updated 1/18/2005 3:01:27 PM ET 2005-01-18T20:01:27

Guest: Michael Shorstein, Susan Pniewski, Terry O‘Neill, Wendy Wright, Tom Troncone

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, a 3 ½-year-old boy taken from the only parents he has ever known and sent to live with his birth mother.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  The adopted parents videotape their difficult goodbye.  They had a pretty strong argument that Evan should never have been taken from them.  We have got a cable exclusive with their lawyer.  So, did the judge ignore the best interest of the child?

And this week, the FDA expected to decide whether to make a so-called day after birth control pill available over the counter.  So you would need a doctor‘s prescription to get the regular birth control pill, but not for this highly concentrated day after version?

Plus, a family of four murdered after the father reportedly made anti-Muslim comments on a Web site.  Police investigating whether the murder could be the work of Islamic fundamentalists.

The program about justice starts now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, little Evan Scott sent back to his birth mother halfway across the country from the only home he has known for the first 3 ½ years of his life.  We brought you this story Friday.  It has been heating up.

NBC‘s Kevin Tibbles has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Outside, a suburban Chicago home, a partial end to a wrenching ordeal as Evan Scott‘s birth mother returns with him to Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He is doing great.  He is a happy little kid. 

And he is just glad to be home.

TIBBLES:  Over a thousand miles away, on Saturday, 3 ½-year-old Evan

left another home.  That of the Florida couple that was raising him, forced

by the courts to return Evan to his birth mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s more than about him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How can they...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s more than about Evan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How can they do this to a little boy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because they are evil.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How can they do this to him?

TIBBLES:  Dawn Scott and her husband Gene had made adoption arrangements, and were even present at his birth in May of 2001, but before the adoption was finalized, the boy‘s father demanded custody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re not scared, are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

TIBBLES:  The Scotts provided NBC with an exclusive copy of this video, taken as they prepared to say goodbye, and the anxiety sets in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want to go outside.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(CRYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

TIBBLES:  In the end, it was Amanda Hopkins, the birth mother, who obtained custody of Evan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The grief is not for ourselves.  We grieve for Evan, because we know he is the one who is going to suffer through all of this.

TIBBLES:  Still, the Scotts vow not to relinquish their legal battle to retain custody.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Evan‘s adopted parents, Dawn and Gene Scott, were on the “Today” show this morning in an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer.  Matt began by asking them if they could even describe what the past two days without Evan have been like for them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAWN SCOTT, FORMER CUSTODIAL MOTHER:  We are almost in a state of shock.  We feel numb.  It‘s—you can‘t describe it.  It‘s almost like a death.

MATT LAUER, CO-ANCHOR, “TODAY” SHOW:  When you found out the courts had not acted on the emergency appeal, how did you begin to prepare yourselves emotionally for the eventual handover of Evan?

D. SCOTT:  We had to focus on him.  We had to focus on what we needed to do for him to try to help him understand that we didn‘t want this.  We didn‘t cause this.  And that it wasn‘t his fault.

LAUER:  Mr. Scott, was it important for you to try to keep your emotions in check, given the fact this is already going to be an extremely traumatic experience for Evan, that if he saw fear and incredible upset in you, that it would only make it harder on him?

GENE SCOTT, FORMER CUSTODIAL FATHER:  Well, that was the theory, but it didn‘t quite work out that way.  He did see fear and emotion from me, and as you can see from the tape, he told me not to cry.  And when he did that, that‘s when he realized that this was a lot more than just a visit.

LAUER:  The discussion you had with Evan, telling him that he was going to now have to go live with his biological mother, was captured on videotape by his grandmother.  I want to show another portion of that.  Obviously, it was a very difficult discussion.  And we will talk about it on the other side.

(CRYING)

D. SCOTT:  You can be mad.  Be mad.  It‘s OK.  Mommy and daddy are mad too.  Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

(CRYING)

D. SCOTT:  I‘ve got to love you.  We‘ve got to tell you how much we love you.

LAUER:  Why was it important for you to tell him it‘s OK to be mad?

D. SCOTT:  So that he wouldn‘t hold it and repress it inside of him, that he—it‘s OK for him to be angry if he is angry.  That was our biggest fear, that he was going to bottle this up inside of him, and even do more damage to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  “My Take”—as I have said before, I have a tendency to side with biological parents more than most in cases like these, but these kinds of cases involve more than just statutes, and as a technical, legal matter, the birth father objected to the adoption, and that seems to be all the judge considered.

What the judge ignored were the motivations of both of the natural parents, and in this type of case that should matter.  The father only decides to object after his father insists, do it.  He didn‘t even know about the child because he had beaten the mother so badly that she wanted to hide the pregnancy from him.  The biological mother only objected because she wanted to keep Evan away from the father.

