Monday, August 29, 2005

NYT Hitches A Lift On The Anti-Choice Wagon

Following up on the recent JAMA report showing that fetuses don't have the neural wiring to feel pain before 30 weeks, there are apparently two journalistic paths to choose from.

Some, like that notorious pinko rag the Boston Globe, have chosen to highlight the fact that since publishing the article, Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the JAMA, has received dozens of 'horrible, vindictive' emails from anti-choice bigots. MedPage Today (free reg required) adds that the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine was similarly so harassed that the journal was forced to hire a bodyguard.

Not so the intrepid New York Fox-Newsified Times. Chez the Grey Lady, there's only one obvious aspect of interest in this story: 'Study Authors Didn't Report Abortion Ties'.

That is to say:
One author, Susan J. Lee, a medical student, is also a lawyer who for eight months from 1999 to 2000 worked in the legal department at Naral, an abortion rights group. Another author, Dr. Eleanor A. Drey, performs abortions and is medical director of an abortion clinic.

Neither tried to conceal those activities from reporters before the journal article was published.
[...]
In interviews yesterday, Dr. Drey and Ms. Lee said they did not regard their work as a conflict of interest and so it had not occurred to them to report it to the journal editors.
Now, the fact of the NYT focusing on this particular issue (alone among the major papers; the WaPo makes no mention of it, instead printing this obviously on-our-side look at how much progress anti-choice legislation has made this year), and the gotcha! tone in which they've done so (the LA Times at least presents the issue as a debate with two active sides), are telling enough as to where the NYT is positioning itself these days on abortion rights.

But let's think about the basic premise of the charge. Dr. Eleanor Drey is being accused of unethical behavior, of an unreported conflict of interest, on the basis that she is the director of an abortion clinic and performs abortions. I.e., she conducted a scientific review of medical studies in the field in which she works and is qualified. How, pray, is that a conflict of interest? If a neurosurgeon, who is the head of a neurology clinic and performs brain surgery, publishes a peer-reviewed study of some aspect of brain activity relating to her surgical specialty, would anyone dream of calling that a 'conflict of interest'? Or would they consider it not merely acceptable but optimally desirable that a physician publish research in the field in which she is experienced and qualified?

What would the alternative be? Should gastroenterologists be meta-analysing fetal neurodevelopment studies? Or perhaps lay readers? People with no knowledge or experience of abortion or fetal development at all? Would that be sufficiently unconflicty?

We already know that the forces opposing women's reproductive choice are anti-science, indeed anti-reason. That's old news. In fact the report in question is expressly intended to function as a scientific, empirically-based corrective to the the utterly evidence-free, medically unsupported assertions of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act.

The fact that the New York Times is jumping on the anti-rationalist bandwagon, and with such gleeful enthusiasm, is newer, and more depressing. The Democrat-led liberal establishment is abandoning women's rights with ever-greater alacrity. We have no one to count on but ourselves. Time for a new movement.

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