Do we have any Tom Lehrer fans in the audience? I couldn’t help but recall one of the satirists’ songs, “The Old Dope Peddler,” while reading Amanda Marcotte’s latest musings at Slate. The gag in the former is how Lehrer contrasts the titular drug dealer’s exploits with wholesome lyrics and friendly piano accompaniment, as if reminiscing about a Mayberry-esque community staple like the sheriff, mechanic, or barber.
Unfortunately, Marcotte meant for her ode to a far worse archetype, the old kid killer, to be taken seriously.
She’s promoting After Tiller, an upcoming hagiography about Warren Hern, Shelley Sella, LeRoy Carhart, and Susan Robinson, the last third-trimester abortionists left in the United States. Marcotte hopes the film will teach us the danger these brave heroes face and the nuanced truth behind why the law should let them hack babies up pretty much at any point during pregnancy:
Yes, there are a couple of cases of women around the 24 or 25 week mark who, because of rape or because they are teenagers from very religious families, put off abortion until they started to show, and to their credit, filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson didn’t flinch from that. However, most of the patients getting later term abortions in the film very much wanted to have their babies but, after getting a horrific diagnosis of serious fetal abnormalities, decided to terminate. Babies who would be born with organs on the outside, babies who would never be able to move, babies whose lives would be a few short days of unending pain before death: The almost-parents tell their stories haltingly, often weeping at how unfair it is to have to choose between two terrible options. The doctors struggle, too, often trying to parse which medical conditions are serious enough to justify abortions after 28 weeks.
As Dr. Shelley Sella of Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque, New Mexico, explains, these very late-term abortions really are much more like delivering a stillborn baby than performing an abortion. For the doctors and the patients, the experience is much more like having to take a dying family member off life support than it is a failsafe for when the contraception didn’t work.
Frankly, After Tiller sounds like the 21st century’s successor to Birth of a Nation.
Live Action’s Inhuman investigation revealed numerous less-than noble truths about the practices of Sella, Robinson, and Carhart, but perhaps Hern’s example most directly puts the lie to their cinematic sanitizing.
When John Richardson profiled Hern for Esquire in 2009, he learned what passed the butcher’s “struggle” test—and it made him uneasy:
But the abortionist’s long list of fetal abnormalities that have led women to his clinic ranges from anencephaly to dwarfism, and you know a few dwarfs. You like to think you’d be happy with a dwarf child.
A few lines later, Hern mentions aborting a Down Syndrome baby (a life not worth living? Hardly), and twice in the piece snaps at Richardson for referring to pregnant women as moms. A little defensive, maybe?
And then there’s the good doktor’s ethics. In 2010, he told Time:
It is the clear policy of the American anti-abortion movement to kill every doctor who does abortions. It is not a secret.
It’s shameless enough whenever pro-aborts call us indirectly responsible for anti-abortion violence just for describing how ugly abortion is, but to fabricate this “clear policy” out of whole cloth is a stunning indictment of how comfortable Hern is about lying for his own benefit.
Then again, those are the fantasies you have to erect when the following, in your own words, is what you do for a living:
I inserted my forceps into the uterus and applied them to the head of the fetus, which was still alive, since fetal injection is not done at that stage of pregnancy. I closed the forceps, crushing the skull of the fetus, and withdrew the forceps. The fetus, now dead, slid out more or less intact.
Does that sound heroic, Amanda?
Or does it sound exactly like what we’ve been calling it all along: cold-blooded murder?
Regardless of their religion or politics, well meaning and well adjusted people cannot help but be chilled by reading such an atrocity described so dispassionately, or sickened that society would allow, protect, even celebrate it. Talk of crushing babies’ skulls speaks for itself.
And sometimes, regrettably, some people can’t handle it and resort to violence. Not because shadowy forces are pulling their strings, but because they just can’t reconcile abortion’s barbarism with the rules and boundaries of a civilized society.
Of course anti-abortion killers and criminals should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and find no refuge in any corner of the pro-life movement. But it simply won’t do for these professional death dealers to play the victim without owning up to the incalculably greater volume of blood they themselves have shed.