Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
This week, questions about the survival of Roe v. Wade, and whether the landmark ruling constituted a so-called “super-precedent,” punctuated Democrats’ grueling interrogation of Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yesterday, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, recalled the tragic consequences of back-alley abortions in pre-Roe America, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, weighed in. But his fellow Democrats were not prepared for what followed.
During rambling remarks that were supposed to highlight his deep experience with the dark days of illegal abortion, Leahy told a strange story of a botched abortion performed by a doctor trained by the Nazis at Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp that extinguished the lives of Jews and others targeted by Hitler.
"She was trained to do these abortions working for the SS at Auschwitz so she could abort the women prisoners that they had impregnated so that they could keep on using the women that way before they put them in the gas chambers," Leahy said.
Instead of keeping to the approved talking points about the danger of returning to an era of illegal abortions, Leahy violated two cardinal rules of abortion rights advocacy:
Rule #1: “Ignore or downplay stories that raise questions about the professional qualifications or moral fiber of abortionists.”
Such stories will stir concerns about the need for tighter regulation of a practice that draws shady and even dangerous characters, like Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist convicted of murdering infants born alive in his clinic.
As Leahy’s account details, “the practice of abortion has a long and violent history of exploiting women, and continues to do so for profit under the legal protection of Roe v. Wade," said Jeanne Mancini, president of the annual March for Life, in a statement.
Truth be told, abortionists are often presented as heroic figures in liberal mainstream media. News stories that challenge that narrative are often ignored or even suppressed.
Those who challenge this judgment need only examine the weak media coverage of the Gosnell trial.
Back in 2013, when the trial was going on, Mollie Hemingway, then of GetReligion, noticed a disturbing pattern. While health reporters at major news outlets had published a slew of stories about an internal fight over abortion at the Susan B. Komen Foundation, some reporters hadn’t bothered to write one single story about the Gosnell trial. See Hemingway’s report here.
Rule #2: “You can talk about the dark days of pre-Roe America, or you can talk about the horrors of Hitler’s gas chambers, but you can’t talk about both subjects at the same time.”
The reason for this rule of thumb is simple: moral arguments long employed to justify the killing of unborn children with birth defects (and then others whose arrival created a range of financial and logistical problems) were first articulated by German physicians who sought to identity certain groups of people who did not deserve to live. “Life unworthy of life” was the term these experts used, and they advanced this novel argument well before Jews were shipped to Auschwitz.
“The Nazis justified direct medical killing by use of the simple concept of ‘life unworthy of life’ — lebensunwertes Leben. While this concept predated the Nazis, it was carried to its ultimate racial and ‘therapeutic’ extreme by them,” explained Robert Jay Lifton, a Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, in a column for the New York Times opinion page published back in the 1980s.
“Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the destruction of ‘life unworthy of life,’ coercive sterilization was the first. There followed the killing of ‘impaired’ children in hospitals, and then the killing of ‘impaired’ adults — mostly collected from mental hospitals — in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide. The same killing centers were then used for the murders of ‘impaired’ inmates of concentration camps. The final step was mass killing, mostly of Jews, in the extermination camps themselves.”
Sen. Leahy surely did not intend to establish any connection between the Nazi physicians who trained the abortionist at Auschwitz and America’s regime of an unrestricted abortion license, but he did so.
Pro-life activists and their allies in the media wasted no time in bringing his remarks to the public’s attention. But most of the mainstream media have yet to publish their take. If the past is any guide, I bet they won’t have one single thing to say.
When it comes to a story about abortion and the Nazis gas chambers, the less said the better.