briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 14, 2020

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Thursday, May 14, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers: What Is the Real Mission of Planned Parenthood?

One of the patterns we have been observing in the midst of this pandemic is interesting, revealing, rather concerning. It is that all of the moral issues that had been either boiling under the surface or had erupted above the surface before the coronavirus, they’re all still there. All of them are still active and the activists, those who are behind these issues, continue to push them. We’ve seen that on the LGBTQ issues, we’ve especially seen that also on the abortion issue. Now, as you consider abortion in the contemporary context, consider the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States just a matter of weeks ago heard oral arguments in a very important abortion case. This one originating from Louisiana. But you have other issues that just keep coming up again and again and again, right in the midst of the pandemic. And the question is, why? An even more interesting question might be, why now?

Well, one of the most interesting of these stories emerged lately at USA Today. The article is by the reporter Haley BeMiller, who’s identified as a local government reporter for the Green Bay Press Gazette in Wisconsin. Interestingly, she’s also identified as a member of the USA Today Network, Wisconsin Statewide Watchdog team. Interestingly, a watchdog team, watching what? Well, the article that appeared at USA Today by Haley BeMiller has the headline, “Fact Check: Planned Parenthood Abortion Funding Business Claim Goes Too Far.”

Now, one of the things we’ve been watching in recent years is the emergence of these fact-checker columns. And one of the reality is, you have to check the fact-checkers. Eventually you have to check the fact-checker of the fact-checkers. Eventually, you just have to go on and on. Why? Well, the answer is simple. Every single person writing any article or news report on any of these issues has his or her own agenda, own bias. And the problem is of course there is no neutrality. So the one writing the fact-checker article is just as biased as the one who wrote the article being fact-checked. But this article’s particularly interesting because the article that is here being fact-checked, had actually appeared on February 21, 2019. Just think about your calendar for a moment. That’s more than a year ago. Why is it being fact-checked now? Well, Haley BeMiller asked the same question she asked, “Why are we talking about a year old article now?” She says it gained new life on Facebook after an April 23rd, 2020 post in a Recall Tony Evers, that’s the Governor of Wisconsin, Facebook group that has been shared more than 300 times.

Now again, that’s supposed to answer the question and actually raises more questions than it answers. For one thing, you’re talking about an article that was published first of all, over a year ago, that was cited in a Facebook post on April 23rd of 2020, that has now been shared more than 300 times. Is that number supposed to impress us because it’s large? In a major Facebook action, 300 shares doesn’t amount to much at all. It certainly under normal conditions wouldn’t have the attention of USA Today. So why? Well, the answer is abortion. And remember the background of the fact that the reporter is a member of the Wisconsin Statewide Watchdog team for USA Today. Watching what? Well in this case, what you have underway is an effort to try to recall the Democratic governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evers. But the issue here really isn’t the effort to recall the governor that doesn’t appear to have gotten very far thus far. The issue is that it is a website.

But the article begins this way: “In 2018, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, campaigned on a promise to restore funding for Planned Parenthood.” The reporter says it’s an issue that has taken a back seat in the past year, since the Republican controlled legislature quashed an expansion of the Affordable Care Act in the state’s biennial budget, essentially nixing the governor’s Healthy Women, Healthy Babies initiatives. We’re told among other measures, the proposal would have provided state funding to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services. She then asked the question, “Why are we talking about it now?” She says it’s because on Facebook it has now been shared over a year later, more than 300 times. She uses that as justification to try to look at the article and to fact-check it.

Well, we should never be concerned about an effort to try to get to the truth in any situation. As Christians, we want to know the truth, but we also operate from a Christian biblical worldview that tells us that when you have an issue like this, you can’t trust people who say, “All we’re trying to do is to get to the truth.” There’s always more to it. And that’s very apparent in this case. So the reporter says, let’s see how the claim holds up. But the claim, according to the article, is that the governor’s proposal would have led to state or local tax dollars being used to subsidize abortions. Well, she says what actually would have happened, she goes on to say that the governor’s effort would actually have allowed funding to go to Planned Parenthood, but not for abortions except under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Those most extraordinary circumstances would have to do with exceptions that would have been fundable by the state government. So the exceptions come down to what’s defined as the health of the mother or to the victims of rape. But the article goes on to say that the proposal would have restored funding that went to Planned Parenthood, which does provide abortions but the money she says never made it to the final budget and even if it had, it would have generally been barred from paying for abortions.