The adopted parents did everything right.  They even alerted the birth father of his son‘s existence, over mom‘s objections.  Dawn and Gene Scott are mommy and daddy to Evan, and I say that‘s the way it should stay.

Joining me now is Michael Shorstein, an adoption law attorney and member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.  And I think that he disagrees with me.  So Michael, tell me why you disagree with me on this one.

MICHAEL SHORSTEIN, ADOPTION ATTORNEY:  Well, the reason I disagree with you is the Scotts, or their attorney, what they should have done back at the time that the child was born, was understand that this was such a high-risk adoption plan that the temporary custodian should not have been the Scotts, that they should have been somebody else, and that—if that were the case, then we wouldn‘t be here in 2005 with this issue at all...

ABRAMS:  But we are.  We are, and that‘s where the child has been living.  And so we are left with a situation that we are facing, which is this child has been living there for over three years.  And the only reason that mom is coming back to fight this initially is to keep dad from ever having custody of Evan.  That‘s not the kind of motivation that you want to end up giving a child to a mother who initially said I am willing to put it up for adoption.

SHORSTEIN:  Well, the problem is, is what you have to understand is birth parents have the fundamental right to determine the care, custody, and control of their children and that‘s two parents.  Now, again, we are talking about a Florida law that is old now.  It‘s not in effect.  If this case were to happen today, then, number one, the Scotts would never have taken custody of the child, because the father would have registered with the Putative Father Registry, but that‘s not the case.  Under the old...

ABRAMS:  But this is a father who didn‘t want to be involved, Michael.  I mean you know as well as I do the timeline here.  March of 2001, he receives notice of the pregnancy.  He doesn‘t do anything about it.  May 2001, he receives notice of the adoption petition.  Finally July 2001, grandpa comes in and says, hey, is that my grandson, and they say, well, it‘s not up to you to come in here.  If you want someone to get involved, it‘s going to have to be dad, and so finally dad gets involved, and so it‘s hard to say that the father would have done anything prior to July.

SHORSTEIN:  Well I disagree with your facts, because if your facts were correct, then there would be a different outcome.  Under Florida law, you have two ways to relinquish control of the child.  One is by consent, which the father wouldn‘t do.  And two is by abandonment, which is a legal definition, and under your facts, the father had technically abandoned the child, which he did not.

ABRAMS:  You are saying he did not receive—the bottom line is—my understanding is he signed for a document in March of 2001, which basically said months—weeks before the birth, that, hey, heads up here.  Even though mom didn‘t want him to know about it, the adoptive parents say, you know what, we‘ve got to do this.  We‘ve got to let him know.  They don‘t hear anything.  As far as you are concerned, that didn‘t happen?

SHORSTEIN:  No.  My understanding of the facts is after he received that document, that he did initiate contact and tried to assert his parental rights.  That‘s what this is about...

ABRAMS:  How long after?  But how—the bottom line, it‘s a matter of time.  You can‘t as a father just sit there and ignore it and say, oh, you know what, yes, so I understand I have got a little kid out there, you know what, whatever...

SHORSTEIN:  He didn‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

SHORSTEIN:  Dan, that‘s not the case.  He did not ignore it.  She left shortly after conception and gave no notice to him that she was fleeing and coming to the state of Florida.

ABRAMS:  You‘re going to blame her for that too after she has been beaten up by the guy?

SHORSTEIN:  I am not blaming her, but the bottom line is the law looks and the judge looked at what‘s in the best interest of Evan, OK, and the best interest of Evan now, now that the adoption has failed, the dependency case has failed, which you failed to bring up that there was a dependency case in which they tried to prove the father as unfit and...

ABRAMS:  Right.

SHORSTEIN:  ... the court held that the father was a fit parent.

ABRAMS:  Right.  No, there‘s no question that happened, even despite his cocaine use, despite his, you know, conviction or pled guilty to beating up mom.

SHORSTEIN:  Dan, if we were to follow your standards, then we would...

ABRAMS:  No, that‘s true...

SHORSTEIN:  ... take away the parental rights of everybody in jail.

ABRAMS:  You‘re right and on that one, I have to say, I have a tendency to agree with you more than many people do.  It‘s just the facts of this make me crazy.  All right, you know what?  If you could stick around for a minute, Michael, we would appreciate it.

Because coming up, a cable exclusive, the trial lawyer for the parents who lost Evan join us and we‘re going to hear more from the parents, the adoptive parents (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

All right, tear-filled funeral today for a family of four slain last week in a New Jersey home.  Some blaming the deaths on the type of Muslim fundamentalists we are used to hearing about overseas.

