If there’s one thing that makes me more angry than politicians endorsing stupid policies, it’s journalists writing biased and fact-distorting “news” stories. Frankly I usually don’t expect any better from politicians. But I do expect better from journalists, who are supposed to be the defenders of truth, justice, and America’s constitutional republic.
John Frank’s recent article in the Denver Post, “Bob Beauprez’s IUD Remark in Debate Generates Controversy,” represents the worst kind of biased (and frankly partisan) “reporting.”
By way of background, it is no secret that I advocate a woman’s right to get an abortion and that I strongly oppose the so-called “personhood” ballot measure. Indeed, I’ve spent many hours researching and writing about the “personhood” efforts over the years (see the paper I coauthored with Diana Hsieh). In 2006, the last time Beauprez ran for governor, I endorsed Democrat Bill Ritter over Beauprez, largely over “Beauprez’s religious stand against abortion.” This year, I have (tentatively) endorsed Beauprez over incumbent John Hickenlooper, partly because Beauprez has substantially run away from his efforts to outlaw abortion, and largely because I’m sick of Hickenlooper’s antics.
But whatever my personal positions, and whatever Frank’s personal position may be, intellectually honest people can at least be open and candid about the facts. On that score Frank has failed, miserably.
Frank correctly notes that, in a recent debate, “Beauprez suggested that intrauterine devices, known as IUDs, cause abortion.” Specifically, he said, “IUD is an abortifacient.”
Then Frank writes,
Beauprez drew a rebuke from experts in the medical community who called his assertion false. . . . The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and 10 other physician organizations, as well as the Federal Drug Administration, define IUDs as contraceptives that prevent a pregnancy. . . . Dr. Daniel Grossman, an ob/gyn who does reproductive research and who practices in San Francisco, said the definition of a pregnancy as the implantation of a fertilized egg is an established scientific standard. He said IUDs are not abortifacient.
But the relevant debate is not whether an IUD can kill a zygote once it has implanted in the uterus; rather, it is whether an IUD can kill a zygote before it implants in the uterus—and for Frank to ignore that issue is journalistic incompetence (or else intentional fraud). Basically, Frank is trying to trip up Beauprez on a definition, rather than address the substantive underlying issues.
So what are the facts? In 2012, Pam Belluck wrote for the New York Times:
By contrast [to hormonal birth control pills], scientists say, research suggests that the only other officially approved form of emergency contraception, the copper intrauterine device (also a daily birth control method), can work to prevent pregnancy after an egg has been fertilized.
A web site for Paragard, a brand of copper IUD, states, “The copper in Paragard . . . interferes with sperm movement and egg fertilization. Paragard may prevent implantation.” Implantation of what, you may ask? Obviously, of a zygote. And what happens if a zygote does not implant in the uterus? It dies. The FDA-approved prescription information for Paragard states, “Mechanism(s) by which copper enhances contraceptive efficacy include interference with sperm transport and fertilization of an egg, and possibly prevention of implantation.”
In other words, the copper IUD can work by preventing fertilization, and it can work by preventing the implantation of a (fertilized) zygote. If it works by the first means, it is a “contraceptive,” meaning that it prevents conception. But if it works by the second means, calling it a “contraceptive” is misleading, which is why the so-called “pro-life” crowd calls it “abortifacient.” But, by the definition of Frank’s “experts,” it’s not an abortion if it kills a zygote before it implants in the uterus. Well, they can define it that way if they want, but the definition used does not alter the underlying facts.
Let’s use another example to illustrate the point. I could define a “journalist” as a writer of news stories who gets his facts straight and who does not omit relevant facts. By that definition, John Frank is not a “journalist” (“hack” might be a better descriptive, at least in this case). But another common meaning of “journalist” is simply anyone who gets paid to write for a news organization. By that definition, Frank is a “journalist.” But real journalists (in the first sense of the term) do not play “gotcha” games with definitions as a way to obscure the relevant issues.
I believe the editors of the Denver Post do have integrity and do try to publish good, factually complete stories, so I call on them to issue a correction to Frank’s story.
Of course, as a matter of policy, it should matter not at all whether an IUD can act to prevent the implantation of a zygote. Women have a moral right to use the birth control methods of their choice and to seek an abortion if they wish to do so. A zygote is not a “person” and does not have rights. Frank does helpfully report that Beauprez said “in an interview after the debate” that “the use of IUDs [is] a ‘personal choice.'” Indeed it is—and it should continue to be.