But that’s not even the largest issue in the fact-checking article, the larger issue is whether or not Planned Parenthood is rightly described as an abortion business. Here’s what she writes, “According to Planned Parenthood’s 2018/2019 annual report, the organization’s health centers performed 345,672 abortions from October 2017 to September 2018.” That’s the most recent reportable year. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, we are told reported just over 4,600 abortions for the same time period. In Wisconsin, we’re told Planned Parenthood also provided around 105,000 sexually transmitted infection tests, 5,300 cervical cancer screenings, 13,000 pregnancy tests, and 860 breast exams. So we are then told that nationwide, abortions made up only 3.5% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood. Thus they go on to say, even as Planned Parenthood is still the largest provider of abortions in the United States, “To call it an abortion business is a stretch as the organization provides other services far more often.” The ruling by the fact-checker, the article was partly false.

Here’s the summary, “We rate this claim partly false based on our research. It’s true Governor Tony Evers tried and failed to restore funding for entities like Planned Parenthood that do provide abortion services. But it is false to say residents would have been forced to pay for abortions. Even if the measure had passed under state and federal law, the money generally couldn’t have gone to pay for abortions. Finally, it’s an exaggeration to call Planned Parenthood an abortion business when abortions make up a small portion of the services offered.” Now, again, this appeared at USA Today and we are told that the USA Today article is justified because it is fact-checking an article more than a year old that was locally run in Wisconsin because it has recently been shared more than 300 times on a Facebook page.

So let’s consider what’s going on here. Really, it is a disguised attempt to try to defend Planned Parenthood, not only the incumbent governor of Wisconsin, but Planned Parenthood against the accusation that it is an abortion business. The article cites the logic that of Planned Parenthood’s services, only 3.5% of those services actually amount to abortion. Well, let’s look at that. What exactly does that mean? Well, as Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review reminds us, when you look at the supposed number of services that are performed by Planned Parenthood, it is an effort to hide the percentage of the abortion business that is actually represented by the people who walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic as patients. The number of the services is radically inflated, artificially, even you might say dishonesty inflated by counting everything that Planned Parenthood does as a service. It doesn’t get to the core question of just how important abortion is to the very existence of Planned Parenthood and to its current program.

DeSanctis writes, “Consider how Planned Parenthood obtains this statistic—by calculating abortion as a percentage of its services, rather than calculating what percentage of its clients show up primarily for an abortion,” DeSanctis continues, “For instance, if a woman comes to Planned Parenthood for an abortion, but while she’s there, obtains a pregnancy test, an STD test, and a well-woman exam and is given contraceptives on her way out the door, the organization would record the abortion she received as just ‘one fifth of the services,’ Planned Parenthood perform.” As she says, “This does little to capture the true part that abortion plays in Planned Parenthood’s business, nor does it acknowledge the fact that abortion is by far the most expensive procedure the group offers.” The biggest issue here is, of course, that if you’re looking at the horrifying abortion industry in America, and yes, it is one, the biggest player by far, is Planned Parenthood.

The fact-checker back in Wisconsin does acknowledge the fact that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider and even the number of that last reported year, 345,672 abortions. But as National Review reminds us that amounts to about one third to one half of all the abortions performed in the United States.

The other issue that is supposedly fact-checked in this article, published at USA Today, is whether or not the governor’s proposal would have led to the funding of abortion services at Planned Parenthood with Wisconsin taxpayer money. Interestingly, as Alexandra DeSanctis points out, that wasn’t even the original claim that was made. The original claim is that would have funded Planned Parenthood that does abortions. Yes, even as the Hyde Amendment at the national level does prevent taxpayer money from going directly to the payment to Planned Parenthood or anyone else of abortion, that doesn’t mean that the funds are not fungible.

If you don’t know the word fungible, you should. It means that that money sent to an organization like Planned Parenthood, that taxpayer money, can just become a part of Planned Parenthood’s budget. Yes, you can say that it didn’t go directly to fund abortion, it just gets mixed in with all the rest of the funding that goes to Planned Parenthood. But the point is, if it’s fungible, it can basically just go on to support the abortion business at Planned Parenthood even if the actual funds go to paying the rent for the building or personnel costs. If it doesn’t pay directly for abortion, they can say, taxpayers haven’t paid for abortion. But that’s not the way a budget works. That word fungible is a vitally important word.

But there’s another issue to note here even on this very issue about a supposed fact-checking article that is originating from Wisconsin. It is the fact that much of this controversy, especially again, the issue is why an article published more than a year ago, locally in Wisconsin, why does it appear in the fact-checking column of USA Today, now?

