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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Military Hospitals Under Fire; Al Gore Takes Global Warming Crusade to Capitol Hill; Abortion Sympathy Cards?
Aired March 21, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Out in the open: families of America's wounded warriors fed up and furious with what they're sure is second-rate care.
And, for 11 years, an illegal immigrant washed dishes and saved $60,000. Is the government right to take almost all of it away?
And what do you give someone who you know has had an abortion? Well, tonight, the controversy over abortion sympathy cards is out in the open.
First, though, allegations of second-rate care for American heroes, severely wounded veterans coming from home from Iraq -- we're breaking some new ground here tonight. This goes way beyond the recent anger of the truly horrible conditions at one veterans hospital, the Walter Reed Medical Center.
Tonight, we're bringing out in the open the stories of three different men.
We sent our own Ted Rowlands to find out why they and their families think the treatment at VA centers is so bad, they were driven to find something a whole lot better.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Staff sergeant Jarod Behee was hit by a sniper's bullet in Iraq, which crushed part of his skull.
Army National Guard Sergeant Corey Briest was hit by a roadside bomb.
Marine Corporal Josh Cooley had a piece of shrapnel the size of a credit card go through his eye and into his brain. All three men came home from Iraq with traumatic brain injuries. Each was sent to a different VA hospital for rehabilitation. And all three families say they were so fed up with the VA care that they turned to a private hospital.
MARISSA BEHEE, WIFE OF WOUNDED SOLDIER: It felt like his care was being slighted. Not a lot was being done to rehabilitate him.
ROWLANDS: Jarod Behee was at the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California. His wife, Marissa, says, after three months, she pulled him out. The last straw, she says, was when they bought Jarod a new wheelchair and told her he would need it for the rest of his life.
BEHEE: Are you telling me that my 26-year-old husband is going to a nursing home? I'm -- I can't do it. And that's not the reality of it, and I'm not going to accept it. So, I will see what our options are.
ROWLANDS: The Behees ended up at Casa Colina, a private, nonprofit rehab center in Southern California, which, as it turned out, was covered by their military insurance.
BEHEE: We got here in October. By November, he had his Purple Heart ceremony, and he could stand on his own. By January, he was walking totally unassisted. That wasn't a goal of the VA, or they wouldn't have spent the money for the wheelchair.
ROWLANDS: A year-and-a-half after he arrived, Jarod's recovery is so far along, he's now working as a volunteer at the hospital's rehab center.
The other two families also claim that private care has made a difference.
Josh Cooley's mother says, two weeks after moving to Casa Colina from the Tampa VA, her son was able to speak.
CHRISTINE COOLEY, MOTHER OF WOUNDED MARINE: I was doing something for him. And I leaned over to give him a hug, and I said, "I love you." And he said, "I love you too, mom."
And it was just like, oh, my God.
JENNY BRIEST, WIFE OF WOUNDED SOLDIER: How you doing?
ROWLANDS: Jenny Briest pulled her husband, Corey, out of the Minneapolis VA. She claims they were ready to give up on Corey after less than a week in rehab.
BRIEST: And they gave him five days before they said that they were going to put him down in the nursing wing floor.
ROWLANDS: Jenny says a nurse at the VA told her about Jarod Behee's case, so they followed to Casa Colina.
BRIEST: Right away, when we got here, they started working on his swallowing and his speech. That, to me, was just precious. When he said his first word, and it was our daughter's name, it was the best. I mean, you can't put money on it. Having him sit next to my son and our daughter at the dinner table, it's -- he wouldn't have gotten that at the VA.
ROWLANDS: These families turned to private care out of frustration. They think wounded soldiers and their families should be told from the beginning that private care is an option. Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye is deputy chief of staff at the Palo Alto VA. He and other doctors say nobody anticipated the number of brain injuries coming out of Iraq. They insist the VA has added enough staff to handle the load.
(on camera): This is where Staff Sergeant Behee was treated. And they even say that, if he would have just stayed here, he would have made the exact same progress as he did at the other hospital.
DR. STEPHEN EZEJI-OKOYE, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF, PALO ALTO VA: I think we're better now than we were then, but I think we would have -- that he would have made the same -- the same gains if he had stayed here.
ROWLANDS: The Behees say they will never believe that.
But the lead physician at Casa Colina says that Dr. Ezeji-Okoye might actually be right. But he also believes that the VA does need help from private facilities to handle the overwhelming number of brain injuries.
DR. DAVID PATTERSON, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, CASA COLINA HOSPITAL: Fifty percent of all combat-related injuries are traumatic brain injury. You have a volume issue that needs to be dealt with.
ROWLANDS: According to the doctors at the VA, cost is not a factor. They say, if they really thought private care was better, they would have no problem recommending it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good job.
