Ross Douthat proves once again why the NY Times was foolish to hire him, because he can’t help but write op-eds that read more like afterschool specials about the evils of fornication mixed with crappy prayer cards than actual greatest-newspaper-in-the-country editorials. He includes a poem about a fetal heartbeat, people.* That’s not NY Times level editorializing. I’d imagine the editors at two bit Midwestern newspapers that dedicate 50% of their content to high school sports would balk at running a poem about fetal heartbeats in the letters to the editor section.
As Douthat is plugged directly into (though he pretends not to be) the anti-contraception, anti-sex, virulently anti-woman activist anti-choice community, his column is a regurgitation of the same talking points that Jill “Chicago hospitals deliver babies and then stab them in the head with scissors, I swear, I totally saw it, why would I lie just because I’m a wild-eyed ideologue nutbar?” Stanek is pushing: that the sadness and doubt felt by some of the young women indicates they should have been forced by law to have babies they didn’t want, that contraception is evil because people didn’t even consider fucking before it was invented, and that MTV is biased because they present facts and allow women to speak for themselves. He does not, sadly, engage in the conspiracy theory about how MTV was paid off by the shadowy condom industry with under the table payments to promote sex to people who would otherwise be perfectly happy playing pinochle, which was my favorite response to the “No Easy Decision” program, but he needed room for the fetal heartbeat sentimentality, and his particularly misogynist addition to the right wing talking points hastily thrown together when they realized silencing these women wasn’t an option.
But before I get to that, I want to point you to today’s column at RH Reality Check, where I respond to the anti-choicers Douthat is taking his talking points from, like the lazy fuck he is. I’m particularly annoyed at how anti-choicers, including Douthat, latch on to two of the women in the program’s feelings of sadness at having to choose abortion when they love babies. It’s mostly because antis are trying to deprive these women of their basic rights as citizens while pretending to be concerned, but their faux concern is exposed by the fact that they lie and misrepresent what was said. Markai’s distress was obviously due to the fact that her very recent childbirth made her quick to attach herself to the idea of another baby. How do I know this? Because that’s what she said. Antis are latching onto her getting angry with her boyfriend momentarily because he calls the embryo a “thing”, but what they neglect to report is that she says then that the “thing” could develop into a baby. But she doesn’t say that it’s already a baby; a distinction that is critical, particularly since they accuse Markai of being mentally ill when there is no indication from her behavior that she is suffering from any kind of trauma.
Anyway, read the rest of the column to get my take on the notion of wistfulness about the road not taken, and why using that as a weapon against legal abortion doesn’t withstand the slightest scrutiny.
What I like is that while the talking points Douthat works off of highlight the importance of feigning concern for women to avoid accusations of misogyny just because you’re, you know, lying about what women say and trying to silence them, he can’t even bring himself to feign concern for more than a paragraph before he lapses into straight up demanding that women be reduced to breeding machines whose mental health is of no more consequence than the mental health of your xBox. We cannot afford to treat women as human beings when the supply of white infants on the market is so dangerously low!
The show was particularly wrenching, though, when juxtaposed with two recent dispatches from the world of midlife, upper-middle-class infertility. Last month there was Vanessa Grigoriadis’s provocative New York Magazine story “Waking Up From the Pill,” which suggested that a lifetime on chemical birth control has encouraged women “to forget about the biological realities of being female … inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.” Then on Sunday, The Times Magazine provided a more intimate look at the same issue, in which a midlife parent, the journalist Melanie Thernstrom, chronicled what it took to bring her children into the world: six failed in vitro cycles, an egg donor and two surrogate mothers, and an untold fortune in expenses.
In every era, there’s been a tragic contrast between the burden of unwanted pregnancies and the burden of infertility. But this gap used to be bridged by adoption far more frequently than it is today. Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason.
Well, obviously, having your life plans to have a baby thwarted is a humiliation no Caucasian should ever have to suffer. Clearly, there is only one solution, which is to return to an era where being a sexually active, unmarried woman was de facto criminalized so that your labor could be forcibly extracted from you to benefit people who do a much better job than you of keeping up appearances.
There’s a lot of human rights violations that Douthat glossed over in his chillingly inhumane euphemistic phrasing “this gap used to be bridged by adoption”. By “bridged by adoption”, what he means is young white women (and some young black women, though there was less demand for their babies, and subsequently less forcing them into maternity homes) who turned up pregnant were forced to give birth to babies and forced into maternity homes where they were restrained and often subject to torturous behavior so they couldn’t resist when their babies were snatched from them against their wills. He’s right that Roe v. Wade had a lot to do with turning this around, and it’s not just because women had an option to abort instead. It’s also because once it was enshrined in law that even pregnant women have rights, it became harder to justify the existence of maternity homes and coercing women to give up babies.
This is why the concern for women’s mental health is such obvious bullshit. Anti-choicers who blather about “post-abortion syndrome” have exactly no problem with reinstating a situation where women are put through the very real and often lifelong trauma of having a baby taken from you against your will. Often, the mental health consequences of this were very real and very long-lasting. As are the feelings of being alone and abandoned by the world.
I think one of the biggest surprises was that many of the women I interviewed were themselves unaware of the fact that hundreds of thousands of other women had surrendered children during the ’50s and ’60s and that so many shared their sense of grief over the loss of a child. Women who had not discovered “birth parent” support groups felt very alone. They had been told they would move on and forget and they saw their inability to do so as yet another personal failure. Often at the end of an interview, a woman would say to me, “Have you interviewed any other women who feel the way I do?” That question made me want to weep. After all these years, so many women were still suffering in silence.
I realize that dim-witted anti-choicers don’t understand how someone whose first choice may have been abortion then would cling to the baby after giving birth with all her might, but they are acting out of willful ignorance. If you actually listen to women, then how that works makes sense. Markai in “No Easy Decision” explains it perfectly, that if she started to feel the baby kick, she’d fall in love and there would be no adoption.
In other words, the “gap” that Douthat thinks is so easily bridged is bridged by stomping all over the hearts of actual living, breathing, feeling women.
Look, I really feel bad for people suffering infertility. It can be maddening and horrible, though I will point out that the notion that people resort to infertility treatments after adoption doesn’t pan out has it exactly backwards—most people prefer biological children and then turn to adoption if they can’t have their own. And some women willingly give babies up for adoption. But the fact that, as Douthat notes, the percentage of babies born that are given up for adoption immediately went into freefall after coercion stopped means that the coercion really was pretty fucking coercive. That he glibly offers to deprive unmarried women of their human rights in order to sop up the pain of infertility of women he deems more worthy because they did a better job at taming their sexuality with the approved channels of marriage is misogyny, pure and simple. And it’s the misogyny that lies underneath all anti-choice arguments, which forever go back to coercion.
*I wonder what the poet thinks of this. His poem is about the joy of expectation, but unlike Douthat, grown-ups often can tell the difference between what a fetal heartbeat means to someone who actually wants a baby and someone who doesn’t. Fetuses have heartbeats, but so do brain dead people on life support and tissue grown in the lab—which are both closer to what a fetus pre-brain development is. Being able to run blood through something doesn’t make you human—in many cases, it makes you a dialysis machine. Having a working brain strikes me as the cut-off point in any case that doesn’t involve trying to control female sexuality because you loathe and resent women.