Death By Focus Group


Meteor Blades writes about how the right has been hammering us with language, and points to Gloria Feldt's article on Alternet to drive that point home:

[The] partial birth abortion ban is a political scam but [also] a public relations goldmine. … The major benefit is the debate that surrounds it. — Randall Terry

So said the founder of Operation Rescue, a militant anti-choice group that blockaded abortion providers, in 2003.

Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision (Gonzales v. Carhart) upholding the federal abortion ban is the fruition of that public relations goldmine. It is a travesty of language bought and repeated endlessly by journalists who were sometimes uninformed and sometimes just too lazy to get it right.

Indeed, the travesty of language around abortion is so pervasive that even Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the decision for the court's majority, in addition to using the inaccurate term "partial birth abortion," also referred to the "abortion doctor" repeatedly in the ruling. Why did he not simply refer to doctors as "doctors," or "ob/gyns"? If another surgical procedure were under scrutiny, would he have he referred to "tonsillectomy doctor" or "hysterectomy doctor"? Of course not. But those who want to take away entirely a woman's human right to make her own childbearing decisions have used the term "abortion doctor" for so long as an epithet that they have succeeded in getting even the highest court in the land to adopt their language.

Such bias is just the tip of the iceberg in the battle over what losing plaintiff Dr. Leroy Carhart has called "partial truth abortion." There is no such thing as partial birth abortion. The term will be found in no medical book. It was coined in 1995 by Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right-to-Life Committee, and former Congressional representative and current Florida appeals court judge Charles Canady explicitly to confuse, horrify, and deceive — to manipulate language with the intent of sensationalizing the abortion debate. In particular, they intended to take the focus away from the woman in order to place the greater value on the fetus. Leading medical associations all agreed it was a misleading term, but the media never checked their language and by 2001, 90% of articles were using the term without so much as a "so-called" attached. As I reported in my 2004 book The War on Choice, an AP managing editor admitted when challenged that "partial birth abortion" was emotionally loaded, but said they continued to use it because it was instantly recognizable. Another major daily newspaper editor admitted it wasn't correct but said it was easier to use than alternatives.

There is no such thing as a "partial birth" abortion.  Sometimes it's necessary to refer to the horrible bill with this name, but the next time someone uses it to describe a procedure, please ask them — where exactly does the "partially born" part come in?  It doesn't. There has been a horrible education job done by our side to fight back against the use of this term and if even Randall Terry is admitting it's bullshit, why are politicans and Supreme Court Justices using it without question?

We're getting killed by focus groups and lazy journalists.  Next time you hear it, please raise your hand and object.

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