The annual Roe v. Wade carnival

WASHINGTON — Abortion provider Merle Hoffman called a news conference at the National Press Club this week to announce the results of an alarming new study she commissioned:

Abortion rates have exploded since the economic collapse, she warned, as nearly three-quarters of women ending their pregnancies say they simply can’t afford to have a baby. Hoffman expanded on these trends to forecast a “dim future” for women if a Republican wins the White House: a world of abortion “slave states” and “underground railroads” and “pre-Roe reality.”

There was just one problem with this hysteria: The data in the study she presented were from 2008 — before the impact of the recession was felt. The sweeping conclusions came, rather, from “journalistic reports,” as well as studies at Hoffman’s own clinic in New York — where, she eventually admitted, abortion rates were “relatively stable” the last two years.

Dubious statistics? Calling a news conference to tell reporters about conclusions reached by reading newspapers? This can mean only one thing: It’s Roe week in the capital.

The annual carnival in Washington around the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision (Happy 39th, Roe!) has become more farcical with each repetition. As technology and states’ policy changes make the landmark case less important, the annual observances of the anniversary have devolved into fact-free spectacles that have less to do with abortion than with raising money for advocacy groups on both sides.

The gruesome photos of fetuses and the guys in Grim Reaper costumes will be out, as usual, for Monday’s “March for Life,” which, according to the organizers, will “follow its customary route.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, piggybacking on the march, has a National Prayer Vigil on Sunday. Not to be outdone, the Archdiocese of Washington has a “Youth Rally and Mass for Life” planned for Monday, which shouldn’t be confused with the march organizers’ own “Youth Rally” on Saturday. The “Rose Dinner” (tickets $100 at the door) is Monday night (“Donate Now!” it says near the top of the march’s website).

Operation Rescue is participating in a Students for Life of America National Youth Conference in North Bethesda, Md., on Sunday, although this would appear to conflict with the annual Charismatic Episcopal Church for Life Youth Rally in Washington. The president of Americans United for Life will be having breakfast with reporters on Friday, and the Family Research Council is staging “the premier conference for the online pro-life community” on Monday (“Donate today”!).

On the other side, the National Organization for Women is having its Supreme Court Vigil on Monday. NARAL Pro-Choice America has called Jan. 22 “Blog for Choice Day,” and has scheduled its “Roe v. Wade 39th Anniversary Dinner” for Jan. 26. If you buy a “power table” at the dinner for a mere $15,000, you’ll get to hear “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Susie Essman, known for her “hilarious bouts of withering sarcasm and uninhibited insults.”

Here’s an uninhibited insult the professional “life” and “choice” agitators can listen to for free. If these groups cared as much about the issue as they claim — and didn’t have such strong financial incentives to avoid consensus and compromise — they’d cancel the carnivals and get to work on the one thing everybody agrees would be worthwhile: reducing unwanted pregnancies.

If the “life” marchers really wanted fewer abortions, they would stop throwing obstacles in the way of birth control and make sure it’s cheaply provided as part of preventive care and not blocked by “conscience clauses.” By resisting easy birth control, and by opposing comprehensive sex education, they’re essentially increasing abortion rates.

If the “choice” rally participants really want to preserve legal abortion, they’d be wise to drop the sky-is-falling warnings about Roe and acknowledge that the other side — and most Americans — has legitimate concerns. Not every compromise means a slippery slope to the back alley.

But this is no time for reason; this is time for collecting donations. At the Press Club, abortion-provider Hoffman gave a full-throated defense of her own abortion (“I had committed myself to my work” and didn’t want to be “diverted”), coupled with dire warnings about the future of legal abortion (“relentless attacks … will be impossible”). Hoffman likened her defense of the procedure to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. “Abortion is a life-affirming act,” she said, and “abortion is often the most moral choice.”

Abortion as a “most moral” and “life-affirming” choice: It’s beginning to feel a lot like Roe week in Washington.

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is

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