro-choicers have attempted this conversion—they tried it after previous Supreme Court rulings in 1989 and 1992—but it's a reminder of the degree to which the political process has enveloped the court. The court may not follow the election returns, but if groups like the CRLP have their way, the election returns will follow the court.

On the other hand, if campaign reformers or election regulators ever accused CRLP of using these ads to influence the election, they'd have nothing to hang their case on. The ads never refer to what we think of as the political process. All they do is furnish the address of CRLP's Web site and urge viewers to "contact" the "lawyers who are defending the right to choose in courtrooms across the country." Basically, it's a fund-raising pitch. Legal battles, like election campaigns, cost money. And increasingly, they're just as political. So, CRLP, in effect, is running ads to raise money to wage a political fight that is technically outside the political process altogether. It's a foretaste of the many mutations of politics that will frustrate the next generation of campaign reformers.

Pushback The third thing I find curious is the post-victory timing of "Push Back." We think of ads as tools for influencing upcoming contests. But this ad appears after its sponsor has already won the contest. The ad says as much: "The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that so-called 'partial-birth abortion' bans are extreme and unconstitutional," and CRLP "exposed and defeated" those bans. So what's the problem? According to CRLP, "the attacks on this fragile freedom will continue." No sooner has your side won the battle than it's on the tube hitting you up for the next one. There are no boundaries to politics anymore: not the polling place, not the election calendar, not even the Supreme Court recess. I'm getting tired just thinking about it.

From: Jacob Weisberg

To: William Saletan

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