ROWLANDS: While there may be disagreement as to which care is better, what's clear is that these young men and all of the others deserve the best.
Ted Rowlands, CNN, Pomona, California.
ZAHN: And we got this statement from the VA just a short time ago: "VA is the world's leader in traumatic brain injury treatment, rehabilitation and research. Our doctors, nurses, researchers and rehabilitation therapies" -- or "therapists," that is, "have devoted years to developing leading-edge care and treatment for brain injury. VA has the only nationwide network for traumatic brain injury. VA is aggressively researching new methods of identifying and treating traumatic brain injury."
Let's turn this now right over to our "Out in the Open" panel, CNN contributor Roland Martin, Republican political strategist Amy Holmes. Also with us tonight, conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer Mark Smith.
So, we just have heard these wrenching stories about these families who feel like the VA system completely gave up on them. They had to turn to private care.
Aren't these veterans entitled to the best care tax dollars will provide?
MARK SMITH, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR & CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Absolutely.
They are entitled to the best care that our country can provide to them. And the answer is to basically forget about government doctors and government nurses. Let them go to the private sector, where there are profit incentives that give us the best doctors, the best health care system in the world.
Let -- just give them insurance. Let them pick their doctors. Let them pick their nurses. Let them pick their hospitals. Why stick them in the monopoly of a government-run health care system called the Veterans Administration hospitals?
ZAHN: Well, that's what these families have been forced to do. Do you think they should have been forced to do that?
AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I don't think they should have been forced to do that, but the VA is a large bureaucrat institution. Jim Nicholson, who is the head of the VA, tells us that they see one million vets a year, including vets stretching back from World War I.
I think, if the bureaucracy is not working for these patients, then the patients should be allowed to move out into the private sector, be given that information, so they can get the appropriate care.
These stories, Paula, these are on outrage. These are men and women in uniform who are risking their lives to defend our freedoms. They should not be stuck being told that they're stuck in a wheelchair; they go see a private doctor, and they're walking within three months.
SMITH: And we know it's not working, of course, because Walter Reed is considered the premier government hospital in the country, and we know what a travesty that's turned out to be. And that's the best.
ZAHN: All right.
Roland, respond to this. This is a statement that came from the undersecretary of the VA. He says that his department was coping with a backlog of 400,000 disability claims, and the average waiting time for a claim is about six months.
That seems outrageous.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is out... ZAHN: Why is the system so overtaxed, so burdened? And how do you defend that?
MARTIN: Well, again, because we are seeing, for every one soldier killed in Iraq, 16 actually survive, because of these brain injuries. And, so, we have not seen these type of injuries in quite some time.
As Amy said, it goes back much further than the Iraq war. It goes back to Vietnam. We have being seeing this for quite some time. And, so, we did not prepare for that. And, so, for the VA to say we have enough nurses and doctors, that's not true.
What they need to do is certainly look at, how can the public and the private sector work together to able -- to afford the treatment provided for them?
The other problem is, you have soldiers who are getting great treatment in Washington, D.C., in the larger cities. Yet, when they go back to their smaller towns, then they have a bigger problem. And, so, there must be a partnership there.
But, of course, I would -- I would expect Mark to say, hey, let's get rid of it, and they need to in the private -- the sector, because they can't handle the number of soldiers, in addition to the regular patients as well.
ZAHN: You said something a little bit early on that raises a very uncomfortable question that has actually been brought up in support groups, the number of soldiers returned home who are catastrophically injured.
And -- and this was brought up by a caregiver at one of those meetings. And I'm sure it's going to give you the same chill down your spine that it gave mine as I read this.
And the question posed: "Are we doing these young men and women a service by bringing them home alive?"
HOLMES: That is an indefensible...
ZAHN: Isn't that sick?
HOLMES: statement, to say that, that these individuals -- of course, every life is precious. And, as we said, these are men and women who risk their lives for our freedom.
So, to be wishing upon them death is just possibly one of the ugliest...
MARTIN: No, no, no. First of all -- no, no.
And, first of all, I don't take that statement as wishing upon death. I think what somebody is saying is, you're recognizing what they actually have to go through, in terms of the pain and the trauma there. That does not say, hey, let them die. That's recognizing what they have to endure. So, I don't see that as wishing death upon somebody.
SMITH: Let's not lose...
ZAHN: Quick final thought.
SMITH: Let's not lose the perspective of the most important perspective: the person, the patient.
SMITH: Give the patient...
SMITH: ... the right to choose where she or he goes for health care. And that's what we should do, not make the decision for them. Let them make the decision for themselves.
ZAHN: All right, team, we have got to leave it there -- plenty more to debate tonight as we move along here.
