Unethical Quote of the Week: The Washington Post Editors

“In their anti-abortion fervor, they thought that requiring ultrasounds, even transvaginal ones, was justified if it would change the minds of some women who’d considered ending their pregnancies”

The Washington Post, in an editorial condemning the efforts of Virginia’s Republicans to pass a measure requiring an ultrasound scan of the fetus before a woman could get an abortion. The bill, which had been poised for passage, evaporated after it was revealed that women in the earliest stages of pregnancy would be required to suffer an invasive procedure, and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell announced that he would not sign it in its current form.

Seldom has an editorial managed to be so frighteningly dismissive of human life while being entirely correct on the issue it was discussing.

The Virginia GOP’s ultra-sound measure, like many being devised across the country, is well-intentioned and not without arguments in its favor. Nonetheless,  the effect of the law is to throw a series of roadblocks in front of women as they seek access to their Constitutionally-protected right according to the United States Supreme Court. Requiring a medical procedure, in some cases an invasive one, and requiring women to pay for it as well simply cannot be defended under the current law. The Post was correct to slam the Virginia legislative effort that jumped the rails.

The quote, however, is despicable, and a warning. The Post editors toss off the fact that a women being required to view an ultra-sound image might “change the minds of some women who’d considered ending their pregnancies” as an implicitly worthless and inconsequencial objective compared to that of allowing women to seek abortions for any reason unimpeded, as if “change the minds of some women who’d considered ending their pregnancies” did not mean “allowing a child to be born.” That is what it means however, and the goal of the legislation—to save lives—demands respect even if its construction does not. The fact that abortion is a constitutionally mandated right means that saving lives of unborn children by limiting access to it is illegal, but it does not mean that the proposed law’s objective was insignificant or ridiculous. At what point does discouraging “some” abortions become a respectable goal, according to the Post? When a hundred mothers choose the life of the unborn? A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? Apparently never.

The ethical offense of the pro-abortion position is that it has relentlessly dictated an intellectually dishonest and callous disregard of the fact that a nascent human life is always involved in the abortion choice, and that such lives have value, if not legal protection. The Post editorial is another example of how the U.S.’s abortion culture devalues both life and our sensitivity to it. A woman who would decide not to have an abortion after seeing her unborn child on ultra-sound has not thought her decision through with the seriousness and information such a choice demands. The advocates of the bill  do not deserve to be treated as if they were engaged in trivia, and the saving of a life must not be portrayed as nothing. Discouraging even one abortion has significance, and the Post is irresponsible and culturally corrupting to suggest otherwise.

14 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: The Washington Post Editors

  1. Well done, Jack.

    As a small-L libertarian (not a a large-L one, which means that I get the whole pragmatics thing), my take is that the fundamental question in the abortion debate is one that rests on metaphysics, not science, and that as a result the Federal government has no role in deciding the morality of abortion. At minimum, it’s a decision of the states.

    That said, I view the current state-of-the-art with regard to managing unwanted pregnancy as horrendous, and Roe v. Wade as a bad decision. Starts with the limits of the Constitution. Pragmatically, each year, thousands of babies who could otherwise find loving homes are denied that chance and each year, almost twice that number of irresponsible adults who hook up for a night o’ fun are relieved of the consequences of their irresponsibility. We even take care of them and their bairn when they screw up.

    It is with the state concept that I agree with Jack. Yes, there are backwards states out there (heard a great line the other day: “He’s from so far back in the woods that even the Episcopalians handle snakes”). But Jack is correct in his assessment of this one, far as I’m concerned.

    BTW, Jack – your occasional nemesis James Taranto led with Charles Blow tonight. I’m a huge Taranto fan – in fact, I discovered your blog as a result of his work – but you, sir, have a scoop.

    • Why should the Federal government have no role in deciding the morality of abortion? Should all decisions of morality be left to the states? If abortion is wrong in Maine because it ends a life, shouldn’t it be wrong in Montana and Mississippi as well?

