Monday, June 4, 2012

Twisting Facts to Suit Theories

Thank you, Holmes.
It's very easy to form an opinion based on emotion or partial facts, and then cling to that opinion and filter further information accordingly (see "confirmation bias").  

I would like the pro-life movement as a whole, and Secular Pro-Life particularly, to transcend this problem. I want ours to be an environment of truth and clarity.  I am pro-life because of my understanding of the facts; we don't need to distort facts to make the pro-life case.  For example:
Stating physical observations objectively is relatively simple, but many situations necessitate more interpretation. Live Action's recent "Sex-selection in America" videos are a good example of this. (See the edited videos here and here.  See the full versions here (skip to 34:00) and here (skip to 36:18).)

These videos provide an interesting collection of facts:
  • Planned Parenthood employees provided information to help women obtain prenatal testing to determine the gender of their fetuses.  
  • When the women explained they would choose abortion if their fetuses were female, the PP employees did not protest, and were willing to schedule the women for abortions.  
  • In the first video (full version, 50:07) the woman expresses relief at not being judged for terminating a pregnancy based on gender.  The PP employee, Rebecca, replies, "Oh no! I'm just trying to help you as much as possible."  
  • In the second video (full version, 51:30), the woman expresses concern about whether clinic workers will judge her for repeated abortions of female fetuses.  The PP employee, Randi, explains, "I can tell you that here at Planned Parenthood we believe that it is not up to us to decide what is a good or bad reason for somebody to decide to terminate a pregnancy."
These facts alone are enough to demonstrate PP's willingness to provide sex-selective abortions. As The Huffington Post reports
This spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America also told The Huffington Post that the organization condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender, but its policy is to provide “high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into” its health centers. That means that no Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in those states that explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortions (Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois).
How, exactly, PP "opposes sex selection abortion" is unclear; it is clear that PP doesn't oppose them enough to refuse to perform them.

However, there is a distinction between being willing to provide a gender-based abortion, and encouraging sex-selection.  This is where I think Live Action goes astray.

After watching the full versions of both videos, I found that the first edited video, filmed in Texas, is fairly representative of the full-length version.  PP employee Rebecca:
  1. Does not discuss all of the woman's options (such as adoption);
  2. Claims that 23 weeks gestation is "a little over five months--a little" (36:21);
  3. Recommends that, should the woman abort, she tell her friends she's had a miscarriage to avoid judgment (50:26); and
  4. Reassures the woman that, even if her friends judge her, she will still have her husband and they should "just continue and try again" to have a boy (51:20).  
Rebecca's overall conduct is friendly, to be sure, but it seems something about her behavior failed to meet PP's standards for patient care, because, according to the PP spokeswoman,
Within three days of this patient interaction, the staff member’s employment was ended and all staff members at this affiliate were immediately scheduled for retraining in managing unusual patient encounters.
Both Live Action's edited and full-length videos left me with the same sense of Rebecca's cheerful acceptance of gender-based abortion. I cannot say the same for Live Action's second video, filmed in New York.

The edited version of PP employee Randi again suggests a cheerful acceptance of gender-based abortion.  However, after watching the full-length version of the same video, I couldn't help but take away a far more carefully neutral position.  Unlike Rebecca, Randi does not laughingly relate to the woman's desire for a specific gender.  In fact, Randi:
  1. Clarifies whether abortion is the only option the woman is considering: "Have you definitely decided that you'd like to terminate your pregnancy?" (38:38);
  2. Shows an openness to the woman continuing her pregnancy: "If you're looking for somebody for prenatal care I can recommend someone" (43:31), "If it was a pregnancy you were interested in continuing it would be a lot more convenient for you to be seeing someone closer to your home" (45:55);
  3. Refrains from promising non-judgmental behavior from OB/GYNs (48:17) and even from PP's other clinic workers over gender-based abortions (51:30); and
  4. Asks "Is adoption something you were considering?" (54:05)
Ultimately Randi, like Rebecca, shows a willingness to provide a gender-based abortion, actually scheduling the abortion during the same meeting (1:01:20).  In the end, the central point--that Planned Parenthood is willing to perform gender-based abortions--is true.  However, supplemental implications--that PP encourages this practice, or places any less value on female fetuses compared to males--are not so clear from the evidence.