We have got plenty more to talk about tonight, including: One man's American dream crumbles into dust. He spent 11 years washing dishes and literally saving a suitcase full of money. Out in the open next: why all that money may be down the drain. And should the government have taken it away from him?
Later on, my colleague Glenn Beck, whose opinions make a lot of people furious, weighs in on Al Gore's dire warnings about a global emergency today in Congress.
Do you guys think he's running or not? Is he running for something...
SMITH: No. No.
HOLMES: He's keeping the door open.
ZAHN: Door open? Al Gore in or not?
SMITH: He's not running, no.
ZAHN: He made some pretty powerful comments about global warming. We will address that a little bit later on.
We will be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Right now, I want to tell you a story that, on the surface, is about a man who achieved the American dream. He stayed out of trouble. He worked hard, and he saved a lot of money.
We're talking about a suitcase full of money, $60,000. But most of it went away, because the government confiscated almost all of it and isn't going to give it back.
It's important to consider the reasons why, though, because they relate to our national debate over illegal immigration.
We asked our John Zarrella to bring this story out in the open tonight.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): If it were up to Pedro Zapeta, he would not be here. Pedro snuck into the United States. But he didn't plan to stay for good.
PEDRO ZAPETA, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT WHO LOST LIFE SAVINGS (through translator): I came because of necessity. I needed work. And you can't find work in my country.
ZARRELLA: Nearly every day for 11 years, this illegal from Guatemala got on his bike and road to work to nearby restaurants, where he washed dishes. Many days, Pedro worked two jobs.
He saved nearly every penny of every week's pay. Pedro Zapeta seems the poster child for the kind of guest worker President Bush envisions, the kind of worker the president spoke about when he was in Guatemala last week.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's a pretty widespread consensus that there ought to be a temporary- worker plan that says you can come legally to the United States to do a job Americans are not doing for a period of time.
ZARRELLA: By the fall of 2005, Pedro had saved $60,000, and he was ready to go home to buy some land and build a house in his village for his mother and sisters. He took the bag with his money and headed to Fort Lauderdale Airport to take the first plane ride of his life, a one-way ticket home.
But there was a problem. Anyone leaving the United States with over $10,000 has to fill out this one-page form and file it with U.S. Customs. But Pedro didn't do that, saying he didn't know the law.
As his bag went through security, screeners spotted the money.
ZAPETA (through translator): They asked me how much money I had. The security people came. There were a lot of people around me. They counted the money, $59,000. They called immigration. And then they took me away.
ZARRELLA (on camera): So, the federal government seized Pedro Zapeta's money, accused him of being a drug trafficker, and refused to give it back. But the story doesn't end there. Now the government is trying to deport Pedro Zapeta.
Pedro's immigration attorney calls this an outrageous waste of taxpayers' money.
MARISOL ZEQUEIRA, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY FOR PEDRO ZAPETA: We slap them. We slap them on their way out. And then we put them in deportation proceedings and removal proceedings, which are costing the government more than we're taking from him.
ZARRELLA: While he fights deportation and tries to get the government to give him back his money, Pedro is back to riding a bike to work and busing dishes.
But his legal avenues are closing. Last month, a judge ruled that the government can keep nearly $50,000 of Pedro's money. Everything over the $10,000 limit, he loses.
His attorneys say they will appeal, but the government may soon deport an immigrant who was willing to leave on his own.
ROBERT GERSHMAN, ATTORNEY FOR PEDRO ZAPETA: That's all he wants to do, is self-deport, and go home and stay home. I mean, he is a perfect example of a guest-worker program, where they just come, they do the work, and they go home.
ZARRELLA: The U.S. attorney's office, Customs, and judge all refused CNN's request for an interview or comment about Pedro's case. All he ever wanted to do, Zapeta says, was to live the American dream just for a while.
ZAPETA (through translator): I never expected this to happen. I came here to make something of life, not to fail.
ZARRELLA: And, until they take him away, Pedro Zapeta will do what he's done for 11 years, wash dishes.
John Zarrella, CNN, Stuart, Florida.
ZAHN: This morning, a judge gave Pedro a little more time to stay in the country and fight to get his money back. Back on June 20, he faces -- excuse me -- it is, but, on June 20, he faces a deportation hearing.
Once again, my "Out in the Open" panel, CNN contributor Roland Martin, Republican political strategist Amy Holmes, and conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer Mark Smith.
So, Amy, the judge has ordered that he possibly could be returned the $10,000. Should he be given back all that money, as far as you're concerned?
HOLMES: Now -- well, as far as I'm concerned, I think that he should. I think it is excessive to keep all that money.
Paula, my father is...
ZAHN: He broke the law.
HOLMES: My father is a former customs...
HOLMES: .... official. And he explained this law to me.