      I ask this purely out of curiosity, not as criticism. I’m used to the Canadian system where all crime is federal.

      • Great question, Eric. The answer has to do with the way this nation was founded, and (at least theoretically) the limits on government enshrined in the US Constitution. The Constitution did not directly grant US citizens – or the states – specific rights. Rather, it specifically identified the things that the Congress, the Executive and the Judicial branches – all at the federal level – were empowered to do, and a considerable number of prohibitive limits on federal power. The ninth and tenth amendments make this clear:

        IX. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

        X. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

        Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that essentially legalized abortion as a matter of Federal law, has been held by numerous legal scholars – including some who support the idea of abortion rights – as a significant overreach of government power.

        Further, here in the US, while many criminal statutes at the state level have parallels in Federal law, states can have different mechanisms for management of criminal issues so long as they don’t overstep Federal limitations on government power. It’s called dual sovereignty. Murder cases, for example, need to reach certain thresholds in order for the Federal court system to assume responsibility from the outset; it’s rare (but does happen) that an individual will be tried at both the state and Federal levels for the same crime without violating the precept of double jeopardy.

  2. Hmmn. Let me try that, switching the premises of the quote:

    ““In their anti-bullying fervor, they thought that banning free speech in schools is justified if it would save some children from being bullied.”

    Does that quote toss off preventing bullying as an implicitly worthless and inconsequential objective? No, it really doesn’t.

    Jack, you have a nasty, and completely unethical, habit of manufacturing things people didn’t say and then blaming them for it.

    What the WP quote says is that preventing abortions does not justify forcing women to have an invasive and unnecessary medical procedure. That’s all it says, and everything else you attribute to it is something they didn’t say.

    For example, they never said that lowering the abortion rate is a “worthless and inconsequencial objective.” If I’m wrong about that, then please QUOTE where they did say that.

    The ethical offense of the pro-abortion position is that it has relentlessly dictated an intellectually dishonest and callous disregard of the fact that a nascent human life is always involved in the abortion choice, and that such lives have value, if not legal protection.

    It’s a fact that a human fetus is biologically human. But it’s not a “fact” that a human fetus has “value,” assuming you mean moral value. That’s a statement of your personal, subjective values, not a statement of fact. And much of the rest of your argument flows from this non-fact, that you haven’t in any way established or presented an argument for.

    Personally, I don’t believe that any human lacking a functioning cerebral cortex has moral value or its own inherent right to life. (This was also, in part, the issue in the Terri Schiavo controversy.) Without a functioning cerebral cortex, a fetus cannot think, cannot feel, cannot suffer, cannot want to live; there is no part of the experience of being a person that a creature without a functioning cortex can be part of, because they are physically incapable of having experiences at all.

    That’s my personal opinion — but it is well thought-out, it is based on quite a bit of research and thought, and it’s not inherently monstrous. What would be ridiculous, however, is if I were to go around claiming that it’s a “fact” that fetuses have no value. Whether or not fetuses have value is not a fact; it’s a legitimate disagreement.

    • The bullying comparison is lousy, Barry. 1) I don’t agree the altered statement either. 2) The first Amendment doesn’t apply in schools except narrowly and 3) human life is more important than human speech.The Post said, and meant, exactly what I said they did. Editorials are vetted very closely. It said that saving “some lives”–because that’s what deciding not to have an abortion does—is no justification for a measure. Of course it’s a justification. Given the Constitutional interpretation now in force, it isn’t sufficient justification to prevail. But the Post’s statement cannot be made by anyone who believes saving an unborn child has value.