The central point is sufficiently disgusting; I see no benefit to us manipulating information to try to claim the supplemental implications.  Indeed, I see serious drawbacks: we give our opposition the opportunity to focus on the inaccuracy of our excessive suggestions, while avoiding the accuracy of our central point. Why give them that out?

The pro-life movement has nothing to lose by ensuring an accurate portrayal of the information we uncover, and we have plenty to lose by distortion.  If we value our agenda over our analysis, we lose our focus, and we lose our credibility.

35 comments: said...

I agree with your assessment here. I hope that Live Action remembers to act with integrity. You're right , we have too much to lose by twisting facts.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points! Inaccuracy discredits, and false accusations discredit even more. This brings us back to your first point: "It's very easy to form an opinion based on emotion or partial facts, and then cling to that opinion and filter further information accordingly (see 'confirmation bias')". If pro-abortion/pro-choice individuals learn that pro-life individuals or organizations make false or misleading accusations, they can then cling to the opinion that pro-life individuals have an agenda rather than facts, disabling their ability to see actual pro-life facts & reason.

M said...

Exactly. I've definitely run into that problem before when debating abortion. It's irritating when pro-choice people assume things about my arguments without hearing them out, but it's at least as irritating when fellow pro-lifers give them reasons to assume.

Jameson Graber said...

I've had similar complaints about other pro-life activist organizations. I once asked to provide links to their sources, so we could see first hand what they were referring to. I got an e-mail back saying, in effect, "we don't want to promote web traffic to those awful places."

I suppose it's just the nature of the beast: movements require a lot of work from hardened activists, who may start distorting the facts because of how deeply invested they are. But that's not an excuse. It just means the rest of us have to try harder to keep some sort of balance.

Jill Stanek said...

Speaking as a Live Action board member, I find this post not only unhelpful to the pro-life but also inaccurate.

Just because the PP employee in the second video more fully explored the actor's decision to abort as well as the adoption option does not make the fact she encouraged a sex-selective abortion any less true.

Offering to explain various tests available to determine the baby's gender was an encouragement.

Offering a list of ob/gyns to more quickly assess the baby's gender was an encouragement.

Analogy: I claim not to be a Nazi sympathizer but will grudgingly take money to kill Jews, even though I say I don't like it. That makes me a facilitator. Bizarre enough, but if I go further and offer unsolicited advice to Nazis on how to find Jews - and quickly - am I not encouraging their deaths?

There are a few definitions of "encourage." Two I think fit here: "To give support to, foster. To stimulate; spur."

This post only gives the other side ammo. Any concerns should have been brought to Live Action privately.

Evelyn Fennelly said...

Jill,nobody here is denying that PP are aiding women in accessing sex-selective abortions as well as providing them.

They are. And that is ugly enough; the second video didn't need to be edited so as to leave out some important segments. It's not good for transparency and weakens the position.

I think this post raises a very valid point, not just for Live Action but for all of us involved in the pro-life movement at whatever level.

The pro-life position is strong from scientific, ethical, medical and logical perspectives. We have all this on our side: distorting facts is not necessary, and only serves to weaken our position.

None of us should ever get so entrenched that we are not able to consider valid criticism. Let's re-affirm the importance of integrity in pro-life activism, and let our future actions reflect this value.

M said...

“Offering to explain various tests available to determine the baby's gender was an encouragement. Offering a list of ob/gyns to more quickly assess the baby's gender was an encouragement.”

Not necessarily. You could just as easily offer to assess the baby’s gender in the hopes that the baby is a boy and abortion is unwanted.

Indeed, if PP is about abortions over all else, why would Rebecca hope that the baby is a boy (therefore making the abortion unwanted)? Why would Randi make a point of saying she is unfamiliar with the “Intelligender” test and doesn’t know if it’s accurate (thereby casting doubt on whether the abortion will be necessary)? Why would Randi bring up adoption at all? None of that encourages a sex-selective abortion. They are willing to provide such an abortion, yes—-but that doesn’t mean they’re encouraging it.

