On September 8th, the Dallas Morning News published an opinion piece by local pastor Robert Jeffress. In this piece, Jeffress draws a comparison between the situation in Syria and what he calls the “infanticide” occurring in the United States, which is a reference to legal abortion. Despite his efforts to convince readers that legal abortions are the same thing as the killing of children in acts of aggression, he’s drawing a false equivalency and blatantly disregarding actual facts in order to make his case. These are common tricks amongst the anti-choice brigade – using emotional language to bend the truth and illicit responses while ignoring reality.
I’m not trying to make a statement about Syria with this piece. I am instead addressing the problems inherent in Mr. Jeffress’s arguments about abortion.
First of all, abortion is not infanticide. This word sounds terrifying, and I’m sure it plays well upon people’s fears, but it doesn’t properly illustrate what abortion in this country actually looks like. In fact, if you want to get technical, the definition of infanticide requires that the child have been born prior to being killed. But later in the essay, we see what Jeffress thinks abortion in this country looks like: “But if we laid side by side the remains of the millions of children who have been aborted in the last 40 years — many during the second and third trimesters with discernible features — I imagine there would be an even greater outcry from the American people.” And here we have the previously mentioned blatant disregard for facts. Eighty-eight percent of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute. That’s the first trimester, and that’s the vast majority of abortions. And only about 1.5% of abortions happen after the 21 week mark, with a number of these being medically necessitated abortions performed to protect the mother’s health or because of dramatic complications with the health of the fetus. This line alone pretty much blows Jeffress’s argument right out of the water. But he’s obviously interested in scare tactics, telling people these aborted fetuses have “discernible features” because only then can he make the connection between them and the children dying in Syria.
He then goes on to attack President Obama’s voting record on abortion by bringing up a vote on a partial-birth abortion ban in the Illinois State Senate in 1997, when Obama was a state senator. Here is Obama on his vote: "On an issue like partial-birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I’ve said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn’t have that." Obama is a pro-choice president, and there is no denying that. But the attempt here to use his voting record on a single piece of legislation with a scary name as a reason to paint him as a monster is clearly misguided, and Mr. Jeffress has to again keep certain facts to himself in order to make the reader gasp in horror.
Perhaps the most audacious statement comes next: “Many progressives would counter that while they are not “pro-abortion,” they see “choice” as a fundamental human right. But why are they not willing to extend that same freedom of choice to Assad to exterminate the children of his nation?” This is the crux of the argument, and it’s also an indefensible argument. One has to make quite a leap in logic to liken the legal abortion of a 10 week fetus with the killing of a 10 month old child. And in this argument we see what Mr. Jeffress and other anti-choice activists think of the women involved in the unintended pregnancies or experiencing health complications: they’re non-existent. In fact, nowhere in the essay do you see him mention women at all.
Unfortunately, scary language works. But we can counter scary language with facts. Mr. Jeffress ends his essay by saying that the only support available for a moral code of any kind is God’s law, but that’s not even true for many who believe in God. When a case can only be made by lying and using manipulative language, what does that tell you?