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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Questions Surround Pro-Life Organization’s Rhetoric

WI Right to Life’s ads are seen as reckless and inflammatory

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In the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller’s murder in Kansas, allegedly by abortion opponent Scott Roeder, many commentators wondered if the heated rhetoric that permeates the extreme fringe of the pro-life movement contributed to the doctor’s shooting.

What’s so disappointing—and worrisome—is that reckless accusations are being made about a doctor who has offered to provide second-trimester abortions in Madison.

In the weeks before Tiller’s murder, Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL), which is seen as a mainstream pro-life organization, took out three ads in the Wisconsin State Journal to denounce proposed abortion services to be provided at the Madison Surgery Center.

The clinic is owned by the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation, the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, and Meriter Health Services, and is planning to provide abortions for women who are up to 22 weeks pregnant, in order to replace the services of a Madison-area doctor who is retiring and will no longer perform them. Abortions performed during this portion of a pregnancy generally are not considered to be “late-term abortions,” the kind that Tiller performed in Kansas.

The Wisconsin Right to Life ads included the following statements:

  • “Patients… It’s time to say ‘no’ to medical treatment at the Madison Surgery Center, where late-term abortions are planned,” read WRTL’s May 14 ad.
  • “Madison Surgery Center Staff… Your employer has approved a late-term dismemberment abortion plan,” read the May 21 ad.
  • The third ad, which ran on May 28, just three days before Tiller’s murder on May 31, claimed to use information from UW e-mails to show that “Abortionist Caryn Dutton discloses that Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s confidence in her ability to perform late-term abortions is ‘very LOW.’”
Wisconsin Right to Life’s press releases went even further. According to its May 28 press release—published in full on state Sen. Mary Lazich aide Kevin Fischer’s blog, hosted by the Journal Sentinel-owned FranklinNow—UW officials “admit employees will be forced to participate when abortionist Dutton butchers women.”

In addition to these inflammatory and false remarks, a host of allegations about the Madison Surgery Center had also been published in a Journal Sentinelopinion piece written by WRTL’s Barbara Lyons in February. Lyons named Dutton and other doctors and administrators who were involved in the decision to perform second-trimester abortions at the clinic.

“Why Should They Care If They Were Named?”

In an interview on Monday, Lyons said that the ads, op-ed and press releases were merely “asking people to seek their health care at a different place.”

She said that naming Dutton wasn’t a big deal, even in the wake of Tiller’s murder, which WRTL denounced. “If this is their [Dutton’s] practice, why should they care whether they were named or not?” Lyons said.

But Lisa Brunette, spokeswoman for UW Health Marketing and Public Affairs, said that while Dutton had been identified in some news stories, context is everything. “Given the killing in Kansas, allegedly by someone with ties to the pro-life movement, I think the problem is with using someone’s name in the context of these inflammatory statements,” Brunette said. “It seems irresponsible at the very least, certainly…. I have been surprised throughout by the recklessness of the charges that have been thrown about.”

Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, criticized WRTL’s campaign against the clinic and individual doctors. “This is harassment, intimidation and a smear campaign,” Huyck said. “I think it’s dangerous. We saw last weekend what happened in Kansas. Dr. Tiller was harassed for years. Harassment and intimidation is bullying and it’s a prelude to violence. I’m not saying that Wisconsin Right to Life is going out there and telling people to be violent. But I think it’s still bullying behavior.”

Brunette said that the ads, and Tiller’s murder, have made administrators more aware of security needs at the clinic, which has not begun offering second-trimester abortions at this time. “I know that when the [Tiller] killing happened there had been plans for really enhanced security at that location, as you might imagine,” Brunette said. “Now that theoretical risk has become real, so the security planning took on new urgency and focus.”

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