Plus, the clock is ticking for the FDA.  They have until the end of the week to decide to make the morning after pill available without a prescription.  Critics say it‘s going to encourage younger women to be more sexually active.  We debate.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a 3 ½-year-old taken from his adoptive parents, the only parents he has ever known, given to his birth mother, who even wanted the other parents to keep the child.  We‘ll talk to the lawyer of the parents.  It‘s a cable exclusive coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  We‘re talking about this horrible case of this little boy, 3 ½, taken from the only parents he has ever lived with and now being returned to his birth mother.  There you see the home video that was taken of the adoptive parents and that was them on the “Today” Show talking about this.

Here‘s what the judge said in saying sorry, the child goes back to mom.  The history of this case reflects that the Scotts, the parents, who undoubtedly love Evan, have lost the adoption case.  They lost the adoption appeal.  They lost the dependency case, failed to show lasting harm to Evan, and have lost custody.  Based on the clarity of the law and the record currently before the court, there is no alternative in this case other than ultimately returning custody of Evan to his natural parents.

I am joined now by Susan Pniewski, who is the attorney for Dawn and Gene Scott.  Thanks very much for coming on the program.

SUSAN PNIEWSKI, ATTORNEY FOR DAWN & GENE SCOTT:  Thank you for having me.

ABRAMS:  All right, so what do you make of it?  I mean the judge is basically saying he has got no choice here.  The bottom line is the law is real clear.

PNIEWSKI:  I think that the law in this case is flexible enough to allow placement of the child in either place.  I think that the standard he applied, which is the standard of whether there‘s long-lasting detriment to the child is a subjective standard.  And I believe that the testimony that was given could show either way.  And in my mind, it clearly showed that there‘s going to be long-lasting detriment.  And I believe that the video that you have seen, which I first saw today as well, clearly shows that in hindsight.

ABRAMS:  Apart from the merits of the case, I am troubled by the video I got to tell you.  I‘m troubled by the fact that they took it.  It seems to me—and let me—I want to play a portion of it, but I have to say that I was completely on the parents‘ side until I saw this video, and it bothered me.  It made me think that they are not necessarily behaving in what is in Evan‘s best interest.

Let‘s play—this is number eight.  This is where Matt Lauer is asking them about whether they feel like they‘re exploiting Evan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

D. SCOTT:  I don‘t believe it is exploiting him.  There‘s no other way to prove to the court how much this is hurting him, because they seem to think that he is going to be fine, that this is—that he has got this bond and he is going to his new home and a new mommy and a new dad, and he will be fine.  He was destroyed.  He was traumatized.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You know, look, I believe it‘s going to be traumatic for him, but to show a video of a little kid yelling and screaming, in this particular part of the video, where she says, oh, you know, it‘s OK to be angry, they shouldn‘t have done this, should they?

PNIEWSKI:  I wouldn‘t have suggested it.  I understand the motivation.  I probably wouldn‘t have done it, but they did it, and I believe that in their mind this is the only way to show how harmed this child has been by this transfer.  There‘s—I think that they feel we haven‘t had a voice in the courts, so this is the only way they have to given Evan a voice.

ABRAMS:  How do you address the fact that the bottom line is, you know, there was an adoption proceeding.  There was an adoption appeal.  There were all these different hearings, and the bottom line is all these different judges seem to come down against the parents except when it came to temporary custody of Evan.

PNIEWSKI:  Well, I think that‘s the most telling fact here.  We have had proceeding after proceeding after proceeding.  All those courts have had the opportunity to change the placement of the child to one of his biological parents, and God knows, they have asked, the biological father has asked over and over and over, and every single court has seen the wisdom of keeping that child where he was because that‘s what was best for Evan.

ABRAMS:  But in retrospect that was now a mistake.  I mean as Mr.  Shorstein points out, if that hadn‘t happened, right, and if the child had been returned earlier to the biological parents, we might not be in the position we are today.

PNIEWSKI:  And that‘s absolutely correct.  If the child had been returned right away, we wouldn‘t be here, but I don‘t believe that the courts at that point in time thought that that was what was best for Evan.

ABRAMS:  And so you believe that the court—I happen to believe based on reading the opinion that what the court didn‘t do was didn‘t look at—because, you know, I am not entirely swayed by the only issue is the best interest of the child.  And I have long believed that that is a major factor, when it comes to a case like this, you can‘t ignore the biological parents.  My concern in this case is the intent of the biological parents.  You got dad who didn‘t want the child, and then you got a mom, who was happy to have these parents have him until she started getting scared that dad was going to get him.

PNIEWSKI:  Exactly.  Exactly.  I would question their motivation as well, and I don‘t know that the courts thought that would be a wise thing to subject the child to a half-hearted parent on either side, and I think that is more about control at this point than it is about parenting, and unfortunately, it‘s Evan that‘s going to bear the brunt of that.

ABRAMS:  All right.  If you can stay with us, Michael Shorstein is going to join us again in a moment.  We‘re also going to play—you will hear more from the parents themselves, interesting stuff in addition to that video.