Well it has to do with the fact that activist groups, including groups that are trying to defend Planned Parenthood, try to knock articles like this off of Facebook pages and they’re often successful. They go to Facebook and say, “Look, here’s a false claim that Planned Parenthood is an abortion business. It’s a false claim. Therefore, Facebook should shut down the page or at least eliminate access to the article.” That happens over and over again. That’s the way the activist game is played in the United States today. And there is a disproportionate effect upon conservative and pro-life websites and organizations. So this gets to something else, I have said that you should be suspicious whenever there is a fact-checking column, a fact-checking reporter because the fact-checking is only so good as the fact-checker. And everyone comes at this with presuppositions and everyone comes at the issue of abortion with a position on one side of the issue or another, or at least at some point in a continuum. That’s true of me as well. So that means when you hear me fact-checking the fact-checking article about fact-checking of an article more than a year ago, then go on to check what I’ve said. That’s one of the reasons why on every addition to The Briefing, we provide you with the links so that you can go to the articles themselves and fact-check for yourself. Those links are there for a reason. I don’t want you to take my word for it. Go look at the sources for yourself.

Part II

The Character-Revealing Nature of a Crisis: Pro-Abortion Activism Intensifies in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Along similar lines, we need to look at an article published at the New York Times in recent days. The reporter is Patrick Adams. The headline: “Amid COVID-19, a Call for MDs to Mail the Abortion Pill.” Now this comes down to the word “dispense” as a legally important word, because the policies of the Food and Drug Administration do not allow for the dispensing of the abortion pills that lead to what’s called, “a medical abortion,” unless the dispensing takes place in a doctor’s office. That has been understood to mean that doctors cannot mail the abortion pills, but rather have to dispense them in the office.

Now, during a time of COVID-19, that clearly presents a new situation. But now there is a movement that is claiming that the word “dispense” doesn’t have to mean putting into the hands, either the pill or the prescription, but rather “dispense” can mean something else altogether. And thus, there is a group that is arguing that it does not violate federal law or the policies of the FDA for the abortion pills to be mailed to women in order to cause an abortion by mail.

Two women identified as co-founders of the abortion rights advocacy group known as “Plan C,” are reaching out to doctors with the argument that “dispense” can mean something other than what we all would assume that it does mean. This raises all kinds of interesting issues. For one thing, it shows you again, the determination of the abortion-rights movement to press its case not only even in the context of a pandemic, but as we’ve noted, especially in the context of a pandemic. Because the argument here is that the pandemic provides an opportunity to change this policy or this understanding of the law forever. You’re not going to have these activists come back and say, “Oh, we only meant this in the context of a pandemic.” No, they’ve been calling for this all along. They now see, and they want to seize an opportunity.

The article cites a physician who is also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis. He is not directly affiliated we are told with the activist group, Plan C, but he said, “It says,” meaning the FDA policy, “It says you have to dispense the law to the patient in the clinic. But the act of distribution by mail, by overnight delivery, whatever is different than dispensing.” Well, is it, or is it not? It’s probably not very wise to take the legal opinion of a doctor any more than it is to take the medical opinion of a lawyer.

But the point is, we’re watching the pattern of activism and we are seeing how opportunities like this are seen and seized by the pro-abortion movement right in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. And we are also seeing the kinds of arguments we need to watch for. Now that raises an urgent question, do dispense and distribute mean the same thing? That will eventually be up to the courts and you can count on the fact that eventually this case will get to the courts.

But what we see over and over and over again is that the ardent defenders of abortion rights, the proponents of abortion they continue to press their case and yet there is a third article that also demands our attention making the very same point. This one appeared as an opinion piece by Rick Santorum, published at the Wall Street Journal. Santorum is a former, two-term Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and former candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination. The headline of the article, “Democrats protect lives. But with a big exception.” He goes on to say, “Battle lines are being drawn over when and how to open the economy. These are hard decisions,” he acknowledges, “the kind politicians prefer to avoid because they are both uncertain and consequential.” He then writes this: “Yet you can tell people’s true character in a crisis. What is most important, what they’re willing to fight for.”

That’s an emphatically important point and what he points to is that even in the midst of the pandemic with elective surgical procedures otherwise put on hold, the pro-choice, pro-abortion movement has been pushing hard to allow access to abortion even in the midst of the pandemic under just about any envisionable circumstances.

He then writes this: “Politicians on the left and the right shut down surgery centers, cancer treatment centers, and other places that used personal protective equipment because it was needed on the COVID front lines and such procedures were considered elective or nonessential.”

He then continues, “There was one exception to the closure of these types of medical facilities in states run by Democratic governors. These facilities for 50 years have put economic freedom and on rare occasions, health over the lives of the most helpless, most vulnerable among us.” He then asked the question, “How can governors insist on closing life-saving cancer centers as nonessential, while keeping open abortion clinics whose sole purpose is to end life?” He continues, “How can governors insist on saving every life possible no matter the hardship to working families in their states while keeping open facilities so people don’t have to live with the responsibility of raising new life?”

