Marni Evans, 37, is a striking woman with dark and well-coiffed hair. Her ensemble suggests a comfortable living. She sits down for a videotaped interview, holding the hand of John Lockhart, her fiancé. John, 43, is bald and wears glasses. His fashionable western shirt is rolled up to his elbows. He’s a software engineer. Trained as an architect, she’s a self-employed sustainability consultant.
They tell the story about how they discovered they were expecting. “I was late by a couple of days and so I had this suspicion that we were pregnant and then we went and got a home pregnancy test and verified that. And of course we were still in such shock that we went to Planned Parenthood and had an official pregnancy test done just to verify it. And found out — yes, yes, yes, it’s positive.”
They decided to end the life of the baby growing inside her. Or as we euphemistically like to put it, they decided to have an abortion.
We know all this because the Texas Tribune produced a glowing 6:34 video of the couple talking about how awful a new Texas law is that improves standards of care for women seeking abortions. Advocates of abortion say these improved standards — such as requiring that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic — are unnecessary and infringe upon the right to end the lives of unborn children via abortion. That portion of the law went into effect on November 1.
Her abortion clinic canceled the appointment because her doctor didn’t have admitting privileges at any of Austin’s hospitals.
The Tribune video and accompanying story are a fascinating look at media coverage of abortion. As has become standard in such situations, no difficult questions are posed to the couple. Even though other abortionists in Austin meet the standards of Texas’ new law, for instance, her curious claim that she had to use frequent flyer miles to book a flight to Seattle, of all places, to abort the baby receives no apparent push back. (Later we’re told she did just book with a different doctor in the same town in which she lives — no flight necessary.)
Marni says she and her fiancé looked at the pros and cons of allowing the unborn child to continue living or aborting it. They looked at “the health of our relationship” (presumably good enough to be engaged and knocking boots without effective birth control other than abortion), “how long we’ve been together” (presumably long enough to be betrothed to each other), and “do we have enough built as a foundation to create a loving happy healthy family” (John is sitting right there when she lets this line just hang there, uncomfortably).
Marni says they considered their self-employment and variable paychecks. For what it’s worth, even if they both only made the median income for males and females in Austin, which is doubtful considering their careers, that would put them in the wealthiest 3 percent of the global population, with an income 20 times the typical person.
At the end of this magnificent and compelling case for the violent act of abortion, John says, “For all the reasons Marni described, this was absolutely not the right time for us to have a child.”
Did I mention she’s 37 and he’s 43? Is this really the best case abortion proponents could put forward to tug at the heart-strings of abortion moderates? A financially well-off, educated, older couple who might be witnessing their last chance at conceiving a child?
Or as I put it on Twitter:
Abortion and Public Relations
What’s really interesting about this story is how it came to be told. The Tribune’s video of the calm and composed couple was posted on November 3. Here’s what Marni was doing on the day of her canceled abortion. She sent this note to Rick Jervis, USA Today’s Austin correspondent:
It’s what we’d all do on the day of our abortion being canceled, right? And we wouldn’t just write Jervis. Here’s her note to Abby Ohlheiser, staff writer at The Atlantic Wire:
That was followed up by this note to Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, naturally:
We all tweet to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza about our abortions, right? There are no tweets from Evans to the Texas Tribune, but somehow the savvy public relations campaign was brought to their attention. And a few other folks.
Now, maybe Marni Evans just happened to deal with her abortion situation via a savvy public relations campaign. And maybe Marni Evans just happened to echo the sentiments and rhetoric of a big new abortion rights campaign built around efforts to destigmatize the legal practice of killing the babies growing within our wombs. That campaign, which was written about here, has enjoyed major success in the media. Here’s New York Mag’s participation in it:
It should be noted that the stories — about repeat abortions, callous attitudes and bullying boyfriends — may have done just as much to reinforce the stigma as anything else.
But while there’s always been a separation between abortion rights mythmaking and reality, we’ve hit a moment unrivaled since the storytelling surrounding “Jane Roe” of Roe V. Wade.
Komen vs. Planned Parenthood
As detailed by former Susan G. Komen honcho Karen Handel in her expose “Planned Bullyhood,” the cancer-fighting charity’s funding decisions were sabotaged by the theatrical breaking of a “gentle-ladies agreement” Komen had with Planned Parenthood. Komen had been funding Planned Parenthood for years even though the abortion giant didn’t do any actual mammograms. The grants were “pass-through” grants, meaning that Planned Parenthood was basically the middle man between women and groups that offered mammograms. Komen, under heat from pro-lifers who wanted to fund the charity but not Planned Parenthood, made an agreement to quietly stop giving these grants. The two groups even worked on shared public relations statements.