And controversy over this pill that prevents a woman from getting pregnant after she has sex.  The FDA now considering whether you should be able to get it without a prescription.  But if you need a doctor to get the regular pill, why should this be different?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

D. SCOTT:  He told me, as I was walking out the door with him, mommy, I‘m scared, mommy, I‘m scared, and I said, it‘s going to be OK.  I said mommy and daddy will do everything they can to try to bring you back home.  We love you, and you are a good boy.  This is not your fault.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Talking about this case of little Evan, who has now been transferred to his birth mother after being with the only parents that he‘s known for three and a half years.  And here‘s what the judge said about the issue of what‘s in the best interest of the child.  And here‘s how he laid out the legal standard.

The only basis for the Scotts, the parents, to maintain custody of the child is to show that they could not transfer custody to either parent without causing lasting detriment to the child.

Michael Shorstein, that doesn‘t sound like it‘s the best interest of the child standard.

SHORSTEIN:  Well Dan, first, I have to disagree when you say that that‘s the only parents the child has known.  I mean Evan has had visitation with his birth mother ever since birth, and has had visitation with his biological father since 2002.  So the child has been exposed—these are not strangers to the child.

ABRAMS:  But this is the only family he has ever lived with, right?  I mean the only family he has lived with, with the Scotts...

SHORSTEIN:  In their house.

ABRAMS:  Right.

SHORSTEIN:  In their house, that‘s correct.

ABRAMS:  Right.

SHORSTEIN:  But as far as the best interest of the child, the judge took into account expert testimony, which the experts had all of the facts, including the facts regarding the relationship with the birth mother and the biological father over the last three years.

ABRAMS:  Ms. Pniewski, is that true?

PNIEWSKI:  You know, unfortunately I think that is not the case.  The experts were paid by the biological father.  The expert—we all had experts.  Well the biological father had experts.  Those experts said they had not seen the child.  All they know is what the biological father and his family told them.  They had one hour to spend with the child, and you can‘t make a...

ABRAMS:  Did you have experts who came forward and said...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... it‘s going to be detrimental to the child?

PNIEWSKI:  I had two experts who had—one had over 50 years of experience in child psychology.  He was very clear about the detriment.  I think that there was conflicting testimony in here.

ABRAMS:  And this is what the judge said about Dr. Laura Carper, as well as other mental health experts who met Evan testified, the child should not suffer long lasting effects of the transition so long as the child is transferred promptly, receives counseling, and the parties involved remain sensitive to the child‘s needs.

SHORSTEIN:  And Dan, when you have conflicting testimony, that‘s the judge‘s responsibility to determine which of the experts...

ABRAMS:  Right.

SHORSTEIN:  ... is factual and...

ABRAMS:  But it doesn‘t sound like the judge is saying this is in the best interest of the child.  It sounds like what he‘s saying is unless it is so awful and so horrible for this child—the bottom line is I‘m not going to say what is best for the child.  I am just going to say, would it be so horrible for him to go, and if it‘s not so awful to even think about, then I‘m going to transfer him.

SHORSTEIN:  But Dan, the case is over.  We all feel for the Scotts.  Everyone feels for the Scotts.  I have been handling adoption cases for 15 years.  That‘s all I do.  And I feel horrible for the Scotts, but the bottom line is legally they have no entitlement to Evan.  And the judge is saying now is the time to make the transfer.  We can‘t wait another year or two because...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SHORSTEIN:  ... appeals could go on for two, three years.

ABRAMS:  No, look, you‘re right.  If they are going to take the child

away from the Scotts, now is the time to do it.  I mean you know, there‘s

no question about that.  I don‘t think Susan would dispute that either.  So

·         but the question is, was it ever the time to take him away.

All right, Susan Pniewski thanks a lot for coming in.  Appreciate it.

PNIEWSKI:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Michael Shorstein, good to see you.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program.

SHORSTEIN:  Dan, thank you.

ABRAMS:  Up next, it‘s known as the morning after pill, pop it up to 72 hours after sex, and it works pretty well in preventing pregnancy.  You can only get it with a prescription.  Now the FDA deciding if they‘ll make it available over the counter.  Some saying it could lead to a lot of people using it as contraception and that would be a bad idea.

And a family of four laid to rest after a murder.  Police investigating whether Islamic fundamentalists are to blame.  We‘re talking about the type that we‘re used to hearing about far from home.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the FDA is expected to decide this week if the morning after pill should be sold over the counter so women can use it, they say, in time, but if you need a prescription for the birth control pill, why not this one?  First the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  Next time you go to the drug store, you might find the usual soap, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste.  Go a little further down that aisle and you might also find the so-called morning after pill.  By the end of the week, the Food and Drug Administration expected to decide if the emergency contraception can be sold over the counter in drug stores nationwide.

