Read the coverage of the case of Troy Newman, the anti-abortion activist who has been denied a visa to speak at a Right to Life event in Melbourne, and you might think the only newsworthy thing he has done is to call for the death penalty for abortion providers in his book Their Blood Cries Out, published in 2000.
But the American media has been full of the news of Newman’s more recent activity. He is one of three anti-abortion activists behind a series of underground videos that raised a massive controversy over the harvesting of foetal tissue by the US-based Planned Parenthood healthcare group.
In American politics, the Republican right is threatening to close down the US Government by refusing to pass a “continuing resolution,” which ordinarily enables them to keep funding government. They say that they will only pass the resolution if the government agrees to defund Planned Parenthood.
The 17 hours of video released by the Center for Medical Progress, a fake medical research group set up by Newman and two other activists raised a storm of controversy in the US. One video shows Planned Parenthood staff discussing how to abort a child in a way that will preserve the sort of tissue Planned Parenthood’s clients in medical research are seeking.
Other videos show Planned Parenthood staff debating the money the foetal tissue is to be sold for. While anti-abortion campaigners say such videos show that Planned Parenthood sells foetal tissue to make a profit, Planned Parenthood says negotiating the price is not about profit but rather cost recovery for medical research, and that the unedited video makes that point clear.
Regardless of the rights of that particular debate, the videos have made the sights and sounds of abortion visible to the public in a much more prominent way.
It may not be too far fetched to suggest that the underground Planned Parenthood videos may be to abortion what the arrival of television to the battlefield in Vietnam was for that war.
But to consumers of Australian media, especially in regards to the Troy Newman case, the videos are hidden away and given minimal coverage.
It is true that this was the case put to the Government.
Terri Butler, the Labor MP whose complaint to Immigration Minister Dutton led to the visa refusal, raises disturbing quotes from Newman’s “Their Blood Cries Out,”
“In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people. Instead, the act of abortion has been elevated to a ‘God-given right’ and the abortionists canonized as saints. Consequently, the entire nation has the blood-red stain of the lives of the innocent upon its head.”
In a second quote, raised in Butler’s letter, Newman compares women who seek abortions to murderers:
“Why, then, do we consider any differently the women who seek to hire killers to murder their pre-born children? Why the hesitancy to say that not only the mothers, but also the fathers who wilfully abort their babies, are guilty of murder?”
Butler could have gone even further and pointed to links between Newman’s Operation Rescue group and two people who have sought violent revenge against abortion providers.
Clearly Troy Newman is not the spokesperson many people who oppose abortion might choose. This column certainly wouldn’t choose him.
His attitude towards the death penalty is one that many opponents of abortion, those who adopt a “consistent pro-life position,” no longer adopt. One person who has taken that line recently is Pope Francis. One of the key features of his US trip last month was his publicly speaking against the death penalty – which marks a shift in church teaching according to some observers.
But this column is not about abortion but the media coverage of it.
Some feminist commentators do make the point that a key fact about Troy Newman is his involvement in the Planned Parenthood videos. After all it is what Troy Newman was planning to speak about in Australia, rather than the book Terri Butler quoted from. A poster on Destroy The Joint, the feminist campaign Facebook site points out that “the sale of body parts” was to be the subject of a talk by Newman at the NSW Parliament house.
In advance of the Newman visa being blocked, Ruby Hamad raised the issue of the videos in Fairfax’s feminist Daily Life site.
In light of the storm the videos are causing in the US, and that one of the key players in setting up the sting on Planned Parenthood has had his visa blocked, the lack of mention of the videos in the Australian media astonishes this column. One would have thought that the key reason for bringing Newman to Australia – the Planned Parenthood videos – would be mentioned in news coverage of the visa cancellation. A casual reader would be excused for thinking that Right to Life had brought Newman to Australia to give his view on why doctors and abortion patients should be tried for murder.
But this week Andrew West, host of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report made the point that “the 30 per cent of Australians who are social conservatives do not get a fair run in the media,” as he talked to ABC local radio Sydney host Richard Glover. In the light of the Troy Newman coverage, it looks like he is right.
Image: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr | CC License