Letter from the Editor

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Does anyone remember the baby?

It's an odd feeling to pick up the New York Times and find yourself quoted, especially when it doesn't sound like something you'd say at all, or even an issue on which you'd feel comfortable speaking.

That was the case for me this week, and of course the issue is the great Planned Parenthood debate, turned into a never-ending court battle.

According to the New York Times, I said that most everyone in Storm Lake believes that pregnancy testing results at the Storm Lake Planned Parenthood clinic should not be turned over to Phil Havens, the county attorney, in the investigation of the death of an infant.

I did meet a New York Times stringer in passing one day, but that doesn't represent how I think of the situation at all, and I don't recall him taking any notes on what little I did have to say.

I don't presume to feel that most everyone in Storm Lake thinks the same way; they don't. An online poll we did on this issue shows that well enough, if not scientifically. Nor would I have any way of judging what is in every mind and heart in the city. I'm a newspaper editor, not a psychic hotline.

I did say that the court issue seems to have come down to whether or not Planned Parenthood's clinical pregnancy tests amount to medical records, and that I haven't heard many Storm Lakers challenge that notion.

It also sounds pretty foolish to have me saying that pregnancy records would be turned over to Mr. Havens in any case - he's an attorney representing the sheriff's investigators who want them.

You just never know who is going to turn up at your doorstep when there's such a story in your backyard. I've been asked my opinion on this by TV, magazines, national newspapers, the Associated Press and Congressional aides now. None of them like the answers.

I also said that I personally doubt whether those records are going to solve the case anyway. A woman who knows how to seek help from such an agency to receive pregnancy testing would probably also know how to find an abortion if she didn't want a baby, or help to place a baby for adoption, or a place to leave a child in the Safe Haven program with no questions asked.

I would guess that the community's opinions on the standoff might differ somewhat if people thought that Planned Parenthood was sitting on the information that would reveal the identity of the child's mother. As it is, all they have is a 1,000 or so names of women, and calling them all likely would not reveal much but annoyed women. If it were a local woman who had that baby and threw it in the trash, someone would have surely noticed an advanced pregnancy and wondered why no baby came to be.

As in the case of an abandoned child death in a mobile home several years earlier, I can only picture a disturbed and desperate parent or parents, perhaps transient, with little understanding of all the medical and social programs out there that could help. It frustrates the community just as it does law enforcement that the odds against solving such a case are long, and they get longer as time goes by and no one steps forward with information.

Jill June of Planned Parenthood did a masterful job of turning an investigation into a media circus all about her agency, and painting it as a martyr fighting to protect privacy rights. No effort was made to offer any alternate way that the agency could help law officers, by either side of the fight.

Right to Life proponents too seized the opportunity as another chance to attack Planned Parenthood. Abortion law is also a valid issue, and I have strong feelings on abortion myself, but it has little to do directly with the fatality case that is at the root of the current discussion.

The Civil Liberties Union was quick to jump on it, too, for their own causes and image.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, and I would fault no one for theirs on this matter. Privacy rights is an interesting and valid issue in its own right.

I speak for no one but myself, but if pressed, I would agree that test records should be private, and that turning over reams of such information - on women who we have absolutely no reason to suspect of any wrongdoing - would be a violation of those women's rights. If an agency like Planned Parenthood is not confidential, there would be little reason for it to exist.

It seems to me that it is time for the community to get past this argument, and many have. But that isn't what the national media wants to hear. They want to believe the townspeople are at one another's throats - that makes better headlines it seems.

If they really want my opinion, it would be this.

What about the baby?

Does anyone remember the baby? This mess has been made into some great debate about Planned Parenthood and women's rights, now all tangled up in legal terminology, subpoenas and stays. It has been twisted to the advantage of various groups. In the process, a whole lot of people have forgotten why we started talking about this in the first place. An unloved and discarded baby, the second here in a relatively short timespan. A human being.

Why aren't we talking about what caused these women to do what they did? Why aren't we searching for ways to prevent it from happening to more infants?

That doesn't make for good headlines, I guess. But I doubt that I'm the only one who feels this way.

What about the baby?