      And of course it has value. The argument to the contrary isn’t an argument at all, but a cynical and thoroughly dishonest (and unethical) device of long standing to allow abortion defenders and advocates avoid dealing with the other, real, undeniable side of the abortion dilemma, which is that a human life—lesser, perhaps; certainly weaker; absolutely undeserving of the fate being planned for it—distinct from the mother’s is involved, and has to be dealt with fairly and honestly in the complex process that is ethical balancing. The claim you make, that the “fact” of the human life (human life has intrinsic value in all ethical systems) is arguable is just a myth, one which you may have been raised to believe, as with Santa Claus, but a myth nonetheless….and one that I personally will not tolerate. It is similar to the myth that corporations are “persons,” an imaginary concept dreamed up to ensure rights to corporations that they do need to have, but that would be vulnerable if “personhood” were not assumed. Similarly, the assumption that a fetus isn’t human tracks with the widely-stated belief before the 20th Century that blacks weren’t human—it makes the moral and ethical calculus a breeze, but it’s a lie. Frankly, I’m amazed that society lets abortion advocates get away with it, but it’s results are clear: what the Post Editors wrote, and presumably believe.

      I give you high marks for the use of the lawyer’s device of arguing inconsistent positions in the alternative, though: 1) “The Post didn’t say that!” and 2) “But if they did say that, they were right.”

      My interpretation was fair and correct.

      • As usual, lots of bluster, no evidence.

        The Post editorial said that mandatory transvaginal utrasounds for women seeking abortions is not justified by the prospect of preventing some abortions.

        The Post did not say, in any way, that preventing abortion is a “worthless and inconsequential objective.” It’s not anywhere in their editorial. You inferred it, and the inference is both dishonest and unfair. It’s a textbook example of both attacking a strawman, and of refusing to give someone you disagree with a reasonable benefit of the doubt when interpreting their words.

        If I’m wrong, QUOTE the EXACT PHRASE they used which can fairly be interpreted as meaning “worthless and inconsequential.” Don’t bluster, don’t lecture, don’t do your usual Jack-act of pretending to be oh so superior to me; just provide the quote that proved that you’re right.

        You can’t do it. Because your claim was a lie. It’s that simple.

        * * *

        You keep using phrases like “given the Constitutional interpretation now in force.” This is making me wonder what your actual opinion is. If Roe V Wade didn’t exist, would you personally believe it’s right for the government to mandate transvaginal ultrasounds for women who want an abortion?

        * * *

        I don’t think that preventing abortion is “worthless and inconsequential” objective, by the way. For the well-being of women, it’s obviously better to avoid abortion (for instance, through successful use of birth control) whenever possible.

        But I do think the idea that a fetal life has intrinsic value, while commonplace, is not a “fact.” A “fact” is “a truth known by actual experience or observation.” I can tell you that my bedroom wall is purple based on direct observation; I can even chip off a paint chip and mail it to you, so you can take it to a spectrum lab and bounce lasers off it and determine its true color within three decimal points. That’s a fact.

        OTOH, that a fetus has independent value is not a fact. You can’t test it, measure it, or observe it. It’s an opinion.

        You bring up the matter of slavery. I’m trying to understand your logic here. Are you saying there are no consequential differences between black people and fetuses? Surely you wouldn’t say that. But if you agree with me that there are consequential differences, then why do you think this analogy tells us anything about the abortion debate?

        • 1. The statement, it’s tone, its context, and its meaning are clear, unless one is determined to read it incorrectly. What evidence is needed beyond that? “In their anti-abortion fervor, they thought that requiring ultrasounds, even transvaginal ones, was justified if it would change the minds of some women who’d considered ending their pregnancies.” If that doesn’t say, “Can you imagine that? Crazy Republicans! How absurd! Demanding all that JUST to save lives!” That’s exactly what it says and means, except that Post doesn’t acknowledge or care that stopping an abortion saves a human life/ potential life.
          2. You are being excessively insulting in this thread, and I’d suggest that you dial it back a little. You’re the one arguing for mistranslating the English language, not I.
          3. Oh, stopping an abortion is in the interest of the woman, and that’s it? Wow. You are the living embodiment of the point of the post Barry. You can’t see the forest because you’re IN it.
          4. You denying a fact doesn’t make it a non-fact. Science agrees that a fetus is a living organism; the fair debate is only over how much legal protection an organism that cannot live without the active assistance is entitled to, and at what point that organism’s rights trumps the mother’s right to kill it. I think it’s a difficult debate with strong arguments on all sides. You just want to imagine the debate out of existence. Yes, I think that’s unethical.
          5. If Roe v. Wade were not in existence, I would support reasonable restrictions on abortion at some point in the pregnancy, depending on the factors involved. Requiring a non-invasive ultra-sound and proof that a women fully understand what an abortion was before having one could be reasonable measures in the balancing. If science reached a point where any fetus could be kept alive and viable outside the mother’s womb from the moment of conception, I would have no problem banning abortion outright, and designating it as a crime, rape or incest notwithstanding. I don’t see that ever happening, but you never know.
          6. “You bring up the matter of slavery. I’m trying to understand your logic here. Are you saying there are no consequential differences between black people and fetuses? Surely you wouldn’t say that. But if you agree with me that there are consequential differences, then why do you think this analogy tells us anything about the abortion debate?”

