Talk about burying the lead. In a piece in its upcoming Sunday magazine, the New York Times allows in an absurdly roundabout way that a recent study has found that the vast majority of women denied abortions end up glad that they gave birth.
If you blink, you might miss the decisive quote from the researcher, Diana Greene Foster. It comes very late in the piece: “About 5 percent of the women, after they have had the baby, still wish they hadn’t. And the rest of them adjust.”
Put less grudgingly, Foster’s conclusion is that almost all the women in the study were happy they gave birth. That should have been the headline of the piece. Instead, the headline strikes a foreboding note: “What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortions?” One waits and waits for the answer and at last it comes, appearing at the conclusion of a rambling anecdote about a disadvantaged woman whom the author labels “S.”:
S. now says that Baby S. is the best thing that ever happened to her. “She is more than my best friend, more than the love of my life,” S. told me, glowingly. There were white spit-up stains on her green top. “She is just my whole world.”
The author of the piece is Joshua Lang, a student in the U.C. Berkeley-U.C.S.F. Joint Medical Program. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Lang quickly trots out a bioethicist to explain away this troubling pro-life finding with some quasi-Darwinian mumbo-jumbo:
Some would use these data as justification to further restrict abortion — women rarely regret having a child, even one they thought they didn’t want. But as Katie Watson, a bioethicist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, points out, we tell ourselves certain stories for a reason. “It’s psychologically in our interest to tell a positive story and move forward,” she says…
These women are telling themselves a positive story? No, they are experiencing a positive story, a story as timeless as the natural law’s first precept: preserving innocent human life is good; taking human life is evil. “S.” didn’t need the half-baked theorizing of an egghead to figure that out.
The women in Foster’s study all wanted abortions. She restricted her study to so-called “turnaways,” women who were turned away from clinics, usually because they arrived too close to the viability point of the unborn child and the abortionists didn’t feel comfortable or legally free to proceed. This complicates the story even more for the Times, as it makes the change of heart even more dramatic. But Lang works hard to find a dark lining in this white cloud:
Yet it is still true that being denied an abortion resulted in some measurable negative effects for S. She had to give up work and her apartment, and her precarious finances became more precarious. When women seek abortion, you have to ask yourself, Foster says, what is the alternative they are trying to avoid? And how might the life of a turnaway look if she’d had the abortion she sought? “You would need to look at the people who managed to get the abortion and find whether a woman who started out similarly is now in school, building a stable relationship, career or, possibly, that later she had a baby she was ready for.”
Lang mentions hopefully a case of a woman whose abortion freed her up to find a “job operating heavy machinery at a manufacturing plant for $15 an hour.” He is eager to show that giving birth has many “negative” effects on the mothers and children, as if his calculus trumps the unexpected contentment of the turnaways. He reluctantly allows that “there is a chance” S. and her baby will “thrive.”
The piece is comically conflicted. Researcher Foster, whose pro-abortion bias is clear, also sounds a bit crestfallen. She says early in the piece, “The unstated assumption of most new abortion restrictions — mandatory ultrasound viewing, waiting periods, mandated state ‘information’— is that women don’t know what they are doing when they try to terminate a pregnancy. Or they can’t make a decision they won’t regret.” But she can’t refute the assumption now that her subjects stand as testimony to it.
A study that pro-aborts hoped would undermine pro-life claims is instead buttressing them. By the end of the piece, Foster sounds a bit discombobulated, as if she doesn’t know where all this might lead. “If abortion hurts women,” she tells Lang, “I definitely want to know.”
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