To liberal media outlets, Warren Hern, one of the few late-term abortion providers in the country, has been worthy of praise as a doctor who boldly stands up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation - a lonely humanitarian braving violent death for the sake of his patients.
That's the picture painted by TV and other media. What's missing from the portrait is Hern's belief that humans are "malignant ecotumors," his refusal to be called an abortionist, and his strident denunciations of the pro-life movement.
Attention has turned to Hern in the wake of the May 31 murder of Kansas late-term abortionist (and Hern friend) George Tiller. Since then, Hern has appeared on MSNBC, CNN and NPR. Print media, including the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Boston Globe and The Chicago Tribune have cited him.
Esquire magazine devoted 9,000 words to Hern in its current issue, which sparked his Aug. 12 appearance on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show and praise from Keith Olbermann.
‘Best Person in the World'?
Olbermann and Maddow highlighted Hern's portrayal of pro-life advocates as dangerous vigilantes, a point made repeatedly in the Esquire profile, but MSNBC ignored another claim noted in the article. Hern thinks of mankind as "a malignant ecotumor."
A statement like that, however, wouldn't help Maddow and Olbermann's portrayal of Hern as a victim of far-right ideologues.
Olbermann named Hern "Best Person in the World" on August 6 and used the abortionist to fan the flames of his on-going feud with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. Olbermann said of Hern:
He says Tiller - Tiller's death was the result of 35 years, of quote, hate speech against doctors who performed abortions, like the drum beat on Fox about Tiller the baby Killer.
[Hern] says more than that. Quoting him, "Bill O'Reilly is a disgrace to American society. He's full of blank. This is not a debate. It's a civil war. And the other people are using bullets and bombs. I think," he went on, "O'Reilly is a fascist and would fit right in Nazi Germany, as far as I'm concerned."
There it is. Bill O'Reilly will never understand that the people who agreed with him on Tiller the baby killer do not stop at argument or political action. They use bullets and bombs and he, O'Reilly, has voluntarily associated himself with and encouraged them.
Maddow noted Hern's "considerable bravery" for appearing on television "given the threats" he faces and invited him to draw comparisons to the recent town hall outbursts about health care and the violence that ended Tiller's life.
Maddow also allowed Hern to state unchallenged, that the term "abortionist" is used by pro-life advocates to "stigmatize" doctors who perform abortions. That's a claim Hern made in the Esquire profile as well, and it suits his self-portrayal and the media's desire to show him as a victim.
But there are other details in the Esquire article that don't quite fit the victim narrative.
Humans as a "Malignant Ecotumor"
Richardson's Esquire article highlighted something MSNBC ignored: Hern has repeatedly and publicly advanced a twisted, hateful view of humanity.
"The human species is an example of a malignant ecotumor, an uncontrolled proliferation of a single species that threatens the existence of other species in their habitats," he wrote in a paper published in Population and Environment in 1990. He concluded that, "The idea that the human population is a planetary cancer is a profoundly disturbing conclusion, but the observations of the scientific community over the last 20 years have provided massive support this hypothesis and little, if anything, to refute it."
His opinion didn't change over the course of 18 years. "From the point of view of a physician, the expanding, invasive, colonizing urban form with highly irregular borders resembles a malignant lesion," wrote Hern in a 2008 paper published in the International Journal of Anthropology. "Malignant neoplasms have at least four major characteristic: rapid, uncontrolled growth; invasion and destruction of adjacent normal tissues (eco systems); metastasis (distant colonization); and de-differentiation."
In the recent profile, Esquire writer John H. Richardson asked Hern if his belief that humans are a "malignant ecotumor" "invites the hate." Hern claimed, "I'm not inviting people to do anything. I'd like them to think. What a concept ..."
It's Hern's "humans as cancer" hypothesis that drives him to perform abortions. He told Richardson, "I do think that helping people control their fertility is highly consistent with helping people be responsible citizens of the planet. If somebody misunderstands it or tries to distort it, I don't give a s---."
And back in 1990, he told the Edmonton Journal, "Providing abortion services is not only consistent with my personal and professional ethics, but I see it as consistent with this larger view that one of the most urgent necessities is providing people with fertility control that's safe, effective, and offered in a humane and dignified way."
"Humane and dignified?" During the heated debate surrounding the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban, Hern discussed what he perceived as the gray area in the law in a Slate.com article. "The fetus cannot be delivered ‘alive' in my procedure - as the ban stipulates in defining prohibited procedures - because I begin by giving the fetus an injection that stops its heart immediately," he explained. Later in the article Hern described an abortion he performed on a woman in her 17th week:
Because of the two days of prior treatment, the amniotic membranes were visible and bulging. I ruptured the membranes and released the fluid to reduce the risk of amniotic fluid embolism. Then I inserted my forceps into the uterus and applied them to the head of the fetus, which was still alive, since fetal injection is not done at that stage of pregnancy. I closed the forceps, crushing the skull of the fetus, and withdrew the forceps. The fetus, now dead, slid out more or less intact.
None of this was mentioned when Hern appeared on television.
Not an "Abortionist"
While Hern has been unapologetic and not the least reluctant to describe abortions in graphic detail, he still claimed to hate the term "abortionist."
Hern explained to Richardson that the "abortionist" label is now "a degrading and demeaning word that has the same negative connotations as the most despicable racial epithet."
