The abortion debate in the United States is described as emotional. So what are we reporters doing to make it rational? Stephanie Simon of The Los Angeles Times has done as good a job as any reporter. As Mollie has noted, Simon provides context to her stories, giving readers not just the details but also the wide canvas; if she were an artist, she would be more of a Dutch landscape painter than an impressionist. Her new story on abortion, however, does not live up that high standard. While it explores the subjective side of the abortion debate, it misses a key part of the objective side.
The article explores the growing movement of "post-abortive men." It includes some memorable stories from men who impregnated their lovers, who subsequently decided to have their unborn infants killed. Now these men, after suffering bouts of depression and addiction, have mobilized -- and their movement may be far reaching:
Therapist Vincent M. Rue, who helped develop the concept of post-abortion trauma, runs an online study that asks men to check off symptoms (such as irritability, insomnia and impotence) that they feel they have suffered as a result of an abortion. When men are widely recognized as victims, Rue said, "that will change society."
Abortion rights supporters watch this latest mobilization warily: If anecdotes from grieving women can move the Supreme Court, what will testimony about men's pain accomplish?
"They can potentially shift the entire debate," said Marjorie Signer of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an interfaith group that supports abortion rights.
Simon really needed to explain the comments of Signer and Rue. How will portraying men as victims change the abortion debate? Will the debate change the debate politically or will the number of abortions decline?
Politically, I doubt that post-abortive men can change the debate. The public is unlikely to sympathize with them; in their mind, these guys knocked up their girlfriends and are now whining about it.
Sociologically, and this is where Simon missed the boat, I think that post-abortive men could change things. Simon should have noted that almost half of women say they decided to abort because of problematic relationships; in other words, the women either had bad relationships with their lovers or got pressure to abort. As the Alan Guttmacher Institute wrote in a 2005 study:
A large proportion of women cited relationship problems and the desire to avoid single motherhood (48 percent).
Providing that context to the story would have made all the difference.
Simon already noted that more than a million pregnancies annually end in abortion. If post-abortive men could reach a fraction of those males who have relationship problems with their pregnant lovers, they would change the debate.
I know that long reports by non-profit organizations such as Guttmacher are no fun to read. But the reports provide essential big-picture data. And in our country's heated abortion debate, a little data goes a long way.