He concludes with an urgently important statement, “In this moment of crisis, our character is laid bare for better and for worse.” Indeed it is. And long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, we’re going to have to remember, we are called upon to remember just how the advocates and activists of abortion continued to press their deadly case even in the midst of the pandemic.

Part III

Vladimir Putin’s World War Two Myth: The Battle for History Rages On

But finally, a very different issue as we’re thinking about the battles in the midst of this pandemic, one of the battles is the battle for history, Christians considering this need to remind ourselves that history is always an argument. Historical narratives always take the shape of an argument. History as a discipline is one very long argument and it’s an argument we need to note and observe very carefully.

One of the most interesting fronts of the long argument of history right now is Russia. And the occasion is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, basically now a strong man who was expecting to use the 75th anniversary for not only an awesomely grand military parade celebrating Russian valor, Soviet valor, during the Second World War, but also to celebrate what was to have been a constitutional revision that would have allowed him to continue basically as president for life. The COVID-19 crisis has required a delay in that constitutional revision and a radical revision of what had been expected to be the grand motherland patriotic event, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Instead, as Ann M. Simmons of the Wall Street Journal reports, the president of Russia had to be satisfied with a watered down celebration of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany “with the coronavirus pandemic denying him what had been slated to be an extravagant display of military might.” She continues, “Mr. Putin instead sought to unite the nation around its most revered collective memory.” Putin said, “We are united by a common memory and common hopes. Our common aspirations, our responsibility to the present and the future.” He had to say that in a televised address after he put a bouquet of red roses at the eternal flame near the Kremlin walls.

Interestingly, the president didn’t mention the coronavirus and he really didn’t tell the truth about Russia’s involvement, the Soviet involvement in World War II. Vladimir Putin has based much of his leadership on a resurrection of a myth of Russian greatness and the greatest moment to which he has pointed was the victory that the Soviets won along with its allies, the United States and Great Britain, most importantly over Nazi Germany. And as we know, VE Day was on May 8, just days ago. Did Russia have a right to celebrate this victory? Yes, it did. More Soviet soldiers and civilians died in the Second World War then the accumulated casualties and deaths of any other nation and many other nations put together. It was an important historical memory for the Soviet Union. It was a great military victory, one at horrifying costs of millions and millions of deaths. But it is also a myth that was not rightly told.

Vladimir Putin’s myth would have to be significantly rewritten if he were to acknowledge the fact that Joseph Stalin, the Soviet strong man, and Adolf Hitler had actually reached a secret protocol in a pact that combined a non-aggression pact with territorial aggression. It was known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. That’s because Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi Foreign Minister who actually signed the document on August 23rd, 1939. What wasn’t known until after the war, but was demonstrated in the Nuremberg trials, was that the protocol had included a secret portion in which Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, and Adolph Hitler, the Nazi dictator, had divided up much of Eastern Europe. Sacrificed on the altar of this political expediency were nations including Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.

Again, consider the dates. The pact between the Soviet state and Nazi Germany was signed August 23rd, 1939. The Nazi forces invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 just one week later. Sixteen days after that on the 17th of September, what is often forgotten is that Soviet forces invaded Poland from the East. So Poland was not only invaded by Nazi Germany leading to the beginning of World War II, it was also invaded from the opposite direction by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, of course, ceased to exist in the last decade of the 20th century but the myth continues that the Soviet Union was an innocent victim of Nazi Germany. It wasn’t. It began as a co-conspirator. Of course, that evil co-conspiracy came to a horrifying end on the 22nd of June, 1941 when Nazi forces under the direction of Hitler, launched Operation Barbarossa, which was the invasion by Nazi Germany of the Soviet Union.

Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union joined the Allies in the fight against Nazi Germany. It had no choice. Eventually, the United States was also drawn in as the major Allied power amongst the democracies. The Soviet Union did pay a horrifying price to press Nazi forces outside of the Soviet Union, and eventually to press their way all the way to Berlin. But the battle over history and the responsibility of history means that we need to note with care when the history is intentionally, wrongly told. The Soviet Union did eventually win a great military battle along with the allied powers. But it did so only when it was attacked by Nazi Germany, with whom it had established a co-conspiracy largely to divide up Eastern Europe. By the way, as history will also record at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union basically went back to make the very same territorial claims and to do so again at the point of a gun and a tank.

But even as The Briefing must come to an end today, the battle over history never comes to an end. And in Russia right now, there is yet another battle over history and this one has to do with the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Russia because it is now rather well-attested that Russia is not telling the truth about the number of deaths from COVID-19. So there is a pattern and it comes back to the same leader, Vladimir Putin, of under-reporting the past and under-reporting deaths from COVID-19 in the present. Both a part of building up a Russian myth. And thus the argument over history continues, but as this also reminds us, the battle over history has a great deal to do with the battle over the present.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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