Tuesday, December 13, 2005

No Adequate Viewer Notification from Hyman

I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but the latest “Point” reminds us yet again that Mark Hyman’s main shortcoming is not the specific positions he advocates (as wrongheaded as they usually are) but the fundamentally dishonest way he argues them.

In his latest editorial, Hyman complains that Planned Parenthood of New England is trying to have a New Hampshire law struck down that requires parents be notified before a minor has an abortion. Hyman says,

The abortion-on-demand crowd believes that a 13-year old girl - who can't watch
"R"-rated movies without an adult - should be able to quietly get an abortion
without ever notifying mom or dad.

Hyman suggests that the complaints about the unconstitutionality of the New Hampshire are based on claims that anyone of any age should be able to get an abortion when they want and that this law prevents that. The problem is that this characterization has nothing to do with the facts of the case (Ayotte v Planned Parenthood of Northern New England).

The challenge to the constitutionality of the New Hampshire law
is based solely on issues of health of the mother. The challengers of the law point out that the language of the law does not adequately provide for emergency situations in which a doctor must make a judgment call about the health of the mother. The law (so the challengers argue) would have the effect of intimidating doctors into tending to choose not to perform abortions in borderline cases when consent wasn’t immediately available.

Some might argue that Planned Parenthood and fellow opponents of the law are simply finding a convenient way of opposing a law they have more general objections to. Could be. I don’t know. The only thing that can be said for sure is on what legal grounds the challenge has been made, and those grounds are confined solely to issues involving the rights of the mother to have a doctor make decisions based solely on their professional opinion, not fear of legal retribution.

Moreover, although Hyman implies that this is a case of Planned Parenthood complaining about a law they don’t like, the fact is that two courts, the District Court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals (the only courts who have ruled on the law), have found the law unconstitutional. It is the state attorney general of New Hampshire who has appealed this case to the Supreme Court (over the objections of the state’s current governor). Whatever one’s position on the issue, it’s difficult to suggest the complaints about the law are unreasonable or, to use Hyman’s term, “absurd” given the rulings by the lower courts.

Parental notification in and of itself is not a bad idea. True, there are horror stories of fundamentalist parents taking vengeance on their daughters for their “sins.” On the other hand, there’s little evidence that such stories are common, and it’s difficult to argue that while a parent must be informed about nearly every aspect of a child’s treatment by social institutions (schools, the legal system, etc.) that parents have no right whatsoever to know if their child undergoing a surgical procedure like abortion.

A well-written law that makes adequate room for exceptions to parental notification in cases where the health or life of the mother is in danger (either because of a medical condition or because of a reasonable suspicion of abuse at the hands of the parents) would likely be constitutional and address the reasonable concerns of all. At least, there are reasonable and sound arguments to be made on both sides of the issue.

But when it comes to important and subtle issues such as this, it’s more important than ever that both sides make their arguments in good faith. That’s not what we get from Hyman, who deliberately misleads his audience about the nature and context of the objections to the law in order to score points in the realm of public opinion rather than making an ethically sound case based on its merits.

In so doing, Hyman does violence both to the public sphere and to the truth.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.24


At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Before you moved to greener pastures, you were involved in a media-reform group.

Do you have any feel, from your various contacts, how the overall media reform movement is going?

Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel? Will Joe Citizens ever get their country back?

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Ted Remington said...


That's a good and big question. All I can give you is my hunch, and that hunch is that things will get better, but only after they get worse.

In the short term, media consolidation and regulations that allow and encourage it are realities. I don't anticipate any watershed moment where things get turned around in the near future.

Long term, I'm a bit more optimistic. For one, media reform (at least in terms of ownership restrictions) is something both liberals and conservatives are for (at least those conservatives interested in issues beyond corporate welfare). Michael Powell & Co. found that out when they were deluged by complaints over deregulation a couple of years ago. No one is "for" big media (except those who directly profit from it). If we can forge alliances with groups from across the political spectrum who agree on this particular issue, we've got a shot.

The other thing is that the number of those directly involved in media reform are growing. In just the last 2-3 years, large numbers of groups have gotten directly involved. I had the pleasure of being in St. Louis last May for the national conference on media reform, and it was inspiring to see what a huge number (and wide variety) of people are working on the issue from every conceivable angle. This wasn't true even just a few years ago.

So, in the the long run, I am hopeful that we'll have a more democratic media. It will be the result of a large number of changes and innovations rather than one big sweeping action, but I think it will come.


At 10:39 AM, Anonymous normfromga said...

A well-written law that makes adequate room for exceptions to parental notification in cases where the health or life of the mother is in danger (either because of a medical condition or because of a reasonable suspicion of abuse at the hands of the parents) would likely be constitutional and address the reasonable concerns of all.

I am sure NH has several laws addressing these situations:

If a doctor sees that the girl is in immediate danger, such as due to uncontrollable hemorrhaging, I am sure that s/he can take whatever measures are necessary without notification. That is because most states have “good Samaritan” saws to protect the physicians in such cases.

Similarly, if a physician has reason to suspect physical abuse by parents, s/he could probably loose his license in most states if s/he did not report it to the proper authorities. Once the charges are confirmed, the courts would undoubtedly allow the girl to terminate the pregnancy if it was due to rape or incest.

In short, the solution you offer seem to be just more red herrings added to the controversy.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...


I'm not offering solutions. My point was that Hyman misrepresented the grounds on which the case was being appealed and who was doing the appealing.

Two courts have found that the NH law places undo restrictions on doctors and patients. I simply said that, as someone who actually finds parental notification not only acceptable but ethical (and here I realize I may be parting ways with some of my more liberal readers), there is probably a way of writing a law that can pass Constitutional muster while still meeting the goal of allowing parents to know if their child is undergoing the procedure.

This is, of course, predicated on the assumption that both sides are arguing the case in good faith, and not looking at it as a way of shoring up or chipping away at the larger issue of abortion (rather than focusing on the specific issue of parental notification). I am not prepared to grant that assumption for any of the parties involved. In any case, the point about Hyman's mischaracterization of the legal issues involved stands.


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