“I go further and offer unsolicited advice to Nazis on how to find Jews - and quickly - am I not encouraging their deaths?”

The advice about how to obtain an accurate gender test was not unsolicited. Both women ask the PP employees how soon they can determine gender accurately, and how to do it. The employees don’t bring it up on their own.

"This post only gives the other side ammo. Any concerns should have been brought to Live Action privately."

I spoke with other pro-lifers who found the Live Action videos problematic for similar reasons. I want the pro-life movement to be able to have open dialogue about our thoughts, methods, and effectiveness. We can’t do that if any disagreement with fellow pro-lifers must be done privately. I don’t think you should expect me to privately contact Live Action to explain why I disagree with some parts of their methods, anymore than I expect you to contact Secular Pro-Life privately to explain why you disagree with my blog post.

Kate said...

Wow, it only took 5 comments to Godwin! Impressive!

M, well said and spot on. This isn't just an issue with abortion. The entire medical community is dealing with the difference between Evidence Based Practice and Doing What Seems Right/Easy/Affordable. The reason mistakes have been made in many areas of medicine is because practitioners decide something is right, and then find and tweak "evidence" to make it fit their idea - rather than asking a question, and seeking research-based, unbiased evidence to provide an answer.

While something like this might get a fringe group of people all riled up, it will fizzle quickly, wrought with accusations of manipulation, careful editing, and extreme bias.

With this issue, as with any other issue, fads and trends and sensationalism will always exist, but usually only excite the "choir". The majority of educated, thoughtful people make their minds up about such things through facts and unbiased research/literature. That "journey" usually takes a lot longer, but there's obviously a good reason for that.

Jill Stanek said...

Evelyn, It is not up to Live Action to do Planned Parenthood's PR work for them. LA's goal was to expose PP as a facilitator and profiteer of sex-selection abortions. LA did not edit the video to misrepresent PP, such as Breitbart did with the Sherrod video. LA simply edited the video to include relevant information.

And of course I am capable of considering valid criticism. I APPRECIATE valid criticism. And I have written public criticisms of pro-life efforts and pro-lifers in the past, although I am much more selective these days.

But this criticism was not valid, IMO. And writing a public post like this before contacting LA only hurts our and their efforts.

M, you play devil's advocate from PP's vantage point, which I am not want to do. Watch the video again. The counselor offered unsolicited information on gender testing. And again, so what if she offered the adoption option? You're missing the point.

And writing a public opinion invites a public response.

JoAnna said...

"While falling afoul of Godwin's law tends to cause the individual making the comparison to lose their argument or credibility, Godwin's law itself can be abused as a distraction, diversion or even as censorship, fallaciously miscasting an opponent's argument as hyperbole when the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate." -

A Duck said...

"The counselor offered unsolicited information on gender testing."

At what timestamp?

Kate said...

"But this criticism was not valid, IMO. And writing a public post like this before contacting LA only hurts our and their efforts."

"a public opinion invites a public response"

Sooo...was Live Actions' use of this video "expose" not a "public opinion".... inviting a "public response"?

Pantheroom said...

JoAnna, it's not an appropriate comparison when one is implying that PP selectively exterminates females as Nazi's exterminated Jews. PP exterminates regardless of gender. It's like accusing Nazi's of sex-selective genocide. It's an inaccurate depiction.

Anonymous said...


JoAnna said...

Perhaps I misunderstood, but I read the analogy as having to do with enabling negative acts in general, not sex-selective abortion in particular.

Pantheroom said...

"Analogy: I claim not to be a Nazi sympathizer but will grudgingly take money to kill Jews, even though I say I don't like it. That makes me a facilitator."

This is right after she stated that any act that facilitates sex-selective abortion is "encouraging" sex-selective abortion. It seems her entire post was about PP and their encouragement of sex-selective abortion specifically, not negative acts in general.

Jill Stanek said...

Beginning at 41:00.

LifeChoices said...

