New York Times Cover Story Fails to Make Abortion Acceptance Mainstream

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 20, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New York Times Cover Story Fails to Make Abortion Acceptance Mainstream

by Clay Waters
July 20, 2010 Note: Clay Waters writes for the Media Research Center and this column originally appeared on its web site.

Cheerleading for abortion? The massive cover story for Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “The New Abortion Providers” by Emily Bazelon, looked hard for signs of optimism for the acceptance of abortion in the United States. But her own reporting tended to undermine her relatively rosy assessment.

Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate with extremely pro-choice views ("for some women, abortion brings simply and merely relief," she wrote in July 2009), opened in the most melodramatic fashion imaginable:

On a clear and mild March day in 1993, the Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry spoke at a rally in southern Florida against abortion. “We’ve found the weak link is the doctor,” he told the crowd. “We’re going to expose them. We’re going to humiliate them.” A few days later, Dr. David Gunn, an abortion provider, was shot and killed outside his clinic in Pensacola, Fla., about 500 miles away. It was the first of eight such murders, the extreme edge of what has become an anti-abortion strategy of confrontation.


“Under pressure and stigma, more doctors shun abortion,” wrote David Grimes, a leading researcher and abortion provider of 38 years, in a widely cited 1992 medical journal article called “Clinicians Who Provide Abortions: The Thinning Ranks.” In a 1992 survey of OB-GYNs, 59 percent of those age 65 and older said that they performed abortions, compared with 28 percent of those age 50 and younger. The National Abortion Federation started warning about “the graying of the abortion provider.” In the decade after Roe, the number of sites providing abortion across the country almost doubled from about 1,500 to more than 2,900, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But by 2000 the number shrank back to about 1,800 — a decline of 37 percent from 1982.

There’s another side of the story, however — a deliberate and concerted counteroffensive that has gone largely unremarked. Over the last decade, abortion-rights advocates have quietly worked to reverse the marginalization encouraged by activists like Randall Terry. Abortion-rights proponents are fighting back on precisely the same turf that Terry demarcated: the place of abortion within mainstream medicine. This abortion-rights campaign, led by physicians themselves, is trying to recast doctors, changing them from a weak link of abortion to a strong one. Its leaders have built residency programs and fellowships at university hospitals, with the hope that, eventually, more and more doctors will use their training to bring abortion into their practices. The bold idea at the heart of this effort is to integrate abortion so that it’s a seamless part of health care for women — embraced rather than shunned.

Bazelon’s thesis is interrupted by her own reporting:

Doctors who perform abortions are startled by some poll numbers showing that for the first time, more Americans call themselves pro-life than pro-choice — a shift that includes young people. I saw hints of that discomfort. Medical residents with a moral or religious objection can always choose not to participate in abortion training, and in Godfrey’s program this year, four out of seven did not take part. When I visited the Planned Parenthood in Rochester, a 29-year-old pediatric resident came to watch the nurses counsel patients about their options but chose not to see an actual abortion. “I don’t know how I personally feel morally, and I’m never going to do one,” she said. “So if it could bother me if I saw one, then what’s the point?”

Mary Rose Somarriba of the conservative Christian magazine First Things thinks Bazelon’s pro-abortion optimism “willful delusion” and that despite such assertive PR, “the dream to make abortion mainstream is dying.”

“This is the future,” writes Bazelon. “Or rather, one possible future. There’s a long way to go,” she exhorts.

But it’s not the future. And it won’t be — for the same reasons abortion hasn’t really become accepted in all these decades it’s been legal in America — indeed, for the very same reasons Bazelon cites in her article. Young OB-GYNs aren’t keeping up with their predecessors in performing abortions….fewer OB-GYN residencies are offering abortion training….donors who fund abortion-training residency fellowships are scarce….and the American public is more anti-abortion now than ever (“some poll numbers [show] that for the first time, more Americans call themselves pro-life than pro-choice — a shift that includes young people.”). Basically abortion supporters are growing old and aren’t being replaced as quickly by the younger generation. The dream to make abortion mainstream is dying.

With the facts as they are, the article’s optimism for increased abortion acceptance in mainstream America is at best wishful thinking, at worst willful delusion. The publication of the piece can’t help but seem a part of a pro-abortion agenda: trying to prop it up to be a successful, growing industry, supported by most of the public — despite the fact that it isn’t.


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