Since 1999, it‘s been available by prescription only.  Supporters say wider and quicker access to the pills could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions every year.  The company that makes Plan B, as it‘s called, says the pill is not a substitute for regular contraception and should only be taken in emergencies.  The company maintains this drug is not an abortion drug and in fact, cannot terminate an established pregnancy.

But taken correctly within 72 hours of unprotected sex, the pill can reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent.  It‘s effectively a highly concentrated birth control pill, but the sooner Plan B is taken after unprotected sex, the more effective it is.

“My Take”—I don‘t get it.  Yes, this seems to be an important item for sexually active women to have in their medicine cabinet.  Maybe doctors should be saying, here‘s your prescription for birth control pills, and here is one for the morning after pill just in case.  But I see no compelling reason why this should be offered over the counter if the regular birth control pill is offered only with a prescription.  The risk of it being abused and used as just another method of birth control is just too great.  I say a doctor should be involved.

Joining me now, the senior policy director for Concerned Women for America, Wendy Wright, who is against making it over the counter, and Terry O‘Neill, vice president of the National Organization for Women, who supports the over the counter sale of the pill.  Thank you both very much for coming on the program.

All right.  Ms. O‘Neill, what do you think I am getting wrong here?

TERRY O‘NEILL, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN:  Well, we think that the FDA should clearly make E.C. available over the counter.  It is just an important part of a woman‘s overall health, reproductive health of women, contraception is basic to it.  Sometimes emergencies do happen, and when they happen, a woman should have that emergency contraception available right there.

ABRAMS:  But why is it different?  I don‘t understand.  This is effectively a highly concentrated birth control pill, and what we‘re saying is women to get a regular birth control pill with a lower dose should still need a prescription, but to get the higher dose they should not need a prescription?

O‘NEILL:  Sure.  The higher dose has been shown to be perfectly safe and effective.  They have done study after study after study.  A panel advising the FDA did advise the FDA that they should make this product available over the counter.  There is no safety issue available here.  And so it‘s very important for women to have it here, and in fact, you know, if contraception fails, then a woman needs to be able to have that right there and frankly she should have it in her medicine cabinet.

ABRAMS:  Should the pill be over the counter as well, the regular birth control pill?

O‘NEILL:  You know, I don‘t know that we have taken a position on that.  And in fact, I am positive NOW has not taken a position on that.  I mean I don‘t know what all the ins and outs are.  What I do know is that this drug, this emergency contraception has been tested for safety...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘NEILL:  ... and has been found to be safe, and it‘s been tested for effectiveness.  It‘s been found to be safe and effective.

ABRAMS:  All right, Ms. Wright...

O‘NEILL:  There‘s no reason not to have it over the counter.

ABRAMS:  I apologize.  Ms. Wright, your concern is different than mine.  My concern is I don‘t get where the distinction is between the birth control pill and this pill when it comes to over the counter versus prescription, but you have other concerns, right?

WENDY WRIGHT, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA:  Well I agree with you there, but let‘s also look at the real world experience in other countries that have made it over the counter.  In the United Kingdom, they saw a dramatic increase in sexually transmitted diseases.  In Scotland, there was an increase in teen pregnancies.  In Sweden, there was an increase in teen abortions.  In Thailand, what they saw is the most frequent buyer of the drug was men who had been slipping it to...

ABRAMS:  Wait, I don‘t understand.  How does it increase abortions?

WRIGHT:  Well, what happens is it encourages sexual activity, particularly risky sexual activity.  And then when the woman ends up pregnant and this pill either doesn‘t work or she doesn‘t take it, but she...

ABRAMS:  But if she doesn‘t—you can‘t blame the society—people aren‘t taking it.  It‘s sort of irrelevant...

WRIGHT:  Actually, what they found in the United Kingdom in a study done there is that by having it easily available, teenagers particularly made irrational decision.  They decided to engage in sexual activity thinking they could just go to the store in the morning and pick up the morning after pill.  Well many of them, even after they took the drug, ended up pregnant and then they were more susceptible to undergoing an abortion.

So now—and contrary to what Terry said, the studies that have been done on the drug really haven‘t looked at the safety.  They‘ve only looked at efficacy.  We really don‘t know what will happen to women who take it multiple times, as has been found happened in other countries.  When it‘s easily available, people do rely on it as regular form of birth control...

ABRAMS:  All right.  So Ms. O‘Neill, what about these test that Ms.

Wright is referring to?

O‘NEILL:  The right wing is constantly saying that studies show this and studies show that.  It‘s just not the case.  The FDA has looked into this.  There has been—the safety of these drugs have been investigated.  And in fact, they have found to be—they have been found to be safe.

