The ABCs of antiabortion activism

A handbook illustrates the kind of deception that possibly led to Dr. George Tiller's murder.

Published June 4, 2009 10:18AM (EDT)

The murder of Dr. George Tiller has opened up a Pandora's box for pro-lifers, giving rise to all sorts of troublesome questions about the culpability of lenient law enforcement and the movement itself. They certainly won't find salvation from Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte, who got her mitts on a disturbing antiabortion activist handbook from Justice for All that lays bare  some of the lies, deception and cynical manipulation that might have led to Tiller's assassination. It's now online for your reading enjoyment displeasure.

The most egregious misinformation can be found in the section "What if the Mother's Life Is in Danger?" Marcotte explains on RH Reality Check, "Dr. Tiller performed a number of medically indicated late term abortions, and anti-choice attempts to use legal persecution to catch him fudging the ugly realities proved fruitless." She continues, "Despite this, Justice For All encourages its activists to believe they know better than medical doctors what constitutes a medically necessary abortion, and the handbook claims there is only one instance where a pregnancy can threaten a woman's life." The single justifiable situation for an abortion is ectopic pregnancy, the manual explains.

You might ask: What about eclampsia, placenta previa, cancer or -- ? No. Just: No. Those conditions, and any others that you might list, could not possibly warrant an abortion to save the mother's life. In other words: Don't believe the lie that Tiller performed lifesaving procedures.

Deception of that sort is found throughout the handbook. Activists are instructed that when confronting targets they are to pretend that they're A-OK with contraception. That way, their mark will let his or her guard down and think that, you know, there's actually a rational, fact-based discussion to be had. The truth, of course, is that the manual goes on to arm activists with medical misinformation that they can spread about birth control.

The same advice is given when it comes to the threat an abortion ban would pose to women: Activists are to conceal their disbelief that many women would be critically harmed by back-alley procedures, and avoid the common mistake of "appear[ing] callous by showing no concern for women who die." Luckily, they include a helpful how-to titled "Sound Bites for Showing Concern" -- or, more accurately, "Feigning Concern." The suggestions for this robotic show of empathy include: "I think that would be truly tragic," "I agree with you. We all mourn needless deaths" and "I agree with you that if a woman is harmed aborting her own child, that she's just as valuable as the unborn." See, I do experience human emotions -- beep, boop, beep!

I'll leave you with Marcotte, who puts this tactical deceit in perfect context: "It shows one face to the initiated, and another to the public, especially on the topic of contraception. Once you realize this, the movement's half-hearted denunciations of Dr. Tiller's murder, coupled with the enthusiastic return to calling Dr. Tiller a monster, become all the more chilling."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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