A Los Angeles Times profile this week of a would-be Kansas abortion doctor follows a pretty straightforward path. It's as simple as 1-2-3:
1. Brave doc steps in to fill the void left by the slaying of Dr. George Tiller.
2. Brave doc encounters threats and abuse from radical abortion opponents.
3. Brave doc presses forward despite the spooky climate in a state with some of the nation's most sweeping anti-abortion measures.
The top of the story:
Reporting from Wichita, Kan. — Out near the city's edge, where fast-food joints and subdivisions seem to spring from farmland overnight, the casualties of an unfinished war sit untouched in a doctor's basement.
Dr. Mila Means, a 55-year-old solo family practitioner with neon red hair and neo-hippie style, doesn't remember how or when she heard that Dr. George Tiller had been gunned down in his church.
She knew him only slightly as their paths crossed in medical circles. Mostly, she knew of him — as the lone abortion provider in a city of nearly 400,000, as a symbol of the country's abortion wars.
After his killing on May 31, 2009, the decision to step into his place did not come as an epiphany but rather over time, with sad reluctance.
The general tenor of the story (read: fawning) aside, I wish the Times had, at least, dealt with the religion ghosts that haunt this report.
The story only vaguely addresses the background and motivation of Means:
In summer 2010, Means began going each weekend to Kansas City, Kan., to learn first trimester abortion procedure. She approached Jeanne Tiller about buying her late husband's equipment. It cost $20,000, which cut deeply into her practice's meager budget. She remembers how creepy it felt to walk through Tiller's boarded up clinic shadowed by his widow's bodyguard.
The decision marked a full circle for Means, who grew up in Wichita with parents who supported abortion rights. In her 20s, though, she joined a fundamentalist church with a rigid antiabortion stance. Her own beliefs were more ambivalent.
Forgive me for not wanting to take the Times' word for it, but I'd love to know more about this "fundamentalist" church with the "rigid" anti-abortion stance. By whose definition is it fundamentalist? By whose definition is its abortion stance rigid?
At the same time, the paper fails to quantify Means' own beliefs — then or now — in any concrete way.
Readers do learn this:
She once applied as medical director of a pregnancy crisis center that talked women out of abortion but said she did not get the job because she could not agree that abortion was never justified. She now sees that time in her life as a passing phase before her politics drifted left.
That's the full extent of the reporting on Means' thinking. As a result, the story ends up reading like a hollow puff piece. Did anyone think to ask how her religious views changed, from her days as a would-be crisis pregnancy center worker until today?
Image of Kansas anti-abortion protest via Shutterstock