He failed to report over the $10,000, and it's perfectly permissible for our authorities to keep that money. However, the Supreme Court has said that can be considered an excessive fine. And I think that was the case here.
But I also believe that our border officials did the right thing. This law is to intercede drug smugglers. They didn't know if he was a drug smuggler or a dish washer. This is going to be in a court, and a judge can preside over this.
ZAHN: Let's talk about the form that he was supposed to have filled out. Let's look for it closely, because, even with my bifocals on, I would have a hard time understanding where to go on this sheet to fill this out.
Should Pedro have known to fill this out?
MARTIN: Well, first of all, a lot of people who travel internationally don't necessarily know.
So, I mean, I have traveled out of the country and wouldn't think about carrying the form. But, then, again, I wouldn't be carrying $10,000 -- more than $10,000, as well.
First of all, the basis of fact, he was in the country illegally.
ZAHN: Of course.
MARTIN: That's first.
Secondly, he didn't fill the form out. This is where I -- I would oppose President Bush's compassionate conservatism should come in, by saying, first of all, we're spending a crazy amount of money to try to deport a guy who's trying to go back home. That's first. He wants to leave. Give him his money; let him leave.
I don't understand why we're going through all of the time and procedures and wasting of personnel for somebody who actually wants to leave. That makes no sense to me.
ZAHN: I mean, and it is going to cost...
HOLMES: Certainly. ZAHN: ... a heck of a lot more than the $59,000 you're talking about here.
SMITH: Yes. I mean, really, they should give him back his money, try him for a crime. If he committed a crime, then sentence him appropriately. And, if it's a fine, and a large fine, then go ahead and do it, and then let him leave the country. That's the right answer.
Now, he was here illegally, but he did work. He did pay taxes. So, to me, that's his money. The government should not engage in theft.
HOLMES: Hold on. And this fine is not for him working here...
SMITH: The government should not be stealing his money.
HOLMES: The fine is not for him working here illegally. It was for him not declaring the money and taking it out.
Now, I think there is a larger problem that he was able to work here illegally for 11 years, which, you know, brings us to the issue of immigration enforcement. And that's why conservatives are very skeptical of the president's plan for a guest-worker program. He -- yes, he's the model guest worker, but he was able to remain here illegally -- illegally for 11 years before him choosing to get on a plane and leave.
ZAHN: Wait a minute.
You say conservatives should be skeptical, but I'm going to put up on the screen, I -- I think, a really interesting statistic that shows that 65 percent of all Americans think that the president's plan is a good idea, that you should allow illegal immigrants to work in this country for up to six years, and then return home.
HOLMES: Yes. And a guest-worker program, under those conditions, if it worked out that way, I think a lot of people would support that.
But what we are seeing is that we don't have adequate enforcement. So, we don't know if they're -- they're temporary workers or here to stay.
Well, I'm trying to -- again, let's go back to the most basic thing. Let's see. He's here illegally. And his hearing is June 20, right, which means he's going to work another three months. But he wanted to leave, what, a couple of months ago. So, we're saying, go ahead and stay here illegally. Keep working. I know you wanted to get out of a couple of months ago, but you have to stay here. I mean, it's -- it's illogical. There has to be some kind of case officer who will say, you know what, guy? Here's -- here's your money. Leave. Go back to Guatemala. Thank you very much. Have a great life.
ZAHN: Somehow, I don't think it's going to happen that way, Roland Martin. Let's see if anybody is listening to you.
MARTIN: Common sense evades them. I understand.
ZAHN: It -- it can, can't it?
MARTIN: Well, as they say, common sense is no longer common.
SMITH: That's right.
ZAHN: Roland Martin, Amy Holmes, Mark Smith, please, stay right there. And I'm going to check back with you all after we bring another story out in the open tonight.
Al Gore was back on Capitol Hill today. Remember him? Actually, a prominent Democrat called him Mr. President today...
ZAHN: ... John Dingell.
He happened to have some really dire warnings about melting glaciers and climate change. Did he scare my Headline Prime colleague Glenn Beck? Get ready for a take on global warming that could make you hot under the collar.
Out in the open later: the most controversial greeting cards you will probably ever see. Take a very close look. They're for someone who's had an abortion.
ZAHN: Former Vice President Al Gore took his crusade against global warming to Capitol Hill today. He testified before two congressional committees, warning that a true planetary emergency is on the way, unless Congress acts to stop climate change.
That mayday from Gore is just one thing on the mind of Headline Prime's Glenn Beck tonight. And he joins me now for his weekly visit.
GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": How are you?
ZAHN: So, what do you make of the vice president's appearance...
ZAHN: ... or, as John Dingell, the Democratic congressman, addressed him as, Mr. President, today?
BECK: Yes. Gee, let's inject politics into the nightmare.
