There's a pony in here somewhere

When I saw that the New York Times magazine had an 8,000(!) word piece on the "The New Abortion Providers," my heart sank a bit. This is an otherwise interesting publication that doesn't just seem obsessed with churning out pro-abortion propaganda, it has a history of wildly botching stories on the topic and refusing to correct them. But for the most part, the magazine's problem is that they hire left-wing journalists who wear their biases on their sleeve and then give them free rein to tackle a subject that requires a good deal of nuance and balance.

This is where Emily Bazelon -- Slate senior editor, Truman Capote law-and-media fellow at Yale Law School, Betty Friedan's cousin and unabashed abortion activist -- comes in. Bazelon is no stranger to criticism here at GetReligion. Why not give her several thousand words on abortion in NYT mag? What could possibly go wrong?

Anyway, if you can stomach diving through the pile of bias in Bazelon's work, she knows the abortion topic well enough and does enough reportage you can usually find a pony of interesting info in there somewhere. (Though it's often unintentionally illuminating -- Bazelon is the journalist who basically got Ruth Bader Ginsburg to admit abortion was legalized in part out of "concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of.")

Some of the info in Bazelon's latest truly was stunning and revealing. She discusses at length the background around Warren Buffet's $3 billion donation to advance abortion access -- including the fact that Buffet's money is directly funding a program to train abortion doctors.

The overall premise was intriguing, and it's certainly a topic that deserves some scrutiny, even if it deserves a more balanced perspective than brought by Bazelon. In a nutshell, the article discusses how pro-abortion forces are working to integrate abortion more into the mainstream of the medical profession -- more abortion training for OB-GYN's and general practitioners in medical school, as well as the emergence of a "new vanguard [that] don't define themselves as 'abortion doctors.' They often try to make the procedure part of their broader medical practice trying to integrate abortion procedures into more more clinics and hospitals." Currently, most abortions are performed at Planned Parenthood clinics and other stand alone facilities that are easy for pro-life forces to target with protests.

If that sounds intriguing, gird yourself. For Bazelon, discussing this state of affairs means tailing a bunch abortion providers and discussing in a remarkably one-sided fashion the challenges they face for embracing their controversial vocation. Abortion opponents and religious perspectives are brought up in a way that that's almost comical. Take this description of an abortion provider:

Many of the two dozen young doctors I talked to for this article were similarly conflicted. They wanted to talk about their work. They see it as part of making abortion mainstream. But the murder of Dr. George Tiller last year scared them. One 33-year-old family-medicine doctor I met in Rochester drives 90 miles each week to perform abortions at a clinic in Syracuse. She is pregnant with her third child, and she asked me not to use her name after her father insisted that she'd be putting herself and her kids at risk. Still, at her Episcopal church, where she feels safe, she is open about what she does. "When people are surprised, I say, 'Yes, a Christian can also be an abortion provider,'" she told me.

A major section of the article just ends right there without any further discussion of the conflicts between being a Christian and an abortion provider. The idea a "a Christian can also be an abortion provider" is put out there like a defiant statement of fact, not a rather dicey proposition. Of course, one can also be murderer and a Christian -- but that doesn't make it compatible with Christian teaching. What Bazelon's doing here reminds me of an old Soviet proverb: "If you see a Bulgarian on the street, beat him up. He will know why." Apparently Christians who don't embrace abortion are obviously inferior beings, and no need bothering to explain to them why.

Okay, think I'm being hyperbolic? Let's move on -- and be warned this next bit is a tad graphic:

As Godfrey came to know the nurses and front-desk staff at her primary-care clinic, she learned that some of them flatly opposed abortion. They've come around, she says, out of mutual professionalism. She doesn't object when nurses don't want to assist her, and she tries to meet them halfway by doing abortions only up to nine weeks of pregnancy. The early threshold means that no one on staff has to contend with recognizable fetal parts. "It was a way of being respectful, because I know that not everyone agrees with me and what I do," she says. After I watched Godfrey coach one of the residents she trains through a surgical abortion for a 22-year-old college student who was six weeks pregnant, we went to the clinic's utility room. The resident floated the pregnancy tissue in a glass dish of water, for a routine check. Amid the uterine tissue was a gestational sac about the size of a dime surrounded by millimeters-long white villi, the fronds that later help form the placenta.