          In the cases of slavery and abortion, the de-humanization of the human life involved in the other party’s exercise of its perceived rights serves as convenient shortcut to support denial of the moral and ethical problems involved. Slavery was dead the second “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published, because it exposed the accepted lie that blacks weren’t human beings. If there is ever a tipping point where the myth that a fetus isn’t a human life is permanently exposed, public opinion on abortion will shift dramatically. That is why the abortion industry regards films of embryos sucking their thumbs and moving in the womb as “dirty pool” and sentimentalism. Unfortunately, I don’t see a hit play about the emotional lives of fetuses appearing on stage any time soon: too hard to cast.

          • The statement, it’s tone, its context, and its meaning are clear, unless one is determined to read it incorrectly.

            I agree. But I think you’re the one who is determined to read it incorrectly.

            Do you just not agree with the concept of giving people you disagree with a reasonable benefit of the doubt? If you’re willing to give WP writers the reasonable benefit of the doubt, then you should admit that it’s possible they meant that government-mandated ultrasounds aren’t justifiable even to prevent abortion. That is the most obvious and straightforward reading of what they said.

            Moving on.

            2. Fair enough, I’ll try to dial it back.

            That said, I am not misinterpreting English in the slightest. I’m arguing on the plain meaning of the words.

            3. I’m a pro-choice extremist, and I happily admit that. But I’m not the author of the WP editorial, so I don’t think this is a relevant point for you. It’s illogical to suggest that because I’m extreme, then therefore whatever extreme opinions you attribute to the WP writers must be held by the WP writers.

            4.

            You denying a fact doesn’t make it a non-fact. Science agrees that a fetus is a living organism; the fair debate is only over how much legal protection an organism that cannot live without the active assistance is entitled to, and at what point that organism’s rights trumps the mother’s right to kill it.

            Jack, do you realize that I never denied that “a fetus is a living organism”? It’s obvious that a fetus is a living organism, and nothing I said can be fairly interpreted as saying otherwise. (I did say that a fetus does not have a functioning cerebral cortex.”Does not have a functioning cerebral cortex” is not at the same claim as “is not a living organism”).

            It’s especially galling that you attribute things I never said to me, and then take me to task for being unethical for having said something I never said. Talk about chuzpah!

            the fair debate is only over how much legal protection an organism that cannot live without the active assistance is entitled to

            Are words missing from this? Like, surely you’re talking about the active assistance of the mother’s body, not active assistance in general?

            5. Thanks for answering. It sounds like you’re saying that you don’t think invasive scans would be justified, even if Roe V Wade didn’t exist.

            6. There’s a lot to unpack here; you’re wrong about what I’ve said (I don’t deny that fetuses are human), you’re wrong about what the pro-slavery people said (they didn’t deny slaves were human, although of course they did use many dehumanizing arguments). But even if you were right about that stuff, I think you’d still be wrong in your conclusions.

            6a) Just to be clear, I fully admit that a fetus is a living, human organism. I don’t deny this in any way at all.