My problem with global warming is, I'm -- I'm somebody who believes that the climate is changing. I believe that the Earth is going through something. Now, is man responsible? More importantly, can we do anything to stop it?
Just the Kyoto treaty, over the next 100 years, which would only delay global warming by two years, will cost $90 trillion of just E.U. money -- $90 trillion.
ZAHN: But you still didn't address the question...
ZAHN: ... of the impact of his appearance today and what it meant.
BECK: I don't think it -- I mean, is anybody watching? I mean, you might watch "An Inconvenient Truth." Is anybody watching C-SPAN?
This is about politicians latching on to the environment, because how many times can we cry about the kids? Latch on to the environment.
ZAHN: Give me a break.
BECK: Oh, come on.
ZAHN: You are not going to acknowledge that there is -- you have just said that you believe...
ZAHN: ... there is climate change.
BECK: Absolutely. But, Paula, can you...
ZAHN: So, do you -- don't you think someone has the responsibility to try to stop it...
BECK: Yes. Oh, absolutely.
ZAHN: ... or, if they can't stop it, to try to...
BECK: If there's a way -- if...
ZAHN: ... minimize the symptoms of it?
BECK: If there is a way to stop it, absolutely. But it's going to take the entire planet to do it.
ZAHN: Let's come back to Al Gore's warning once again.
ZAHN: And we will listen to a little bit more of what he had to say before Congress today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says, you need to intervene here, you don't say, well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem.
GORE: If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame-retardant.
GORE: You -- you -- you take action.
The planet has a fever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BECK: Here's the...
ZAHN: You certainly believe that this is a sincere effort on his part, or you think this is all about...
BECK: I'm not sure.
ZAHN: ... his potentially running for president again?
BECK: I believe there are -- I believe there are a lot of people that are sincere.
Unfortunately, what they have to understand is -- let's use his analogy of the baby having a fever. Great. Unfortunately, science right now is still in the medieval days when it comes to the planet.
What we're asking is, well, the baby has a fever. Why don't we drill a hole in the head and see if that will relieve some of the hot air in -- we don't know what we're doing. And we're talking about possibility of collapsing our economies all around the world to try something; we don't even know if it will work.
ZAHN: You're still not coming back to that issue...
ZAHN: ... of whether you think this is politically motivated...
BECK: It is politically...
ZAHN: ... and if this is all about...
ZAHN: ... him rebuilding a base to run for president...
BECK: I believe...
ZAHN: ... which he has not completely ruled out.
BECK: I believe he believes...
ZAHN: He has said publicly before...
ZAHN: ... he probably wouldn't do it, but...
BECK: I believe he believes it.
I believe he also is in it for politics. And I do believe that this man is -- if -- if you see a major stumble from either Clinton or Barack Obama, he will step to the plate.
ZAHN: On to the issue of Alberto Gonzales, the much...
ZAHN: ... embattled attorney general -- a lot of folks calling for his resignation.
ZAHN: Aren't you troubled by what has gone on with all these firings?
BECK: I am troubled that Congress and the White House seem to be focused on fighting with each other constantly, instead of fighting the war that is in front of us, instead of fighting about Social Security and fixing it. Time is running out on Social Security.
We have huge, massive issues -- the border.
ZAHN: Well, sure.
BECK: And they're -- and they're playing these political games with each other.
ZAHN: Political games.
ZAHN: You're talking about the potential misuse of power.
BECK: And you know what, Paula? ZAHN: Isn't that a -- a problem?
BECK: And, Paula, I'm a guy who got in trouble with all the conservatives -- not all of them, but a lot of them that were mainly Republicans before they were conservatives -- when I spoke out against Scooter Libby.
I was against perjury in the 1990s. I'm against it now. Throw the guy in jail. Let's move on with our life. If there's a crime -- "The Washington Post" said today, it doesn't look like there is a crime. If there was a crime, great. Nail them, and move on. Business of the people needs to be done.
ZAHN: Glenn Beck, as always...
BECK: Thank you.
ZAHN: ... thanks for dropping by.
ZAHN: And you can catch Glenn's show weeknights at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Headline News.
We all send and, from time to time, get greeting cards, if our families remember us, but I will bet you have never seen one of these. Out in the open next: What would Miss Manners say about sympathy cards for women who have had abortions?
Then, a little bit later on: Britney Spears get -- gets out of rehab. Should we finally be crossing her off our list of role models?
ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, something we saw online that really grabbed our attention. A nonprofit support group for women who have had abortions has just started to offer after-abortion Internet sympathy cards. They say things like "God will never leave you or forsake you"; "May you find peace after your abortion"; and "I think you did the right thing."
Sympathy for women who've had abortions, a controversial idea.
Joining me now, one of the founders of Exhale, the group that offers the abortion e-cards, is Aspen Baker.
Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
ASPEN BAKER, FOUNDER, EXHALE: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
ZAHN: So, Aspen, I know you yourself had an abortion much earlier on in your life. And I know that was a searing experience for you.
What was it about that experience that made you think that other women who've gone through similar experiences would even want to receive one of these cards?
BAKER: Well, the day that I had my abortion, when I was lying at home recuperating by myself, a really close friend of mine dropped off some flowers and a note, and it was basically a get well soon card. And it said, "I'm thinking about you, and I care about you, and I hope that you will be well." And at the time I just remember feeling incredibly love and incredibly touched and cared for, and that's the kind of feeling that we were hoping to convey with the e-cards.
ZAHN: But as you know, the very high profile group National Right to Life says that these cards convey a frightening callousness towards abortion, that what you're attempting to do is normalize abortion through this process.
How do you respond to that?
BAKER: Well, Exhale has been running a post-abortion talk line for the last five years. So we had the chance to listen to thousands of women and men share their stories and express their feelings about an abortion. We've had the chance to listen to lots of significant others. So mothers call our line, sisters, husbands, friends, and they call our line because they're looking for the right words.
They have questions like, "What should I say?" "What does she need from me right now?" "How I can best provide support to this person in my life who's had an abortion?"
And so these e-cards are really about a direct response to the kinds of needs and response to the callers that we are hearing on our afternoon-abortion talk line.
ZAHN: Aspen, you call it a direct response to these needs, but how do you defend your group from the criticism that this does, no matter what the text says on these e-cards, encouraging women to have abortions?
BAKER: Well, Exhale is an organization that was founded by and for women who have already had an abortion. And so that is the constituency and the communities with whom we serve and that we work with. So whether or not you believe abortion is right or wrong, or should be legal or illegal, the women that we've worked with are -- have already had the abortion. The procedure has taken place.
And so our mission at Exhale is, given that reality, how do we best serve and provide emotional support to the women who've gone through this experience?
ZAHN: Aspen Baker, we appreciate your input tonight.
BAKER: Thank you so much.
ZAHN: Our pleasure.
And right now I'm going to move on to our "Out in the Open" panel: Roland Martin, Amy Holmes, Mark Smith. Amy, I want to go on to read something else the National right to Life organization has had to say about Aspen's campaign through her group.
"To reduce the occurrence of an abortion to a greeting card experience displays a frightening callousness towards abortion that is not only belittling and insensitive to women, it completely ignores the fact that abortion is a life-and-death experience in which the life of a woman's innocent unborn child is taken."
Callous or sympathetic or empathetic?
HOLMES: Well, right. I think that it's well-meaning, but misguided.
And, you know, just to be clear, I'm pro-choice, but when I saw this story, I thought e-cards? I mean, an e-card is what you send to your friends on St. Patrick's Day. An abortion is one of the most private, painful decisions that a woman can make, and if she confides in you that she's had this procedure, she's looking for you to do more than hit a "send" button. She's looking for real sympathy and friendship, and I think that that person needs to respond looking into their soul to be that friend worthy of that.
ZAHN: What's the difference between sending a friend a handwritten card and, in the busy lives we all lead, you know, showing that you care, whether it's online or whatever form it comes in?
SMITH: I think there's a lot of different ways, of course, people show that they care about loved ones, but what's interesting to me about the abortion sympathy card is I actually think it's effectively a pro-life statement. Because remember, you only express sympathy if there's a reason to be sad. And there is a reason to be sad when you deal with abortion, because you've destroyed a life.
And whether you like it or not, the fact remains is, you don't give sympathy cards for people who had a hangnail removed, because there's nothing to be sad about. So, to me, this is actually a pro- life statement, interestingly enough.
ZAHN: Roland, I want to take one more look at one of the messages in these e-cards. We want to put up on the screen right now -- it says, "I think you did the right thing."
By offering these kinds of cards, does it seem like it is making abortion appear to be sort of a normal part of one's reproductive life?
MARTIN: No. I think what it's saying is that I agree with your decision. Some of the other cards also, if you really look at them, are scripturally sound.
Some of them say, "God will not forsake you." I mean, that is scripturally sound.
And so, I'm just trying to figure out in terms of the demand, because who's going to -- who is going to go to their Web site to send the e-card? More than likely, if you -- as Amy said, if you confided in someone that you've had an abortion, you probably already have a relationship with them. You have a conversation with them.
And so certainly I can understand if they're husbands and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers trying to figure out how do they talk to their loved one about the abortion, but I just don't understand who is going to the Web site to send the card. I don't get that.
That's why when I was listening to her, I still wasn't capturing what they're trying to do. I wasn't getting it.
