I don’t know who I’m madder at, USA Today or myself.

Last week USA Today editorial writer Louise Branson e-mailed me a request to:

… write a short piece for us about the regulation of fertility clinics in the aftermath of the octuplets scandal, and praising the proposed Georgia legislation as the standard that should be set nationwide. The piece would need to be around 350 words. It would be an opposing view to our editorial that would warn against the kind of regulation that brings anti-abortion politics into the issue.

“Absolutely,” I responded. With a pro-abortion audience in mind, I wrote a piece explaining the harm of egg harvesting to women, the vast number of human embryos killed throughout the in vitro fertilization process, and how human embryo research proponents use the “leftover” embryos excuse to push their agenda. I closed by describing common sense regulations.

I received this response:

Sorry to be a pain, but could I get you to re-do it a bit. … We were hoping to see a piece that would … say the best way to prevent another Suleman case would be to limit the number of embryos that could be implanted and also define an embryo as a person. … We would be less interested in all the medical details as our debate is on how best to regulate fertility clinics.

I was taken aback. USA Today was telling me how and what to write? I responded:

I have added my thoughts on the need to declare embryos as persons and have edited the medical details. That said, it is important to convey this is a women’s health issue as well as an embryo personhood issue. It is also important to convey just how many embryos are killed through the IVF process and to also touch on embryonic stem cell research. All these are building blocks to make my case for the need to regulate IVF.

 I hope USA Today will allow a reasoned, well-rounded voice in opposition on this topic. I hope you prepared your editorial supporting unregulated IVF without using mine as a backdrop. We should both let our arguments stand and fall on their own merits.

Branson responded:

We would like to use a piece by you, but it still isn’t quite what fits the needs of our debate. … [Y]ou wrote elsewhere as follows …

And she quoted from my Feb. 25 WorldNetDaily column, “Octomom’s gift to the pro-life movement,” which had been written to a pro-life audience, adding:

Do you think you could build a piece around this, using that argument and similar language following off your original lead? This is the topic that we are editorializing on, so the details of what happens to embryos, while important, is not germane to this particular debate, which is about regulating fertility clinics and preventing another octomom. …

What happens to embryos is not germane to the IVF debate? I responded:

… I think you think I buried the headline. If you want to rearrange my piece without removing anything, OK.

However, explaining the problems with IVF [is] foundational to my argument. It seems to me you want me to express ideology without rationale. Are you looking for a straw man debate you can simply dispel as religious or anti-abortion? No. I don’t want IVF regulated just because.

You asked me to write an op-ed taking the position IVF should be regulated, using Octomom as a hook. I did that. I then expressed how and why I thought IVF should be regulated.

Something is amiss here that a news organization admittedly taking a liberal position on this issue is telling the conservative what it wants her to say and how to say it. It appears you want to write my editorial for me.

By this time I was boarding a plane, and the deadline was while I was in the air. I scanned USA Today’s revision on my Blackberry and gave the green light.

My gut told me something was wrong with this entire scenario, but I thought offering something good as opposed to excellent was better than offering nothing at all. I’m also sure a part of me simply wanted the national exposure, another gut check I buried.

The next day our opposing pieces were published. My final submitted piece had been 382 words, which USA Today winnowed to 343. Editors entitled my piece, “Define embryos as human; Now’s the time for pro-lifers to promote regulation of IVF.”

Theirs was 531 words and entitled, “Protect health and safety, but don’t play abortion politics”:

The wrong way to address the problem came in Georgia, where anti-abortion activists hijacked the Suleman case to advance their agenda. …

But defining embryos as people … represents a back-door way for abortion to be defined as murder.

There is no need to complicate the Suleman case by mixing in abortion politics. …

I was fuming. My original piece had not been about “abortion politics.” It had applied logic to the need to regulate IVF. But USA Today didn’t want logic, and I walked into its trap. Friend and colleague Josh Brahm of Right to Life of Central California identified the problem:

It kind of comes across as “pro-lifers” against everyone else. In fact the word “pro-lifers” is even in the tagline … so those who don’t identify themselves as pro-life are immediately ready to be against your article, even if science and common sense are on your side. … Make people figure out why they’re against your arguments instead of giving them the out of just blowing your reasoning off because you’re one of those “ignorant, anti-science pro-lifers.”

Three takeaways:

  1. Egos make bad decisions.

  2. Bearing one’s audience in mind is critical when writing pro-life apologetics.
  3. As the mainstream media become more pressed by the New Media to seek pro-life opinions on matters, guard against letting them define us or frame our message.

Read my original submission to USA Today.

Read the final version printed in USA Today.

Read USA Today’s opposing view.

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