            I do think that a fetus is not a “person,” because I think one necessary trait of being a person is having some consciousness or history of consciousness. Before the cortex becomes functional late in pregnancy, fetuses are not capable of consciousness.

            6b) For a primer on what pro-slavery arguments actually were, I recommend this detailed summary by the Yale historian David Blight. None of the major arguments were that black people weren’t human; rather, they argued that black people were inferior human beings. Or read this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates, describing the views of the Vice-President of the Confederacy:

            Stephens doesn’t so much reject that blacks are persons, as much as he rejects the idea that all persons are are equal. Moreover, slavery was much more complicated than, say, animal domestication. Slave-masters often allowed–indeed encouraged–slaves to engage in acts common among people. Slaves married. Slaves were baptized. Slaves were converted to attend Christianity–and even attended white churches, at times. Slaves and masters exchanged gifts on Christmas. Slaves were allowed to hire themselves out and buy their own freedom. Slaves were manumitted by masters. The point is that what you see in all of that is something more complicated than “Are Africans people?” The better question seems to be “Are black people equal to whites?

            6c) But even if you weren’t wrong about your premises, you’d still be wrong in your conclusion. (There that’s lawyer’s arguing tactic you admire again! But it’s a good tactic because it’s true — arguments can be wrong on more than one level.)

            You say that my views are a “convenient shortcut to support denial of the moral and ethical problems involved.” But how can considering the status of the fetus — including whether or not it has a functioning cerebral cortex — not be part of that discussion? If I’m saying “we have to discuss how the fetus’ lack of functioning cortex changes it’s moral status,” and you’re refusing to have that discussion, then you’re the one taking a shortcut around serious consideration of the issue, not me.

            If we can’t discuss what the status of the fetus’ brain is, then how on earth can we go on to balance the fetus’ rights against the mother’s rights?

        • The Post did not say, in any way, that preventing abortion is a “worthless and inconsequential objective.” It’s not anywhere in their editorial. You inferred it, and the inference is both dishonest and unfair. It’s a textbook example of both attacking a strawman, and of refusing to give someone you disagree with a reasonable benefit of the doubt when interpreting their words.

          Actually, Barry, it wasn’t Jack who inferred it. In this case, the Post did that by simply ignoring it as a valid objective, which as Jack pointed out, it most certainly is, and at minimum, worthy of inclusion, if not discussion. Instead, the post chose to completely ignore the aspect of the intent of the law and blast it as some sort of backward, right-wing hypocrisy. At least, that’s how it reads to me. There was no intent to fairness, it was straightforward advocacy, and in such a case, it is certainly desirable to ignore and implicitly minimize any valid concerns that may have prompted the law.

          In their zeal to attack Republicans for trying to force women to allow their vaginae to be invaded by ultrasound probes as a condition for exercising a constitutional right, and couching it as hypocrisy, the Post implicitly impugned the intent of the law, which was to minimize the number of abortion procedures with the overall objective of reducing the number of human lives sacrificed to the procedure. Even if we may disagree with the definition of “human life,” that general concept is the entire reasoning behind the legislation, and the Post not only gives it short shrift, it completely ignores it as a valid concern, or even a concern at all.

          The Post is also entirely dishonest in their critique of the Republican’s position on health care, thus:

          This from the folks who say the government can’t make you buy health insurance.

          Republicans have never suggested that state governments can’t make you buy health insurance, because they manifestly can, and have. See Massachusetts’ “Romneycare” for an example. They have said that the federal government cannot, a matter which will be resolved soon by the U.S. Supreme Court one way or the other. The Republicans may well turn out to be wrong, but they may also be right. But that criticism has never been applied to the states, contra the Post.

          You bring up the matter of slavery. I’m trying to understand your logic here. Are you saying there are no consequential differences between black people and fetuses? Surely you wouldn’t say that. But if you agree with me that there are consequential differences, then why do you think this analogy tells us anything about the abortion debate?

