Damon Linker recently blogged on the New Republic about a “deeply disturbing” Alternet article by Byard Duncan, My First Abortion Party. Linker’s response was inspired principally by Conor Friedersdorf’s blog on The Atlantic, an excellent response to Duncan’s piece focusing on what Linker called the “neglected aspect of the story”—the “exclusion” of the boyfriend, and generally, a man’s role in abortion proceedings.
In that Alternet article Duncan describes attending an “abortion party” hosted by a 22 year-old college senior in Indiana he calls Maggie. It’s important first to highlight a glaring oversight surrounding discussion of this article: the epithet “abortion party” was not coined or advertised by “Maggie”—not according to the article, anyway:
“We’re having a party Friday to raise money,” Maggie said.
Ostensibly a trivial detail, but truly not minor when you consider the connotations. Calling something an abortion party—accompanied by the implication that you’re celebrating the abortion itself—is much different than hosting an intimate fundraiser. Broadsheet bloggers overall responded intelligently, but themselves were complicit in mischaracterizing Maggie’s event, using words like “hoedown” and “kegger”—perhaps for humorous effect—to discuss their reservations about her chosen fundraising tactic. Such lazy characterizations, then, just snowball and end up distorting the source material. All of this repugnance, it turns out, over a celebration that Duncan describes in all its benign detail:
For the price of whatever we were willing to donate, she explained, we could partake of baked goods, beer and dancing.
No celebration of fetal destruction, no keg stands, no fratty hook-ups leading to future abortion parties here. As a philosophy student, this loose and unexamined use of language particularly irritates me, since it’s obvious that the article’s repugnant effect hinges on the distasteful language deployed to characterize Maggie’s shindig. Duncan is the first offender, but discerning bloggers should have caught on rather than perpetuating his mistakes. Even by calling it his “first” abortion party, Duncan implies that this is a booming trend and that this is just the first of many—despite no evidence of this in his article.
It’s no wonder, then, that so much repulsion has been engendered. Linker writes,
The kind of feminists and progressives who would throw an “abortion party” and insist that the father of a fetus facing possible termination should have no say in its fate are thinking and behaving monstrously, I’m afraid, by applying political and legal considerations to a sphere of life (the private sphere) where morality should set the tone. They believe, perversely, that the best (and perhaps only) way to ensure that abortion remains legal and out of the political sphere is to treat abortion–and demand that men treat abortion–as a matter of moral indifference.
Linker here commits his own mistakes: it’s silly for him to presume to diagnose “moral indifference” from such a distance, and ridiculous for him to conclude that the father had no say even though the article assures us it was a mutual decision. But I blame Duncan’s journalistic failings for this sort of misguided outrage.
Duncan’s article subscribes to what I’ll call “egotistical journalism”: journalism that says more about the author than it says about any particular event or phenomenon. Duncan fails to delve into partygoers’ feelings or attitudes—except, unbelievably, when he asks the three-year-old boy in attendance, “Do you feel welcome here?” From that flimsy basis he presumes to enlighten through shallow observation alone. Rather than engaging adequately with his subjects, Duncan approaches the situation with a clear prejudice that he leaves unchallenged:
Even though I thought the presence of a young child at an abortion party was a little bizarre, nobody else seemed to acknowledge (or care about) this contradiction. Instead, the rest of the guests just took turns fawning over him, exchanging high fives and swooshing him through the air. He, along with everyone else, was having a blast.
The duty of a journalist is to ask questions and let subjects speak, not showcase prejudice and ignorance for the sake of grandiosely naming a false phenomenon. Above he tells us attendees are having a blast, but elsewhere he tries to a paint what seems to be a melodramatic picture of an abortion gender war.
Duncan, Linker, and Friedersdorf all are right to point out that the role of men in abortion discussions deserves attention, but Duncan’s piece was crafted, intentionally or not, to detract from such an outcome. Those conversations need to begin from a solid foundation, and luckily Friedersdorf’s blog takes the opportunity to pose some good questions.