Thank you, M, for fostering open dialogue and being unafraid to criticize pro-life media when it distorts. I may never cite your site as a final source on any particular point, but your integrity on this issue means that I am far less concerned about using your site as a starting point for research. This is, of course, in stark contrast to how I feel about many pro-life websites, which twist the facts so readily that I often assume automatically that the truth is the opposite of whatever they're saying.


M said...

That means a lot to me, thank you.

I wouldn't expect anyone to use a blog as a cite, but I do try to make sure the links I include are

M said...

I'm not trying to interpret the evidence in PP's favor or in the favor of a particular pro-life view. I'm just trying to interpret it objectively. That's my main point.

I am perfectly fine with--indeed expect--public responses to a public blog post. I don't expect anything different, nor do I provide anything different. I think public debate is healthy.

I'm not sure which video you're referring to when you say 41:00, but in the NY video, the PP worker has said nothing about offering gender tests and has only expressed her uncertainty at the accuracy of the gender test the actress claims to have taken. At 40:46 the actress asks when an ultrasound will tell her gender--the actress brings it up.

Similarly, in the Austin video, the PP employee has offered no information about gender tests until the actress asks (35:25) "If I waited to check the gender would the termination then be more dangerous to me or anything like that?" Again, the actress brings up checking gender first, and the PP employee responds.

None of this is to say what PP does is justified. My blog post already talks about how Live Action did more than enough to show PP is willing to provide gender-based abortions, and that is disgusting. However, I just can't see how you can interpret these recordings as evidence that PP encourages such, and I can't see how you can interpret this as PP giving "unsolicited" information.

Ursula said...

Hmmm, it seems to me that this post is much ado about nothing. Live Action do an amazing job and have taken the lead in exposing Planned Parenthood in a way that has captured public attention like no-one before. A touch of jealously might be the motiavtion here I suspect. If author has genuine concerns why not approach Live Action rather than writing this meandering post which relies on one (subjective) judgment to make a sweeping charge.

Unknown said...

fiddling while rome burns...

M said...

Which part do you consider the subjective judgment? Which part the sweeping charge?

I agree that Live Action does impressive work. PP can claim to have done nothing wrong, but it's not very convincing when they repeatedly fire employees as a result of Live Action's videos.

I would like to see Live Action's influence go even further, and I think that will be more easily done when "on the fence" people feel they can trust Live Action more. I know many ardent pro-lifers who will quickly repost Live Action videos, but I also know many people "in the middle" who are highly skeptical of the investigations. Indeed, I am ardently pro-life and I still feel I need to watch the full footage before I can be confident of the edited version, and that's a shame. For all the effort that must go into creating these investigations, I would like what Live Action uncovers to reach as far as possible.

Ursula said...

You said: "I see no benefit to us manipulating information to try to claim the supplemental implications" - a pretty sweeping charge against Live Action, actually a pretty outrageous one now that I read it again. And the basis for your charge is a subjective opinion, I find their edited video to be an accurate representation.

Sorry, but this looks like sour grapes to me. Live Action have both the courage and the smarts to make short, watchable videos regarding a hugely important issue that people actually watch and share, and they've caused a potential funding crisis for Planned Parenthood. can I ask what similar impact you have made apart from writing an anonymous blog?

JoAnna said...

See, I read it as this: "If X people do Y to help someone perform negative act Z, then X is facilitating Z," where X can be Nazis or Planned Parenthood, Y can be taking money or discussing options for abortion, and Z is killing Jews or aborting a fetus due to its gender.

M said...

I haven't made nearly the impact Live Action has, I'm sure. But how much impact I've had on the abortion debate doesn't enhance or lessen the accuracy of my points. See "ad hominem."

From what I understand, the only evidence you have of my personal feelings toward Live Action are what you've been able to read from my blog post and subsequent comments. That would include both my criticisms and compliments to Live Action.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems you are only focusing on the criticism part, and omitting factors that would contradict your jealousy/sour grapes theory. Have we come full circle on "confirmation bias"?

