Frank Bruni's Too-Good-to-Be-True Abortion Tale

Frank Bruni, America's Worst Newspaper Columnist, served up a hack's dream on Sunday: His old college pal is an abortion doctor, Bruni says, and once performed an abortion on one of the most vocal and angry anti-abortion protesters that plagued his clinic. Just goes to show you that things are never quite as they seem, I suppose. But did it happen?

Here's the anecdote, as told by Bruni's anonymous pal—a former right-wing Christian who's now an abortion-and-gay-loving atheist:

He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters' as she shouted "murderer" at him and other doctors and "whore" at every woman who walked into the clinic.

One day she was missing. "I thought, ‘I hope she's O.K.,' " he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn't like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.

She told him: "I don't have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn't where it should be."

"Nothing like life," he responded, "to teach you a little more."

A week later, she was back on her ladder.

How poignant and spot-on! It really serves as the ideal kicker to his column. Lucky for Bruni, right? Here are a couple questions.

1) If you were a vocal anti-abortion protester, and you needed to get an abortion, would you select the very abortion clinic that you had protested for years? The one that is staffed be people you had stared in the face and called "murderers" for years? Would you seek out those "familiar faces"? Or would you maybe go somewhere else?

2) How did this young lady enter the clinic without being spotted by any of her co-protesters?

3) If you were a virulent anti-abortion protester who suddenly and hypocritically sought out an abortion from the very people you had been calling murderers for years, would you return to that very same clinic a week later to call those very same people murderers, even though you knew that they knew you were a horrible liar?

These are not idle questions, because apparently the abortion-protester-gets-abortion story happens all the time. It's a hoary old tale that pops up on the internet with such frequency that—if I didn't know better—I'd suspect Bruni was laundering a transparently false urban myth.

Here is how often abortion protesters get abortions at the same clinic they protest:

"Among the anti-abortion protesters who spent an hour outside my gynecology office on September 22, 1988, was one woman who later became pregnant and came in to have an abortion, saying, 'I really don't believe in abortion, but this is really not the time for my husband and I to have another baby because our marriage is so strained.'"
—Letter to the Editor, Boca Raton News, 1989

"Three years ago I had a woman who had been harassing me at my clinic as well as my home for years, come into my clinic, disguised, because she needed an abortion. She was 48 and thought she was in menopause. Despite what she yelled outside my clinic and home about me, she new she would receive safe medical care - a safe termination of her pregnancy and she knew we would keep her secret."
Life and LIberty for Women

"George told me that in several instances, people who had been picketing his clinic later entered as patients - seeking abortions for themselves or their daughters, sisters, wives. The women obtained their abortions, then returned to the picket line. Apparently they found their own circumstances to be extenuating and compelling — but did not reach to imagine that every patient there had a similarly compelling story."
—Wendy Chavkin (recounting conversations with George Tiller), New York Daily News, 2009

"I've had several cases over the years in which the anti-abortion patient had rationalized in one way or another that her case was the only exception, but the one that really made an impression was the college senior who was the president of her campus Right-to-Life organization, meaning that she had worked very hard in that organization for several years. As I was completing her procedure, I asked what she planned to do about her high office in the RTL organization. Her response was a wide-eyed, 'You're not going to tell them, are you!?' When assured that I was not, she breathed a sigh of relief, explaining how important that position was to her and how she wouldn't want this to interfere with it." (Physician, Texas)
—"The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion," Joyce Carter, 2000

"I have done several abortions on women who have regularly picketed my clinics, including a 16 year old schoolgirl who came back to picket the day after her abortion, about three years ago. During her whole stay at the clinic, we felt that she was not quite right, but there were no real warning bells. She insisted that the abortion was her idea and assured us that all was OK. She went through the procedure very smoothly and was discharged with no problems. A quite routine operation. Next morning she was with her mother and several school mates in front of the clinic with the usual anti posters and chants. It appears that she got the abortion she needed and still displayed the appropriate anti views expected of her by her parents, teachers, and peers." (Physician, Australia)
—"The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion," Joyce Carter, 2000

"In 1990, in the Boston area, Operation Rescue and other groups were regularly blockading the clinics, and many of us went every Saturday morning for months to help women and staff get in. As a result, we knew many of the 'antis' by face. One morning, a woman who had been a regular 'sidewalk counselor' went into the clinic with a young woman who looked like she was 16-17, and obviously her daughter. When the mother came out about an hour later, I had to go up and ask her if her daughter's situation had caused her to change her mind. 'I don't expect you to understand my daughter's situation!' she angrily replied. The following Saturday, she was back, pleading with women entering the clinic not to 'murder their babies.'" (Clinic escort, Massachusetts)
—"The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion," Joyce Carter, 2000

"I mentioned before that I worked at a Planned Parenthood in Michigan that had been the target of 2 Christian terrorist attacks, and that the clinic did not perform abortions. There was an abortion clinic a few blocks away. They had a weekly protest. While I worked at PP, I heard about a worker at the abortion clinic who quit her job because one of the protestors actually came in for an abortion and the worker wanted to make it public but was forbidden. I'm sure that the pro-like protestor had a really really good reason for wanting an abortion..."
Internet commenter, 2010

"While working in the abortion clinic, one of the most hardcore, female protesters (they only protest on Saturday) that we had to deal with came in for an abortion on a Thursday. She did not say a word to any of the clinic staff.... She aborted a 12 week old fetus. Heart beating, all organ systems developed. Guess what. The following Saturday she was back outside waving a banner and shouting "abortion is murder" with the other protesters."
Internet commenter, 2006

Amazing, isn't it, how frequently this Platonically ideal circumstance for exposing the callous hypocrisy of one's political foes pops up, with no way to verify or double-check?

I asked Bruni via email if he was initially skeptical of his pal's story, and if he took any steps to assure its veracity. I haven't heard back.

[Image via Getty]