ABRAMS:  But what about the experience in other countries?  And I have to say I‘m not as persuaded by the examples Ms. Wright gives as I am by Australia.  And let me read you this—this is number three here.

Australia, they do have it over the counter.  This is Bill Glasson, the Australian Medical Association president, said it is obviously being used as a drug of convenience that you‘re using it a couple of times two or three times a month.  Then obviously that is not in the interest of the woman‘s health.

And now they are thinking about trying to regulate it in Australia.

O‘NEILL:  You know, what they found so far, there‘s been a very brief study, a six-month-long study that found that that is simply not the case in this country.  There‘s a study that was done that showed that not only did—this is women who were given the emergency contraception just to have in their medicine cabinet.  And then their sexual behavior was followed for six months, and they were compared to two other control groups.  And the women who had the emergency contraception available in their home were more likely to take it if their birth control failed or if there was some kind of emergency, but were not more likely either to have sexually transmitted infections or to...

WRIGHT:  Actually...

O‘NEILL:  ... change their sexual behavior.

WRIGHT:  Actually, that study—what that same study showed is there was no decrease in the number of pregnancies among all the different groups of women and...

ABRAMS:  My guess is, though, Ms. Wright, that you‘re opposed to it even with a prescription, right?  I mean you don‘t want doctors prescribing this either, right?

WRIGHT:  You know, there are serious problems with—because it hasn‘t been adequately tested.  We don‘t know what happens to women who use it multiple times.  We don‘t know what happens to...

ABRAMS:  But again, with a doctor‘s prescription, see I—my concern is that you are opposed to it across the board, and even with a doctor‘s prescription, which I say, look, if a doctor is going to prescribe it the same way they describe the birth control pill, I am all for it.  My concern is over the counter.  So do you disagree with me on that, that doctors should be able to prescribe this?

WRIGHT:  You know, there are certain situations where it might be appropriate, but you know, what the FDA is considering right now is to have it over the counter.  That‘s our immediate concern, because right now, you know, you have a real serious problem with statutory rape, adult men having sex with minor girls.  They would be able to get this drug in order to continue and cover up their abuse of minor girls...

ABRAMS:  Oh come on, wait a second.  So this is going to lead to statutory rape?  I mean, come on.

WRIGHT:  In fact, that, as I mentioned has happened in other countries.  You do see an increase...

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I don‘t buy any...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I don‘t buy any connection between statutory rape...

WRIGHT:  People make irrational decisions when something like this is easily available.  They do change their behavior.

ABRAMS:  Oh come on.  I mean...

WRIGHT:  Well, you know, Dan, I recommend people go to our Web site. 

You can look up the studies, the studies that...

ABRAMS:  But the studies are not going to show—what the studies are going to show is you‘re going to show some country or some example of a group, and you are going to say, look, in this particular example, there were people who were allowed to get this, and, therefore, this proves that this increases statutory rape.  You are not going to have a single study on your Web site which demonstrates a link that proves that the reason that statutory rapes are increased...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... is because of this drug being available.

WRIGHT:  Dan, Congress passed a federal law to make sure that any clinic that is providing federally funded contraceptives must look out for statutory rape cases because that‘s already been happening in the United States with federally funded family planning clinics.  Of course it‘s going to happen if the drug is on a drug store shelf.

ABRAMS:  Of course what is going to happen?

WRIGHT:  That you will have more cases of men who are abusing young girls, relying on this drug to cover up their abuse.

ABRAMS:  Come on.  Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  If I could just interject something here...

ABRAMS:  Go ahead Ms. O‘Neill.  Go ahead.

O‘NEILL:  Yes, I think child abuse is—lots of different types of care providers are required to report suspected incidents of child abuse.  So that‘s not new, and it‘s not restricted to the question of whether...

WRIGHT:  And if a girl...

ABRAMS:  Let her finish.  Hang on.  Hang on...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Let Ms. O‘Neill finish.  Yes.

O‘NEILL:  But when we‘re talking about rape, one of the things that we think is very important, not all hospitals make emergency contraception available to rape victims.  And we think that we need legislation to require hospitals to make that...

ABRAMS:  All right.  All right, we‘re getting a little off point.  Bottom line is that, you know, we disagree.  I happen to—I think I disagree a little bit with both of you on this one, because I think it should not be available over the counter, but it should be widely available with doctor prescription.

Wendy Wright, Terry O‘Neill, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

Appreciate it.

WRIGHT:  Thank you Dan.

O‘NEILL:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Up next, he spent time in chat rooms talking about his religion, Christianity.  Last week, he and his family found murdered in their New Jersey home, their throats reportedly slashed.  Now some are saying it could be the work of Islamic fundamentals.

