Douthat abortion fail

Aside from the other critiques around the blogosphere today of Ross Douthat’s head-bangingly frustrating column, I also found some glaring inconsistencies, and rather problematic themes he’s got going on. I appreciated his arguably (and rather surprisingly) compassionate response to the MTV special, but he goes on to discuss issues that are either wholly unrelated to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, or off-base in terms of quality of analysis. For example,

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.

Some of this shift reflects the growing acceptance of single parenting. But some of it reflects the impact of Roe v. Wade. Since 1973, countless lives that might have been welcomed into families like Thernstrom’s — which looked into adoption, and gave it up as hopeless — have been cut short in utero instead.

Leaving aside for now the point that it’s no woman’s responsibility to provide children for infertile couples, he’s forgetting that giving up a baby for adoption — after the birth mother spent at least 9 months gestating it, feeling it move, kick, bond with it, etc. — is no easy feat.

He’s also neglecting the reality that “acceptance of single parenting” is hardly a celebration of it. What else should we do to single parents? Abuse them? Deny their existence? Blame them for their situation? Also forgetting that many single parents — primarily women — who are blamed for not giving their children an ideal household are not doing so by their own choice. Their husbands can abandon the family, die, or even just leave the vast majority of involved parenting up to the other parent, without their say. Or vice versa. It’s not always about a casual decision to get married and have kids, or an equally as casual decision to not make that work out as planned.

Supporting single parents and maintaining his stance that a dual-parent household is ideal for raising and nurturing a child don’t have to be mutually exclusive. He has shown time and time again that he believes the best way to discourage behaviors that are contrary to the common idea (or his idea) of what is ideal, like two-parent households, preventing unplanned pregnancies, “traditional” marriage, and now abortion, is to alienate, criminalize, or just outright ignore the existence of the people who are engaging in, or directly affected by these issues. Clearly, the state, or society at large, acting in this manner in the past caused such joys as women dying of botched illegal abortions, forced pregnancy, poverty, marginalization… I can go on.

There is a reason why people continue to fight ideologues like Douthat. It’s not because we’re hostile to the ideals they set forth, but because we want to avoid the consequences of forcing such ideals on unwilling — or unable — participants.

(…Nearly the entirety of this blog post was originally a comment over at The Innocent Smith Journal. InnocentSmith has also responded to Jill and Amanda’s critiques here.)

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13 Responses to Douthat abortion fail

  1. andie says:

    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.

    This throws me off, because he cites Roe V Wade as a cause for a drop in the number of babies born to unwed mothers being adopted out.

    Babies being born to unwed mothers are not being aborted (duh!) so Roe V. Wade doesn’t even enter into it. To invoke an overused colloquialism – Fail.

    • April says:

      I didn’t notice that.

      Not only is this just off base entirely, he also loses me when he tried to tie that sentence into his previous paragraph:

      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.

      I understand that maybe he only had one data set in front of him — one about white women only — but is the 1% he cites later also only white women, or is the data from a larger pool? I’d venture to guess it isn’t from a larger pool, but why is he excluding non-white babies given up for adoption? Apparently, 45% of children up for adoption are black; I don’t know how many are infants (what most hopeful adoptive parents seem to desire most), but where are they in his analysis? I’m betting that either the numbers were uncomfortable for him, or he wasn’t interested in figuring it out in the first place.

    • Catullus says:

      It’s the latter case, April. Twenty years ago Douthat would’ve kvetched that there weren’t any babies to adopt. Meaning, of course, white babies. I don’t where people get the idea that Douthat crafts nuanced arguments. He’s come up with a shtick that reads roughly, “I see where liberals are coming from, however…” and regurgitates whatever piety was in his Sunday Missal for that week. Katha Pollitt works the other side of the same street, the side where all the lazy liberals live. She, of course was livid when Douthat got his New York Times gig.

  2. It’s thanks to the online outcry to this piece that I found your blog–one positive outcome, eh?

    His piece was the most shocking evidence yet of how much Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is becoming reality. Douthat comes THISCLOSE to stating that wealthy white New Yorkers are suffering because Handmaids….er, disadvantaged white women aren’t surrendering their children to them. Why, someone ought to pass a law to change that!

