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Keep chuckin’ those facts

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It wouldn’t be a tall tale from the wingnut media-industrial complex without Glenn Kessler stroking his chin and declaring that Important Questions Are Being Raised:

The two-byline story — written by Shari Rudavsky and Rachel Fradette — made headlines around the world. But the first reaction of mainly right-leaning news organizations — despite the fact that the doctor who performed the abortion was on the record saying this happened — was to try to debunk it. Why? I mean, in part because it’s horrible and we don’t want to believe a 10-year-old could get raped and pregnant, because 10-year-olds are babies themselves. (By the way, Covid appears to have increased early-onset puberty around the world. Getting your period “early” now means getting it when you’re younger than 8. People for whom a pregnant 10-year-old strains credulity should keep this in mind.)

The debate over the story’s veracity started with a Washington Post “Fact Checker” column. In “A one-source story about a 10-year-old and an abortion goes viral,” the Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote…

[Just Asking Questions]

Kessler doesn’t appear to consider the professional, non-nefarious reasons that a doctor might have for declining to share the names of her colleagues, or why she might be loath to (plus, due to privacy laws, legally prohibited from) disclose the name and address of her patient who was raped to a national newspaper.

“An abortion by a 10-year-old is pretty rare,” Kessler notes. (Oh, that “by.”) “The Columbus Dispatch reported that in 2020, 52 people under the age of 15 received an abortion in Ohio.” Definitions of “rare” may vary, but if 52 under-15-year-olds got abortions in Ohio in 2020, that’s one a week — and it’s just abortions that were reported, during a pandemic when a lot of abortion clinics were closed.

The Post column opened the door to worse takes. “Every day that goes by, the more likely that this is a fabrication. I know the cops and prosecutors in this state. There’s not one of them that wouldn’t be turning over every rock, looking for this guy and they would have charged him,” Ohio attorney general Dave Yost told USA Today’s Ohio Network bureau on Tuesday. Picking up on Kessler’s “single source” criticism, Yost added, “Shame on the Indianapolis paper that ran this thing on a single source who has an obvious axe to grind.”

Ohio’s fanatical anti-abortion AG is a reliable source, whereas the doctor is an untrustworthy “activist” with an “ax to grind” because she doesn’t think her profession should be illegal. Got it! (Remember that the Post has previously determined that a sexual assault victim could not be impartial covering cases of sexual assault.)

Kessler’s story was a hideous botch job, but the idea that women, girls and their doctors are probably fabulists if they tell a story that is inconvenient for the American anti-abortion movement is going to be a persistent theme:

Kessler didn’t mention in the original column that some of the agencies he’d contacted hadn’t responded. Sometimes reporters or their editors decide to leave certain details out of stories. In a fact-checking column, that might be because the additional information feels extraneous or muddies the column’s narrative.

In, say, a reported story about a child who must travel out of state to receive an abortion because abortion is illegal after six weeks in the state where she lives, there are other reasons a publication might leave out identifying details.

In America after the end of Roe v. Wade, one brave source on the record in the final story will often be the best we can get. Obviously, reporters and editors must make sure that their reporting is accurate and true! But those who believe that the end of legal abortion in many states is newsworthy will need to figure out how to report and publish these stories with a few more constraints than they’d prefer. If performing or receiving an abortion now counts as activism, well, then journalists will need to be okay quoting “activists,” unless they only want to tell the anti-abortion movement’s side.

Countless abortion stories will never be told at all. It won’t be because they’re lies. It will be because telling them is too risky, because patients and doctors and staffers and volunteers will face arrest for coming forward.

Meanwhile, how about this from the “libertarians” [LOL] at reason dot com:

Wow, it’s totally “weird timing” that a story of a girl being impregnated through rape being forced to leave the state to obtain an abortion only appeared after the Ohio statute banning most abortions with no rape or age exception went into force. The doctor is probably lying! Similarly, it was really weird timing that all these stories of alcohol being seized by state agents suddenly emerged after the passage of the Volstead Act.

Ultimately, this bullshit has the same roots as the equally baseless “Republicans are going social democratic now!” stories: a total refusal to accept that the American anti-abortion is what it is. The syllogism seems to be this:

  • Opponents of legal abortion are people of High Moral Principle (just ask them!)
  • The laws they want to enact, and now in many states have enecated, would lead to results any decent person would find unconscionable.
  • Therefore, opponents of legal abortion cannot actually mean what they say, or formally enact as legislation.

Repeat as necessary!

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