But someone leaked the news to the Associated Press at precisely the same time that Planned Parenthood was ready with a new campaign fighting the Komen Foundation’s change of direction. High-ranking elected officials, media figures and celebrities were lined up ready to support Planned Parenthood in one of the most stunning attacks on a charity in memory. The once-popular Komen couldn’t take the heat and backed down within three days. One of the interesting things revealed by Handel is that the public relations professionals hired by Komen to help with the transition away from funding Planned Parenthood were Hilary Rosen, a communications and media consultant at SKDKnickerbocker, and Brenday Daly, a PR consultant who had worked with Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards at Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office. SKDKnickerbocker also employs former Obama White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, and represented none other than Sandra Fluke a few months after the Komen debacle kicked off the “War on Women.”
A Not-So-Spontaneous Social Media Outpouring
More recently, the media reported on what seemed like an organic outpouring of social media support for Texas Sen. Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the Texas bill protecting unborn children who had made it through five months’ gestation. She was feted on every Sunday morning talk show, magazine covers and most print outlets. What was almost not covered at all was the savvy public relations campaign that prepared the way for the filibuster, which you can read about in the Washington Post’s blog post headlined “Wendy Davis ‘tweetstorm’ was planned in advance“:
That “tweetstorming” tactic was essentially what pushed Davis, by degrees, into the national spotlight. After five hours, the #standwithwendy hashtag was picked up by the national ACLU and Planned Parenthood, which have a combined 259,000 followers. Less than an hour later, at 5:53 CT, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted her own message of support — followed one hour later by a tweet from President Obama that was reshared nearly 17,000 times.
Celebrities who providentially happened to help out at just the right time included the comedian Rob Delaney, with more than 870,000 followers, Mark Ruffalo, Lena Dunham and Sarah Silverman. Serendipitous, really.
Let’s look at a few other stories coming from pro-choice activists. Jodi Jacobson is the editor-in-chief of RH RealityCheck, an abortion news site. An enthusiastic, if misguided, tweeter, she recently announced a kickstarter-style campaign for an abortion. She linked to the fundraiser, headlined “Help Save Florence’s Life,” which says:
Florence is a young immigrant from Africa with very few contacts in the United States. She wanted to have her baby, but she has a life-threatening genetic disease which has complicated her pregnancy and made her very, very sick. She’s more than 20 weeks pregnant – she tried to raise the money for her procedure earlier but she just couldn’t make it. Now, because of clinic closures and the new ban on procedures after 20 weeks, Florence is unable to access an abortion in Texas.
Knowledgeable readers will immediately identify problems. Foremost, while Texas law does protect children who have made it through five months’ gestation, there is an exemption for mothers who face life-threatening pregnancies.
Assuming Florence is real and really does face a life-threatening pregnancy, Texas law permits her to procure an abortion. And better yet, if the baby has gestated in her mother’s womb for 23 weeks or so, that baby may be viable and able to be delivered, thereby preserving the life of the baby and mother.
But apart from these issues, what about the ethics of fundraising off of “Florence”? Jodi Jacobson’s RH Reality Check raised $1.3 million last year. She herself took home $179,293 in pay. We’re told that “Florence” needs $1000 for an abortion out of state, so why didn’t Jacobson or her organization just cut a check? Would that not be theatrical enough?
If Abortion Is Only 3% Of Planned Parenthood’s Business …
Here are some headlines out of Texas in recent days:
From the last story:
Planned Parenthood will close a dozen clinics on Friday after a federal appeals court reinstated most of the state’s controversial new abortion law. The ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals late Thursday means that many abortion clinics across the state of Texas are required to stop providing the procedure immediately.
Planned Parenthood claimed in its request to the U.S. Supreme Court that more than one-third of the facilities in Texas were forced to stop providing care. They didn’t explain why some abortion doctors in Texas were able to get admitting privileges to local hospitals within three months of the new law’s passage and other abortion doctors weren’t.
But let’s not even get into those issues. Planned Parenthood frequently tells the media — and the media totally lap it up — that 97 percent of its business has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. Pro-lifers have been debunking the statistic or otherwise treating it skeptically for years, but the claim is made repeatedly. Here‘s the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein buying into it. Earlier this year Amanda Marcotte at Slate wrote:
All together now: 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are not abortion. Attacks on Planned Parenthood are, by definition, largely attacks on non-abortion services. Attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding, regardless of claimed intent, are strictly attacks on contraception, STI testing/treatment, and cancer screenings.
So the question is obvious. If 97% of Planned Parenthood’s services aren’t abortion, why in the world would an abortion regulation cause a dozen Planned Parenthood clinics to close?
Closing clinics make for great headlines and more dramatic court briefs. But a media mildly more skeptical of savvy public relations campaigns and well-scripted legal wrangling might serve the public a bit more.