The spin on Holly's Law


Here's a standard rule in journalism that seems to be often lost in politics: Give your story a face. The neocons do this all the time by giving their legislation catchy names.

This week, for instance, the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council held press conferences attempting to revive support for "Holly's Law". Sounds like a nice law, right? Who could hate anything named Holly? But take a look at what Holly's Law actually is, and isn't so pretty.

If it passes, "Holly's Law" would take FDA-approved drug, Mifeprex (a.k.a. RU-486) off the market. It would ignore the fact that Mifeprex has been medically approved and dictate what prescriptions doctors can make based on the Christian right's version of morality. If passed, it would be another victory in the campaign to chip away women's reproductive rights.

By naming the bill "Holly's Law" the neocons are using a tactic that is sure to rev up emotion surrounding the legislation. They give it a name and a story. It's named after Holly Patterson, one of four women who died of a rare bacterial infection following their use of Mifeprex. This is the same type of dramatic framing we have seen the Right use when they began calling the "estate tax" the "death tax" and made Terri Schiavo their cover girl for the "right to life."

While death of a young person is always sad, statistically speaking Mifeprex does not have an "unacceptably high incidence of deaths" as the Christian Coalition would have you believe. Let's put it into context. According to a study by Unicef conducted in 2000, there are 17 women who die in childbirth for every 100,000 live births. Compare that to the FDA's statistics on Mifeprex: "From September 2000 when Mifeprex was approved until June 2005, with over 460,000 estimated uses of Mifeprex in the United States, there have been four reported deaths in the U.S. that were associated with a serious bacterial infection."

Ok, just to reiterate: 1 in about 5,890 women die in childbirth, while 1 in only 115,000 women have died while using Mifeprex. It is safer to take the dreaded Mifeprex than it is to give birth.

So perhaps we need a bill named after someone who died in childbirth, let's call it "Brittany's Bill" or "Sarah's Law". We could argue that the bill will reduce the tragedy of death-by-childbirth by allowing women to use Mifeprex when they choose to. How about that for reframing?

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