an After abortion

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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

I wrote to John Leland at the New York Times this morning and pointed out to him that yesterday's NYT article about parental consent for abortions has been interpreted to be suggesting that parental consent laws cause forced abortions.

Mr. Leland wrote back to say:

My co-author, Andy Lehren, and I raised the issue of parents trying to coerce their daughters to have abortions for two reasons: to undercut the assumption some readers may have that parents are automatically hostile to abortion and pose a danger to minors coming to them about having one; and to call attention generally to the issue of coercion, which is a big issue nationwide. A previous article on the non-political parts of the anti-abortion movement, including postabortion groups and crisis pregnancy centers, also raised the idea of coercion, not just from parents but from boyfriends, husbands, brothers, sisters, etc. It's one thing that both abortion clinics and PA groups and CPC's can agree on: a pregnant woman of any age might have a lot of people pushing her to terminate.

We do not suggest that the laws are driving unwilling pregnant teenagers into the clutches of parents who force them to have abortions, and as you point out, no one could logically argue that using the article. But we felt it was important, in an article about minors, parents and abortions, to address this part of the dynamic.
To which I have responded:

Your answer strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. In the pro-choice blogosphere, your article has been universally taken as a story where the punchline is that parental consent legislation has backfired against the pro-life community, resulting in parents forcing their daughters to have abortions.

The fact that the article has been universally interpreted that way in the pro-choice blogosphere doesn't necessarily mean that you and your co-author are at fault.

However, let me suggest to you two reasons why people are interpreting your article as advancing the erroneous claim that parental consent laws cause coerced abortions:

1. The sentence that reads, "But providers interviewed in 10 states with parental involvement laws all said that of the minors who came into their clinics, parents were more often the ones pushing for an abortion, even against the wishes of their daughters," suggests that the authors of the article believe that parental coercion is a problem *in states with parental involvement laws*. Doesn't it? Otherwise, why would you have confined your investigations of coerced abortions to states with "parental involvement" laws? And, John, understand words and how they work. When you use the phrase "parental involvement laws"--a phrase I believe you all made up for this article--it calls to the mind of an only somewhat careless reader the idea that these laws are all about getting parents involved in pregnancy decisions tout court. This couldn't be further from the truth, but you do create that impression with that made-up phrase.

2. In your response to me, below, you say that you go into the problem of coerced abortions because the article is about "minors, parents and abortions". However, since your article starts out being about the impact on abortion rates of parental notification laws, perhaps your readers (the ones who have universally interpreted the article to be claiming that these laws cause forced abortions) can be forgiven for not understanding that you changed the subject in the middle of the article to the problem of coerced abortions, which have nothing to do with parental consent for abortions.

I'm glad that you're concerned about coerced abortions, and I appreciate your interest in calling attention to this nationwide problem. Perhaps a separate article or series of articles is in order. The pro-life community has been deeply concerned about unwanted abortions for years, and has suggested a variety of ways to reduce the significant problem of unwanted abortions.
Re-reading this, I think it's too strong--there may actually be some pro-choice bloggers who did not read the article to be suggesting that parental consent laws cause coerced abortions.

Update: Mr. Leland has written me again to very politely point out that I am quite wrong to accuse him of making up the term "parental involvement" in order to strew confusion about. He points out, for instance, that researcher Michael New often uses this phrase. See examples of that in the article linked here. Mr. Leland also declines to take responsibility for pro-choice blogospheric misinterpretations of his article. Rightly so. And yet that misinterpretation persists.

Here's another example, where the pro-choice blogger, after citing the examples from the NYT article of parental coercion, proudly concludes:

This is the sad outcome of a law that backers claim protects children.

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