Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New York Times article on John Willke’s death intentionally misleads readers

The New York Times article by Kenneth Rose on the death of John Willke, one of the founders of the prolife movement in America, beings with this paragraph:

Dr. John C. Willke, an obstetrician who helped establish the modern anti-abortion movement — and whose idea that rape victims could resist conception was widely challenged — died on Friday at his home in Cincinnati. He was 89.

The claim that Willke believed "rape victims could resist conception" is a focal point of the article.  Later Rosen writes:

In 1971, the couple wrote “Handbook on Abortion,” which sold an estimated 1.5 million copies and became a touchstone for the anti-abortion movement. The book asserted that pregnancies from rape could be avoided “for all practical purposes.” They later expanded on that notion after a report in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that rape victims typically experience a level of shock that prevents their bodies from functioning normally.

Your average reader would seemingly come away from that paragraph believing John Willke believed that the bodies of women could "for all practical purposes" prevent pregnancy after rape because of shock. But what's the context of the “for all practical purposes” remark?  

Rosen appears to have gotten that information (also note the repeated use of the term “touchstone”) from an AP article from 2012.  That article notes: 

The book became an instant touchstone for the anti-abortion movement, selling 1.5 million copies at the height of the sexual revolution.

The authors asserted that a douche, vaginal scraping and medications administered quickly after a rape "invariably" prevents pregnancy. "If the rape victim would report her assault properly, there would be, for all practical purposes, no pregnancies from rape," the couple wrote.    

It's clear that the “for all practical purposes” remark has absolutely nothing to do with the woman’s body preventing pregnancy because of shock but rather methods taken by physicians or the woman to prevent fertilization. 

Rosen knows this yet intentionally leads readers to believe otherwise.  When I tweeted to him asking why there is no context to these remarks, I did not receive a reply. 

While the New York Times may not agree with Dr. Willke's work in the prolife movement, they should have the decency to not intentionally misrepresent him in an article about his life and death. 

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