HOLMES: I do think, though, that there are two larger issues here. And many of us know young women who've had this procedure -- I had a friend in high school -- and that the after care for a young woman who's had an abortion is sorely lacking. And I think that his e-card, that points to that.
HOLMES: Quickly -- and number two, that we need to be paying a lot more attention to the fact that we -- that this is a very private, difficult, personal decision.
ZAHN: Amy Holmes, Roland Martin, Mark Smith, thanks.
Britney Spears out of rehab. Yes, that's true. But will she ever be a role model again? Is there a way she could ever set a good example?
It's all about second chances and third chances and fourth chances in this country, right?
MARTIN: Sometimes six and seven and eight and...
ZAHN: Sixth or seventh -- when does the statute of limitations wear out?
HOLMES: All you just have to do is go to rehab.
ZAHN: Yes. Well, we're going to talk about that.
And then a little bit later on, a woman who will amaze you so much, she just might completely change the way you think about the mysterious world of autism. Wait until you hear her story.
ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, in case you haven't heard, Britney Spears got out of rehab yesterday. Her month-long stay and rehab stints by two other young female celebrities got us thinking about whether these role models for many young girls are sending the wrong message by glamorizing the rehab process.
And we asked Entertainment Correspondent Brooke Anderson to look into that for us. Here's her report.
BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A pop princess, a movie queen...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kentucky!
ANDERSON: ... and the reigning Miss USA. Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan and Tara Conner are American royalty whose loyal fans watch their every move. But for each of these three high-profile role models, the latest move has been rehab. And some say that may be a good thing.
DR. DREW PINSKY, ADDICTION SPECIALIST: The question of whether celebrities have de-stigmatized treatment is really an interesting one in that, yes, they have.
ANDERSON: Addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky believes these young stars in rehab set a worthwhile example.
PINSKY: They help young people in the culture at large understand that when you meet criteria for an addictive disease there's treatment and it works.
ANDERSON: But some people worry that may make drugs and alcohol more appealing.
LIZ PERLE, COMMON SENSE MEDIA: Kids are being given the message that it's sort of a whatever situation and it's consequence-free. And what we're really dealing with here in rehab are life-threatening diseases.
ANDERSON: Liz Perle is editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the effects of media and entertainment on kids.
PERLE: They're treating it like a spa almost. Kids are listening to this and doing monkey see, monkey do. They're just going to think, well, if it happens to me, I'll just pop into rehab. It should be fun.
ANDERSON: In fact, that's exactly how Miss USA Tara Conner described her recent experience in drug and alcohol rehab.
TARA CONNER, MISS USA: It was amazing. It was absolutely amazing. A lot of fun.
PERLE: What kids have to realize is, when Tara Conner says something like that, she's full of the number one symptom of alcoholism, which is denial.
ANDERSON (on camera): Adding to the confusion for money are images like these pulled from the Web site of Promises, where Spears received her treatment in Malibu. Expensive, luxurious, resort-like facilities that have become synonymous with the celebrity rehab experience.
PERLE: They're shown going in and out of very fancy real estate with very lovely pools instead of really addressing the serious nature of this compulsion that has them in their -- in its claws.
ANDERSON: But Dr. Drew Pinsky argues that high-end amenities make very serious and necessary treatment more attractive.
PINSKY: Addicts and alcoholics don't want to get treatment. They don't like to do it. So anything that would entice them into those environments, I can't -- I can't quarrel with that.
And it's intense. It's intense. Make no mistake about it. It's not a -- it's not a -- it's not a country club, though it may look like it.
ANDERSON: Fresh out of treatment, Spears now joins Lohan and Conner on the outside, where the world will see whether these women in fact ultimately can become positive rehab role models.
Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.
ZAHN: And right now we're going to take a break from that and check in with Kiran Chetry, who has our "BizBreak".
ZAHN: Coming up that top of the hour, Larry King has an absolutely inspiring hour for you. He's going to be taking a look at people with autism, like this amazing woman whose story we're about to bring "Out in the Open". Her brilliant mind is trapped in a body that seems to be out of control, but what a beautiful mind it is.
Wait until you meet her.
ZAHN: Welcome back.
Just a few minutes from now, at the top of the hour, a special "LARRY KING LIVE" with Bill Cosby, Toni Braxton and other stars whose lives have been touched by autism.
Larry is looking ahead to Autism Awareness Month in April. As many as 1.5 million Americans are autistic, struggling with a disorder that makes it difficult, even impossible, to communicate normally.
Tonight, we're bringing autism "Out in the Open" as well. If you've ever wondered what life is like inside the mind of someone with autism, our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has an amazing glimpse of life through the extraordinary eyes of one autistic woman.
It's tonight's "Vital Signs". (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Amanda Baggs, rocking back and forth. She does not make eye contact. Her movements are erratic. Her behavior, eccentric.