How exactly does one meet "halfway" on abortion? I'm curious to know. But despite being actually in the doctor's office in question, Bazelon doesn't talk to any of the people in the office made uneasy by performing abortion procedures. Why not? Here's another ball quite obviously dropped for fear it might upset the narrative:

These gradated choices are a delicate subject within the field. The abortion providers I talked to are intensely grateful to the doctors who are willing to handle difficult late-second-trimester cases. But they also see the moral complexities up close. Two years ago, a young professor at the University of Michigan named Lisa Harris wrote an academic article about performing an 18-week abortion while she was 18 weeks pregnant. Harris described grasping the fetus's leg with her forceps, feeling a kick in her own uterus and starting to cry. "It was an overwhelming feeling -- a brutally visceral response -- heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics," she wrote. "It was one of the more raw moments in my life."


When Harris's article was the subject of a workshop at one of the Family Planning Fellowship's annual meetings, Sunni remembers the difficult emotions that came to the surface, and also the concern about how the article had been depicted in the anti-abortion press, its most graphic passages quoted as evidence of hypocrisy and folly. "We want to bring this discussion more to the forefront," Sunni says. "But it's a bit dangerous. Because people can misconstrue what we mean."

Again, heavy moral issues that are given the inch-deep treatment, for the sake that it might be "misconstrued." Hmmm. But fear not gentle reader, late in the piece after being introduced to probably a dozen pro-abortion medical doctors, we finally speak with a somewhat conflicted pro-life nurse who works for a doctor who performs abortions:

When I talked to Ann -- Ray offered her his office chair while he saw a patient -- she said that when Ray took over the practice, she and the office manager, another woman in her 60s, weren't sure if they would stay. "We didn't want a young doctor with attitude," Ann said. "We're too old for that. But we gave him a chance. And he has exceeded our expectations wildly. I thank God every day, because he's so good with the patients. I'm just blessed. Other than the little termination thing -- " she made a small box with her fingers and then moved her hands to her left, as if to set the box aside.

Ann reassures herself that Ray is never casual about abortion. "He makes the women think about it longer, to make sure they know this is something you have to live with forever." She also told me something Ray hadn't mentioned. "If a patient calls and she's not sure, I ask, 'Have you looked into other things?' I say, 'Come in and let's talk.' I tell her that if adoption might be a difficult situation, there is other help out there. I may refer her to a crisis pregnancy center" -- an anti-abortion organization that counsels pregnant women to keep their babies. In 2006, Congressional investigators found that most federally financed crisis pregnancy centers they contacted gave out wrong information like tying abortion to breast cancer or infertility or mental illness. Yet as part of the compromise between doctor and nurse, that is where Ann says she refers some women who call Ray's office.

Oh please. We're repeatedly told in this article that abortions are completely safe -- though for some inexplicable reason it's casually mentioned performing this supposedly safe surgical procedure adds about $10-$15,000 a year to a doctor's malpractice insurance. But the real cause for concern is that women at crisis pregnancy centers will might be given misleading information about the procedure! That's to say nothing of the fact the debate around crisis pregnancy centers and health risks of abortion is a politically correct minefield.

I'll leave you with one final headscratcher:

Ray, who is in his 30s, is an OB-GYN in upstate New York who learned to do abortions during his residency. As a teenager, Ray (who asked that I use only his middle name) saw his brother's fear when he got his girlfriend pregnant. Race also mattered in Ray's decision to become a provider; he is African-American. "We utilize the service a lot, but publicly we don't really support it," he said of the local black community.

...and that's all were given about this race-and-abortion bombshell. In New York city, more black children are aborted than born every year, and the author has a black abortion doctor saying that factors linked to race played a major role in his decision to perform abortion. Yet, this is another loose thread that merits only a passing mention. Gah!

Anyway, it's a very, very frustrating piece -- but it will enhance your understanding of the issue if you have the fortitude to endure it.

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