Discussing abortion seems to make it difficult for people to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In last month’s number of The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan tries to tell the truth about abortion in an article titled, “The Things We Can’t Face: What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Abortion.”
In fact, the on-line version of that piece is titled, “The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate.” But even she can’t quite pull off a fully balanced discussion.
As a rule, I like Caitlin Flanagan’s writing. It is lucid, linear, sensible, incisive, and often witty. In this piece, she evokes both the horror of illegal “Lysol” abortions, which often ended in gruesome deaths of both mother and baby, and the delicate wonder of fetal humanity, so evident in the new 3-D ultrasounds. So far, so good.
Flanagan also summarizes the polemical situation with characteristic concision: “The argument for abortion, if made honestly, requires many words…. The argument against it doesn’t take even a single word. The argument against it is a picture.”
She also warns, however, that “no matter what the law says, women will continue to get abortions…. Women have been willing to risk death to get an abortion.”
Here, alas, the discussion falters. For having been remarkably even-handed almost to the end, she concludes with an anecdote that decisively tilts the table. It’s the story of a husband who brought to a hospital his wife who had undergone an illegal abortion and was now dying from the procedure. He risked arrest in hopes of saving her life, but then, a widower, had to return to “tell his children that their mother was never coming home again.”
That’s heart-wrenching. But it’s also only one possible story. Another is that the abortion was successful, the mother survived, and husband and wife instead go home together…to tell their remaining children that their baby brother or sister is now gone. Why doesn’t Flanagan balance the anecdotes?
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