She cannot speak, and for most of us this is precisely what we expect when we see a person with autism. But Amanda will absolutely change your expectations.
(on camera): Would you define yourself as an autistic person, Amanda?
AMANDA BAGGS, AUTISTIC (through voice synthesizer): That's the word for people whose brains look like mine, last I checked.
GUPTA (voice over): As you'll see, Amanda has a lot to say. Her brilliance is laced with a wry sense of humor.
We first came across Amanda on YouTube. Her appearance there so startling, I wanted to meet her. I had so many questions.
BAGGS (through voice synthesizer): The way I naturally think and respond to things looks and feels so different from standard concepts or even visualization, that some people do not consider it thought at all. It is only when I type something in your language that you refer to me as having communication.
GUPTA: Amanda calls herself bilingual. For other autistic people, she has movements and gestures to communicate. But, for the rest of us, she made this video to teach us how it works.
She jokingly calls us neurotypical, meaning we do not have autism. She communicates with a keyboard and her computer, and, for visitors, a voice synthesizer.
(on camera): So, you have seen the video with your own eyes. I want to show it you through Amanda Baggs' eyes. She lives in this building, and she lives alone.
(voice-over): This is where Amanda made the video. She shot it, edited, and posted it on the Internet, all completely on her own. Surprised? If we must label her, she won't like it, but, medically, she is a low-functioning autistic.
(on camera): Part of the reason people watched it was because they were so stunned that a person who carries this label of autism, who doesn't speak, could put together such an astonishing video.
BAGGS (through voice synthesizer): I put together several videos before, and not a lot of people watched them.
(voice-over): But, this time, she got through.
(on camera): Amanda, when you hear about people with autism that are institutionalized, that -- that no one has really ever made a -- a concerted effort to try and reach out to, to communicate with in some way, what do you say to -- what do you say to those people?
BAGGS (through voice synthesizer): Everyone interacts with their society. If someone is shut off from interacting with society, then someone else is shutting it off, because it sure doesn't seem to me that I have ever seen someone who doesn't interact with society.
GUPTA (voice-over): In fact, Amanda interacts with everything around her.
(on camera): What about this? This was interesting to me. You are actually -- you can read, obviously, but you're actually putting your face in the book. What does -- what -- Why? What does that mean?
BAGGS (through voice synthesizer): I like the smell and the texture of that particular paper. That book has very rough paper.
GUPTA (voice-over): Amanda says this is her natural way of thinking, in patterns and in colors. Thinking with language and written words, as we do, is not natural for her. Therefore, she struggles with it.
(on camera): If you wanted to -- to -- to talk to me, could you do it?
BAGGS (through voice synthesizer): I could make speech sounds. At this point, I could not make them mean anything I was thinking.
GUPTA: Does that frustrate you?
BAGGS (through voice synthesizer): Not really. I type very fast.
GUPTA: Yes, you do.
(voice-over): Yes, she types very fast. When she's feeling good and not distracted, Amanda types about 120 words a minute. But her ability fluctuates. Some days, she can only type with one finger at a time. And, occasionally, she cannot type at all. On rare days, Amanda can become catatonic.
Distractions, interferences, sensory overloads all present huge obstacles for Amanda. So, she is most secure and most comfortable here at home, with her dog, Billy Jean (ph), and with all of her computer equipment as well. But, when she leaves here, she's assaulted by too much stimulation.
I went with her to see her dentist. She use a wheelchair, not because she can't walk. She can. But she says the very act of balancing herself proves too distracting.
And you will notice she's focused on her keyboard. In the dentist's chair, the buzz and flicker of the fluorescent lights are overwhelming for her. They can trigger migraines. So, Amanda soothes herself. She fiddles with her blocks. They are familiar and calming.
When Amanda hit herself, I was startled, but not surprised. It is a familiar autistic behavior. She must be so frustrated, such a bright woman, so trapped. And yet, I wondered, how is it that Amanda has been able to reveal so much about herself? And how many more people are there just like her?
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Burlington, Vermont.
ZAHN: And again, please join Larry King at the top of the hour. His guests include Bill Cosby, Toni Braxton and actors Gary Cole and Ed Asner, all speaking out on autism and how it's touched their lives.
We'll be right back. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight.
"Out in the Open" tomorrow night, you're not going to believe this one. A Florida preacher launching a series of sermons on sex, trying to fill the pews with something called mycrappysexlife.com. There are also signs nearby the church to try to get people to come to church, many who haven't been there in ages.
Wait until you hear exactly what he has to say in those sermons tomorrow night.
Until then, have a great night. Thanks again for dropping by tonight.
Again, "LARRY KING LIVE" has a very special hour on autism coming at you right now.
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