Leaving out every statement Randi made that would cast doubt on the pro-gendercide narrative does seem manipulative, although you're right: that's a subjective opinion. I suppose instead of manipulation it could have just been accidental, but either way it changes the tone of the edited video enough that it gives people pause. Seems unnecessary to me.

Jill Stanek said...

Anonymous M: beginning at 41:00 on the NY video, the PP counselor offers without being asked (i.e., unsolicited) information on various other types of gender testing aside from ultrasound about which the woman was previously unaware.

Anonymous M, your post, beginning with the slanderous title and graphic, makes false charges against an organization that has done and continues to do more to bring down America's abortion giant than any other organization - ever.

For some inexplicable and indefensible reason you have decided to nitpick this organization's work with a groundless, foolish charge. Perhaps it feels cool to have the power to facelessly attack Lila Rose, I don't know.

But if you're going to blog on "Twisting Facts to Suit Theories," there are a million ways the abortion industry actually, really, positively does that on a minute-by-minute basis.

There are only so many hours in the day, so much energy. I would suggest expending yours against the real enemy.

JoAnna said...

Jill, it's not a groundless, foolish charge. I'm a big supporter of your work, but I think you're off base here. M is trying to make the pro-life case STRONGER, and selective editing of videos doesn't accomplish that. It only gives pro-aborts more fodder to use in their claim that all pro-lifers are deceitful, etc.

M said...

Thanks, JoAnna.

Jill, obviously we disagree on a number of counts, which is fine.

I think Live Action does good work, and I'd like to see it get even better. The more people trust Live Action, the further Live Action's reach goes. The more accurate Live Action is, the less red herrings opponents have to hurl back.

Of course this doesn't just apply to Live Action--it applies to anyone, really. I will try to always advocate for accuracy. It's unfortunate that you see that as indefensible, but hopefully (and apparently) other readers have found it a point worth making.

A Duck said...

"beginning at 41:00 on the NY video, the PP counselor offers without being asked (i.e., unsolicited) information on various other types of gender testing aside from ultrasound about which the woman was previously unaware."

k, I get where you're coming from here. The actress says "ultrasound" and the PP worker answers beyond the constraints of the condition "ultrasound".

Transcription from the video:

Actress: Do you – you do abortions up to how long?
PP Worker: 24 weeks.
Actress: 24?
PP Worker: Uhuh
Actress: Do you know at what stage, generally, they tell on an ultrasound? - [40:44]
PP Worker: What – at what point in the pregnancy you can tell the sex? - [40:48]
Actress: Exactly. - [40:52]
Actress: You know, it depends on what type of prenatal testing you’re doing. So if you were to have what’s called a CVS test. Which is – do you know what that is?
Actress: No.
PP Worker: So a CVS and an amniocentesis are two very similar tests...[continues with explanation]

If I ask someone "do you have the time?" and they just answer "yes, I have the time," they are being willfully ignorant. It's obvious that I want to know what time it is, but instead of just answering my question they're taking my words literally.

If this conversation is interpreted in the context of the Actress's question, it's obvious what she means to ask is how early you can determine the pregnancy of the fetus, not how ultrasounds work. This is the type of willful misinterpretation M is referring to that discredits an accusation that was formerly solid. Pro-choicers can poke holes in the logically flawed part of your accusation (as I have just done) and ignore the logically sound part.

JoAnna said...

A Duck - I think you mean "how early you can determine the sex of the fetus," not "pregnancy of the fetus." (Not trying to nitpick, just pointing it out for clarification.)

A Duck said...

That, or I plan everything way in advance.

Yes, I meant sex. Ty for clarifying that.

A Duck said...

It seems that the common misconception here is that the post was an attack on Live Action. Seems to be that the whole point was to hone the arguments of the pro life movement to be more bulletproof. What better way to leverage a more refined, bulletproof argument than with the most influential pro-life activists (as Ursula has made abundantly clear).

Toby Keith got me pregnant and then said it wasn't his said...

If the pro-life movement wants to have credibility, it can do it by NOT acting like James O'Keefe.

156 said...

I researched the six weeks claim and concluded that it was not well grounded in evidence. I even e-mailed Dr. Jack Willke about it and he later changed some of his materials.