    Dystopia, anyone?

    • Jim says:

      That for me was the most grotesque part of his piece.

      I remember the whole hoohah about Roe v. Wade, and the context. I remember that at the time it was not a big deal. The big deal was the Sexual revolution, which came right on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. That’s where the emotional energy on all this is coming from. It’s a backlash agianst two very central modernizing movements. Roe v. Wade at the time was just another aspect of the Sexual Revolution.

      That backlash sparked the Rise of the Religious Right. What could bring rabid Fundamentalists and Counter-Reformation Catholics together, what could they possibly have in common, if not this rejection of modernity?

    • Yeah, Thomas Frank (I think) called it the unholy trinity that brought them together: gays, abortion and abortion, LOL.

  3. Actually, back in the day, there was an abortion on MTV’s THE REAL WORLD. Her name was Tami Akbar. I think the negative reaction to Tami’s abortion is the reason for not including it on today’s reality shows: no one wants to be remembered primarily just for having an abortion… I can only imagine the harassment.

    And it certainly doesn’t help that her lifestyle is like a stereotype of the spoiled, selfish, rich woman who has an abortion. (Or is it that she is stereotyped that way BECAUSE she had the abortion, and her ‘spoiledness’ is what we hear about, for that reason?):

    I knew when I saw it, that she would regret it. Then again, this is what made her more memorable than other forgettable REAL WORLD stars, so there is that, too.

  4. And excuse me, Marxist interlude! (strikes up Internationale)

    Listen to this shit:

    Durham and her boyfriend are the kind of young people our culture sets adrift — working-class and undereducated

    Culture, my ass. YOU are the reason, Ross Douthat.

    Let me rewrite: The kind of young people not born with the copious privileges taken for granted by Douthat and his New York Times-reading friends.


    • Jim says:

      DDH, see my comment on that NYT trend piece April posted. I said that the thoughts of a circle-lick of young Manhattanites all impressed with each other and convinced the rest of us need them to explain our lives to us didn’t count for much. The Maoist term for them is “bourgeois parasites” and I happen to like the Maoist remedy.

    • Catullus says:

      Between Douthat and Obama, one would be sorely tempted to aver that a Harvard education isn’t anywhere near what it’s purported to be.

  5. Apologies for serial commenting! 😛

    I have a mix of redneck (a word I can use, but you can’t) and rich customers, which makes things interesting. The fact that nobody dresses in an identifiably class-oriented way anymore (unless wearing recognizable uniforms), makes it hard to tell them apart by first glance. As you know, many poor folks are very much into wearing expensive brand names, rich people can be slobs, etc.

    So, yesterday: this woman is looking at a “natural fertility” book, the kind that explains about cervical mucus and everything. She asked me if the book is good, and I chuckled “If you like Vatican Roulette!” (a joke I attribute to the late Rosemary Clooney, fabulous songstress, devout Catholic, aunt of George and mother of six.)

    She wrinkled her brow. She had no clue. I tried to clarify: not the most reliable method. More brow wrinkling. Since she was older, I nearly said “At our age, not a big risk, but I got my tubes tied anyway!”–I refrained and tried to ask questions about the kind of book she was seeking.

    Finally, I realized: she was a rich older woman who wanted to GET PREGNANT, not a poor woman looking to AVOID pregancy! I told her that was NOT the book for her, and to get an ovulation kit. I got the idea that she HAD used these, but was not ovulating any more and so this was no help.

    Funny how I immediately kicked into my class awareness/assumptions: Pregnancy = avoid!

    And Douthat immediately kicks into his in exactly the same way! : Poor women’s pregnancies = belong to us.

    • Catullus says:

      Yes and it all sounds good until you realize that poor women’s babies belong to the poor women who give birth to them. Thank you well-meaning conservatives like Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. And they do mean well. Few books on public policy that have come out in the last ten years could be as full of ‘tough love’ for the working class as “Grand New Party.” They even call for income supports—anathema to the faux-libertarian wing of the GOP. Scratch the surface, however and one sees it’s the same paternalistic social-engineering rightists get a hard-on for every so often. Douthat: the Gracchus of Christian plebs.

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