And he was convicted Friday for his role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, but will any of his superiors be held responsible?  I think not.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Was a New Jersey family murdered because they were Christians, found in their New Jersey City home on Friday, bound, gagged, stabbed.  Some reports say their throats were either slashed or stabbed.

WNBC‘s Monica Morales (ph) has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(SOUNDS)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over):  Unimaginable pain, forced to bury an entire family, slaughtered in their Jersey City home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  It was a slow and grueling walk from Journal Square to the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church.  The coffins of 47-year-old Hossam Armanious, his wife followed, 37-year-old Amal Garas, and their teenage daughter, Sylvia was next, and last their youngest, Monica who was only eight.

(CRYING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Lots of sobbing, but unbearable pain quickly turned to anger.

(SHOUTING)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Speculation among the community here, this was a hate crime.  The family, devout Christians.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Family members of the victims say these murders were motivated by religious hatred, and were upset when they saw Muslim leaders show up at the funeral.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did he say anything in there?

MAGODY ISKAROUS, FAMILY FRIEND:  He just kept smiling.  He‘s smiling and giggling.  You don‘t do that at midwestern funeral.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  There are reports that Hossam Armanious made remarks on a Web site, anti-Muslim comments, and received death threats because of it.

PAHAA ELGAWALY, FAMILY FRIEND:  He do argument with some Muslim people over his Web site, and they got this.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Investigators say they are concentrating on several leads right now.  They believe the family may have known their killers.  There were no signs of forced entry, and that this was the work of several suspects.  The family of the victims say the family was robbed last year, between 15,000 to $20,000 worth of jewelry.  But many that knew this family closely believe this is more than a robbery.

EDDIE SOLOMON, JERSEY CITY:  I have my wife and my—and two daughters, the same like them.  Since this day, my wife doesn‘t sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Now religious groups here in the area say they are offering a half million-dollar reward for any information in this case that would lead to the killers.

In Jersey City, Monica Morales (ph).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Tom Troncone is a reporter who has been covering the story for New Jersey‘s newspaper, “The Record”.  Tom, thanks a lot for coming on.  What do you make of this theory that Islamists might have been behind this?

TOM TRONCONE, REPORTER, “THE RECORD”:  I think if you look at the facts of the case, you have a gentleman who was engaging in chats that sometimes were very vociferous, in his beliefs anyway, in these chats using...

ABRAMS:  Anti-Muslim comments.

TRONCONE:  Reportedly from the family, he would debate, and the family was telling us, he may have been making some anti-Muslim comments that may have led to some threats being levied against him by some other people he was chatting with.  Then you have someone coming into their home, and heinously murdering him and his family, including a 15 and 8-year-old girl.  And the only thing that appears to have been taken is some money out of his wallet.  So the question is out there still.  I don‘t think we have an answer yet to exactly what happened.

ABRAMS:  Had there been threats in the past against him in this regard?

TRONCONE:  Well, again, according to the family...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TRONCONE:  ... because the authorities have been pretty close to the vest on this one, according to the family, he received e-mail or message threats from people he was debating with that basically told him that he needs to quit talking about Muslims in the way he was and threatened physical harm to him if he were to continue.

ABRAMS:  The family is then convinced, it sounds like, that this was the work of some sort of Islamists who did this as a result of what had been said.

TRONCONE:  I think the family is going through a real tough time right now, and I think they are looking for answers, and it‘s something that definitely has crossed their mind.  It‘s something that some family members have pointed out, but not all of them.  A lot of them want to be patient, want to let the police do their investigation and then come up with it.

ABRAMS:  There‘s no question, though, that the police are investigating this as a possible theory, right?

TRONCONE:  Oh absolutely.  Absolutely.  What they are saying right now is that there definitely was a robbery, but was the robbery the motive or was the religious overtone, was the motive religion or was it robbery is the question they are trying to sort out.

ABRAMS:  Wow, this is scary stuff it...

TRONCONE:  It‘s a really tough one.

ABRAMS:  All right, Tom Troncone, thanks a lot for coming in. 

Appreciate it.

TRONCONE:  Thanks Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, some of our e-mailers object to my comments on Friday, that a preacher shouldn‘t be charged with anything more than disorderly conduct for leading a noisy protest at a gay pride parade.  I say it‘s not the same thing as inciting a riot.  You all respond.  Your e-mails coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Specialist Charles Graner sentenced to 10 years for leading some of the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.  Will his superiors be held criminally accountable?  I say no way.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why the conviction of former Army prison guard Charles Graner shouldn‘t wipe away the sins of his superiors in connection with the Abu Ghraib travesty.  Yes, Graner deserved to convicted.  His defense, hardly a match for the photos with his smiling mug looking more like he was on vacation at a wax museum than at a real prison with real prisoners.  He blamed his superiors but couldn‘t force them to come in and testify.

