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Commentary on a 40 year old medical opinion misses numerous points

In the midst of the feeding frenzy over Todd Akin’s now-infamous rape remark, a number of pro-life groups, including Americans United for Life have fallen victim to a misunderstanding, at best. A 40-year-old collection of essays we funded prior to Roe v. Wade included an essay by Dr. Fred E. Mecklenburg that has been used to smear pro-life advocates with contents pulled from medical moth balls.

The essay by Dr. Mecklenburg addressed the reasons for induced abortion before 1972, including rape.  The original commentary on his piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—later picked up by the Huff Post, Wall Street Journal and others—speculated that Mecklenburg’s piece “influenced two generations” and Congressman Akin, without any evidence whatsoever.

In its cherry-picking of quotes and data, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch commentary also ignored several important points:

The Planned Parenthood connection: The author, Dr. Fred Mecklenburg, was Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and a member of the American Association of Planned Parenthood Physicians.

The Planned Parenthood data:  Mecklenburg cited a 1960 medical essay by Planned Parenthood statistician Christopher Tietze that argued the chance of pregnancy from one act of unprotected intercourse (as might be the case in rape) is low.

But, perhaps most importantly, the commentators seem to overlook the fact that a lot of medical data has flowed under the bridge since 1972 — more than 40 years worth of science, research, and knowledge, some learned through tools like ultrasound. To argue over this data today creates the false impression that this data is relevant or in use. It is not.

The concerns of Americans in 2012 are not medical opinions from the 1950s or 60s.  Today, the United States is one of four nations (with North Korea, China and Canada) that allows abortion for any reason after fetal viability.  That’s our national law due to Roe v. Wade. And it is this reality, and not 40-50 year old medical opinions, that concerns most Americans — the majority of whom self-identify as pro-life today.

Clarke Forsythe is Senior Counsel of Americans United for Life.