Richardson, to his credit, called the word "a simple descriptive term like ‘podiatrist'" and "the right word, an accurate word," and continued to use "abortionist" throughout the article. But he noted that "our discomfort with it is but a measure of how poisoned the language of abortion has become."
Richardson's insistent use of "abortionist" is rare for mainstream media outlets. Others use "abortion provider," "doctor who performs abortions," or simply "doctor" or "physician" as descriptors for abortionists. The terms, while accurate, obfuscate the intent of abortion - to end a human life.
The media further water down abortion in their descriptions of the procedure, as CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta did in his June 2 description of late-term abortion following Tiller's murder.
"The type of abortion that does happen late is often something where the cervix is dilated, the fetus is removed, sometimes medicines or chemicals are injected into the womb as well. So that's typically what you're talking about when you're talking about late-term abortion," he stated on CNN's Newsroom.
One wonders whether Gupta read Hern's abortion description in Slate. And that description was for an abortion at 17 weeks. What would one at a later stage entail, and how would Gupta downplay its horror?
Pro-Life "Fascists," "Terrorists"
Just after George Tiller's murder, Hern pleaded for a cooling off of the rhetoric in the abortion debate. He told CNN's Anderson Cooper on June 1, "We need to use language that is respectful instead of the hateful hate language of the anti-abortion movement, which is often used by legitimate so-called journalists like William Saletan, Ellen Goodman, and Chris Matthews."
But as MSNBC's Olbermann approvingly noted, Hern doesn't shrink from inflammatory speech. And, just as Hern's view of "humans as malignant ecotumors" has been consistent, so has his characterization of pro-life advocates as fascists.
In a 2002 op-ed for The Colorado Statesman, Hern compared pro-life advocates to the Taliban and the violent Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood. He described a confrontation between him and members of the Brotherhood in 1994 and concluded, "The Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood has something in common with the American anti-abortion fanatics. For both, I represent an idea that they hate: freedom. Worse, I represent, along with others, a movement that threatens male dominance and gives freedom to women."
Hern continued, "If this hatred of freedom for women were confined to the Taliban of Afghanistan, it would be bad enough. But one American political party has used hatred of freedom for women to gain power at all levels in our country."
Seven years later, Hern claimed to Richardson, "It is my views that we are dealing with a fascist movement. It's a terrorist, violent terrorist movement, and they have a fascist ideology."
He continued, "They seem civilized but underneath you have this seething mass of angry, rabid anger and hatred of freedom that is really frightening, and they support people like the guy who shot George [Tiller] - they're all pretending to be upset, issuing statements about how much they deplore violence, but it's just bull----. That is exactly what they wanted to happen."
During his appearance on Maddow's program, Maddow acknowledged "In the extreme-anti-abortion movement or in the anti-abortion movement even more broadly, of course, the large majority of protestors and even people who feel strongly about the issue are peaceful."
But Hern would have none of it. "The anti-abortion movement and the rest of the radical political and religious right is fundamentally opposed to the basic premises of American society," he said. "They don't accept the rule of law. They don't want debate. They don't want discussion. They don't want reason. They don't want moderate discussion. They want totalitarian, theocratic society and they are willing to use violence to get it."
But that "totalitarian, theocratic society" idea was conspicuously missing from the statements of major pro-life organizations after Tiller's murder.
Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said "The foundational right to life that our work is dedicated to extends to everyone."
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins stated, "As Christians we pray and look toward the end of all violence and for the saving of souls, not the taking of human life. George Tiller was a man who we publicly sought to stop through legal and peaceful means.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, reminded people of how most pro-life advocates protest, "Through the years, hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers have prayed for George Tiller, peacefully tried to persuade him to end his killing of innocent children and exploitation of women, and actively worked to enforce the laws of Kansas. We were guided by the hope that he would change his ways and find forgiveness in Jesus Christ."
The National Right to Life Committee's executive director, Dr. David N. O'Steen, affirmed the notion that all life is sacred, "The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal."
To say that these groups and their members are "fundamentally opposed to the basic premises of American society" ignores the defining statement of one of America's founding documents: "that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Abortion Has Consequences
The Esquire profile included one brief glimpse of doubt about his work from Hern.
Richardson reported, "In passing, the abortionist says you can never get used to this...you can't, he says. I think we're hardwired, biologically, to protect small, vulnerable creatures, especially babies. The fetuses may not be babies, but some of them are pretty close."
Richardson quoted Hern's own words, written in 1980: "We have reached a point in this particular technology where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one's eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current. It is the crucible of a raging controversy, the confrontation of a modern existential dilemma. The more we seem to solve the problem, the more intractable it becomes."
But Hern complained to Richardson that, "the anti-abortion people quote the s--- out of it. It's kind of antiabortion porn for them." He also conceded that the pro-choice people "don't like it when you talk about how it really feels to do this work."
That last comment captured the mainstream media's reluctance to talk about abortion beyond euphemisms like those from Gupta, or the usual pro-abortion talking points. If there was truly nothing wrong with abortion, why resort to name-calling instead of the debate the pro-abortion groups claim they want to have? Why not call abortion providers abortionists? And why not show the full measure of abortionists' character?
It's because no matter what, abortion is the taking of innocent life. That's a truth the media can't handle.