And as a legal matter, it is just not good enough to just say, well, they told me to do it.  He obviously should have known better and will pay the price.  But while it‘s not a legal defense to say I was ordered to do so, it is relevant in assessing why it happened and in trying to ensure it doesn‘t happen again.  I haven‘t seen any evidence to indicate that he was told to stack naked prisoners in pyramids and to make them masturbate.

But it is pretty clear Graner and other lower level soldiers were encouraged to soften the prisoners up.  I have got to believe some of his superiors at the least ignored evidence of abuse.  But mark my words, I predict no higher-level officers will be held criminally accountable.  General Ricardo Sanchez may not get his fourth star.  General Janis Karpinski was suspended, but what about everyone in between?

It seems the goal here is to minimize the damage.  If you want to argue that this entire incident is not that big a deal, as Graner‘s attorney seem to suggest in his opening statement.  Fine.  A military jury didn‘t buy it.  I don‘t buy it.  But at least that argument doesn‘t only demand accountability from a few low level officers for what sure seems to be a far more widespread problem.  Graner wasn‘t a scapegoat, as he claims, but there‘s no doubt in my mind that there‘s a lot more to this story that I won‘t expect to hear about in a courtroom.

Coming up, you might not think a ghost can be sentenced to time in prison.  Think again.  We‘re back in 60 seconds with our “OH PLEAs!” of the day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  On Friday, we spoke with a preacher facing up to 47 years on felony charges of riot, criminal conspiracy, and ethnic intimidation after he went to a Philadelphia gay pride parade in October with a mega phone-shouting things like homosexuality is sin and Christ can set you free.  I said based on the videotape of the scene, he probably should have been charged with nothing more than disorderly conduct if that.

Amber, Knoxville, Tennessee.  “Just like the KKK.  It‘s OK to speak your mind, but when you speak of hate and prejudice like this group, then you don‘t have rights when you speak of hate.”

Well Amber, actually the KKK does have the right to speak of hate as long as they don‘t cross the line towards trying to incite a riot.

From Detroit, Michigan, Jase Tobey.  “Once upon a time people used the Bible to justify hate against African Americans.  This is no different than if someone were to go to an African American rally and preach to them about how they were doing something that they considered evil.”

That may be true but again that doesn‘t provide what is called a heckler‘s veto.  Meaning, someone listening doesn‘t have the legal right to say, it would make me so upset that I might have to commit violence.

R. Zeke Fread in Tampa, Florida.  “They always claim they were only attempting to minister the word of God to save our souls and so Christ will set us free.  Oh please, give me a break.  They spew bigotry, intolerance and hatred in an attempt to disrupt the event and incite violence.”

Again, if the goal was to incite violence, that‘s a different story. 

I didn‘t see that.

Minister Glen Mauro in Wall, New Jersey offers some advice to the preacher.  “The Christian goal is conversion.  It does not come by shouting or counter protesting to a crowd that needs to be taught and loved in order to even hear the message.  Do they want to convert or intimidate homosexuals?”

Also in a rare event last week, Supreme Court Justices Anton Scalia and Stephen Breyer debated whether the U.S. Supreme Court should ever let decisions made in foreign courts impact their rulings on American law.  I said the U.S. Supreme Court has occasionally mentioned in passing what other courts have done on some difficult issues.  I said so what.

Tom Harmon in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  “Once we start basing our judgment on case law made outside the United States, we open ourselves to legalizing drugs, prostitution, the cutting off of hands, and other prized body parts, and execution without due process.  It‘s legal in Uganda should never be a valid argument in our country.”

Oh, Tom, I love the sky is falling argument here.  Again, in limited circumstances to explain how other countries‘ highest courts have resolved difficult issues is just that, an explanation.  Nothing more.  Relax.

From Chester, Virginia, Christina Barksdale.  “It‘s as plain as the nose on your face that too many U.S. liberal judges are making a mockery of our Constitution with their European-like attitudes on moral issues, abortion and marriage, for example.”

Christina, I hate to break the news to you but our abortion laws are generally more liberal than most courts in Europe.  So maybe according to you, those darn Europeans aren‘t so bad after all.

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.

“OH PLEAs!”—who would think you could take legal action to evict a ghost from your home.  A really noisy ghost that keeps you up all night, slamming doors on empty rooms, running down empty hallways, and making other mysterious sounds.  Well an Austrian man haunted by that kind of noisy ghost brought in the police to investigate.  They set up a video camera and actually found the ghost.

It turns out the footsteps, slammed doors, mysterious sounds, all came from a Polish woman whose husband worked for the owner of the not so haunted house.  The ghost was convicted on nuisance charges, sentenced to four months.  No one seems to be concerned about her escaping through the bars.

That does it for us tonight.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Thanks for watching.  I‘ll see you tomorrow.  Have a good Martin Luther King Day...

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