          For what it’s worth, it seems pretty clear to me. He was comparing the moral positions of a widely-held fallacy that one race was inhuman (not just among slaveholders, but among whites in general) with the widely-held fallacy that a fetus is inhuman. Both are factually false, and facially comparable. One could argue the adult/unborn angle makes the comparison rather less than totally apt, but in this case, I think he got the better of it.

          Perhaps Jack will respond and describe his exact intentions, but it certainly made sense to me — thanks, I’m sure, to my “functioning cerebral cortex.” 🙂

          • Actually, Barry, it wasn’t Jack who inferred it. In this case, the Post did that by simply ignoring it as a valid objective, which as Jack pointed out, it most certainly is, and at minimum, worthy of inclusion, if not discussion.

            I hope you’ll forgive me being a language fussbudget, but it’s not possible that the Post inferred it. You mean to say they implied it.

            Regarding your argument, I’d say that it’s illogical, and unfair, to notice something that the Post writers didn’t say — in this case, they didn’t say “preventing abortion is a worthwhile and consequential objective” — and to therefore conclude that they actively believe that preventing abortion is a “worthless and inconsequential objective.”

            I do agree that the editorial is advocacy, and accept that it’s unfair in some ways. Nonetheless, two wrongs don’t make a right; regardless of whether or not the article is fair, attributing a belief to them that they did not state is unfair.

            For what it’s worth, it seems pretty clear to me. He was comparing the moral positions of a widely-held fallacy that one race was inhuman (not just among slaveholders, but among whites in general) with the widely-held fallacy that a fetus is inhuman. Both are factually false, and facially comparable.

            I think this is actually pretty similar to the Post’s “This from the folks who say the government can’t make you buy health insurance” argument you quoted.

            Because the plain truth is, there are PLENTY of Republicans who say “the government can’t make you buy health insurance.” This is because many people are speaking off-the-cuff, or are not professional wonks, or are not precise in their language. But nonetheless, if you question them closely and sympathetically, it’s pretty clear that most of those folks — and nearly all the well-informed folks who choose their language carefully — do in fact mean to say that the Federal government can’t do that.

            If you’re looking to score easy points, then you do what the Post writers did. But if you’re looking to make a more substantive argument, then you’d have to do what you did, and go to the real argument, not just pick on imprecise word usage.

            Similarly, there are plenty of pro-choicers who have said “a fetus isn’t a human being.” But few, if any, are claiming that the fetus is not made of human tissue, or does not have human genes. Virtually all of them are making a philosophical argument about what makes a being a person, not denying that a fetus is biologically human. I think it would be more substantial to actually address that personhood argument, rather than picking on imprecise wording as if they had being making a “factually false” biological argument.

  3. Since a fetus has not been scientifically established to be a human being, it would be impossible for the Post to dismiss the idea of preserving a human being as being worthless and inconsequential. Anti-choice advocates believe it is a human being, pro-choice advocates believe it is not. Until a scientific determination is made, this is an unbridgeable gap. I also saw nothing in the editorial that stated that the Post believed that women should have access to abortion unimpeded.

    I realize that there are women who use abortion as birth control, but they are very few. Abortion is both psychologically and physically painful, and it is not entered into lightly. It is also expensive. To put another “discussion” in the way demeans the choice the woman has made based on her physical and financial situation, and her spiritual beliefs.

    I can see how an anti-choice person would see the Post’s wording as dismissing a “human life.” To me, it implied that the Virginia legislation dismissed the life of a living, cognizant human being (the woman) over that of a fetus that, as Barry has stated, has no cognition that has been proven scientifically.

    Slightly off topic, no one is “pro-abortion.” Even the most zealous advocates for a woman’s right to choose want to decrease the need for abortion. But the most zealous advocates to prohibit abortion are now moving into restricting access to contraception, which will ultimately create a demand for more, not less, abortions. And women WILL get abortions, whether they are legal or not. They will simply be maimed or die from botched procedures in someone’s kitchen.

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