Capitol Ideas

Abortion and Cigars

What kind of a country is it where abortion is subsidized and smoking is criminalized?

By 2.17.11

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I went to a small anti-Planned Parenthood demonstration in downtown Washington, only four blocks north of the White House. That was on Monday. The next day I went to a dinner on Capitol Hill for the benefit of cigar smokers. New FDA regulations threaten to put cigar stores out of business, and recently New York's Mayor Bloomberg declared that smoking outdoors is against the law. Cigars included.

What kind of a country is it where abortion is subsidized and smoking is criminalized? To say that it is a morally confused, mixed-up country is putting it mildly.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion chain in the country, received $363 million from the government in the last fiscal year, and performed 324,000 subsidized abortions. Recent undercover videos have documented that its employees in several states assured an undercover investigator posing as a pimp that the organization would secretly provide abortions to underage victims of human sex trafficking. So the event I attended, one of about 200 nationwide, was billed as a Vigil for Victims.

About a hundred people were present, a good many of them Catholics, and I admired every one of them because holding up an anti-abortion sign is the least fashionable of causes. The grim abortion fortress towered behind the demonstrators. Every Wednesday and Saturday, a friend of mine, Dick Retta, stands vigil outside Planned Parenthood, giving sidewalk counseling. He told me that maybe 25 young women come for abortions on any given day, and perhaps 80 percent of them are African-American.

Racial-discrimination or "disparate impact" lawsuits could easily be filed, but of course the liberals are in favor of abortion and this is an issue that the black leadership ignores. They are bought off by the feminists in Congress. One way to get everyone's attention might be for a bunch of guys to dress up in Ku Klux Klan robes and attend a pro-abortion event holding up signs saying "We Support Abortion!" Come to think of it, though, that's one appearance by the KKK that the media would not want to draw attention to. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, referred to the lower classes as "human weeds" and I guess she had blacks in mind, too.

The undercover videos were made by a group called "Live Action," organized by a UCLA undergraduate named Lila Rose. A beautiful young woman, she was at the 16th Street event and gave an impassioned speech. She has recommended that abortions be performed in public. Then we would all see what's involved. Those who work at Planned Parenthood and assist unmoved in these murderous events must be dead souls. Some do quit in disgust, ashamed to participate in such an abomination. I once went to a speech by Nat Hentoff (anti-abortion) at the American University here in D.C. Also present was ABC's Peter Jennings. I asked Jennings if pictures of the aborted, cut-up body parts had ever been shown on television and he said no. They don't want to discourage it.

Here's one abortion issue that is never properly explained. We are told that easy access to abortion is a matter of "women's reproductive rights," or "reproductive freedom." Nancy Pelosi uses that terminology, as do many feminists. Well, I support reproductive rights. But women already have them. There's only one way to reproduce, and that is to have sex with a man. Involuntary sex is called rape and rape is illegal, so what's the issue here? I guess what they don't want to say that abortion is your basic back-up when contraception fails.

CIGAR NIGHT WAS HELD at the house of an old friend of mine named Howard Segermark. One of the original supply-siders, he once worked for Sen. Jesse Helms. A long table seated maybe 30 people. It's the only dinner I have ever been to where people were smoking cigars before the meal, as well as after. And during, come to think of it. One of the main guests was Jeff Borysiewicz, the president and founder of the Corona Cigar Company, based in Florida. All I can say is that he knows an awful lot about cigars. Another guest was J. Glynn Loope, executive director of Cigar Rights of America.

I don't smoke anything, so the detailed talk of which cigar tastes best, and the high cost of Cuban cigars went rather over my head. By the time we sat down to dinner the room was filled not just with smoke but with an air of euphoria. I am prepared to believe Jeff Borysiewicz when he says that cigars are a hobby, not a habit. And there's a National Cancer Institute study showing that if you smoke two cigars a day or less, the overall mortality figures don't differ from non-smokers.

The main threat to cigar smokers now comes from the FDA. Something called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed in 2009, and it didn't apply to cigars. But the FDA has the authority to expand the new regulations to cigars, and they are making noises that that might happen this year. All it will take is a notice in the Federal Register to extend the regulations to cigars and it will be death to the industry. It will restrict advertising and impose new warnings and labels on the packaging, with the goal of discouraging minors. "People want to look at the cigars," said Borysiewicz, and the regulations will prevent that. f

One thing that interested me: Phillip Morris (Altria) supported the new regulations, even though they control 80 percent of the market -- and more recently they have moved into the cigar business. I was reminded of President Obama's boasting that G.E.'s Jeffrey Immelt was now on his side as a way of showing that "big business" was friendly to his agenda. But what Obama (and the country) needs is small business. Big businesses like General Electric -- and Altria -- are glad to embrace new regulations and taxes, because they have the lawyers and accountants to cope with them. Small businesses usually don't.

Wlady tells me that "the only hope for cigar smoking is to revive feminist interest in the practice." As it happened, one of the women smoking at Segermark's was my wife. And there was one other, a tall lady called Ginger. Are cigars addictive? I asked my wife. "No," she said, and I'm glad to hear it. She recommends cigars to any young woman who likes to be surrounded by lots of men. "I like the 15 to one odds," she said.

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).