The Corner

Media

On GQ and Abortion

Anti-abortion and pro-choice demonstrators argue in front of the Supreme Court, January 2011 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

My colleagues Ramesh Ponnuru and David Harsanyi already have ably pointed out the many factual deficiencies in Laura Bassett’s recent article in GQ, in which she claims, among other falsehoods and unsubstantiated insinuations, that the pro-life movement in the U.S. began because white Evangelical Christians were upset about racial desegregation.

This is a tired trope that abortion-rights supporters trot out every so often: the notion that pro-lifers only oppose abortion because they are secretly (or not so secretly) racist. Gesturing at this argument — because they never quite get around to articulating what exactly is so racist about believing that abortion ends a unique human life — often requires bizarre twisting of the facts, such as when Bassett hinges her piece on the claims that George Wallace was a Republican (he was not) or that Reagan came to regret his stance on abortion only after he became president (he did not).

It also often takes the form of the case that Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe made quite poorly last August, insisting that white supremacists are opposed to abortion — and, ergo, that pro-lifers are racist — when in fact white supremacists overwhelmingly support legal abortion because it tends to disproportionately diminish minority populations. Arguments like Bassett’s and Tribe’s nearly always ignore or gloss over the fact that the early legal-abortion movement in the U.S. was closely tied to the eugenics movement, which believed that widespread abortion would enable the elimination of “undesirable” (read: minority, poor, disabled) populations.

The history of race and abortion is never quite so clear-cut as defenders of legal abortion would have you believe, and it often cuts in precisely the opposite direction of their claims. But it’s worth asking why these arguments crop up so often and why such factually challenged narratives receive half-hearted or nonexistent fact-checking at prominent publications.

The answer, to my mind, is fairly simple. Our media establishment is full to the brim with individuals who support the right to unlimited legal abortion, but who wish not to defend that policy preference on its own terms. Instead, they resort to distracting from the reality of abortion by whatever means necessary. They write about abortion only when they can find some way, often by massaging or disregarding the facts, to personally smear pro-life people as racist, misogynistic, or insincere.

That is why, for instance, media outlets are quick to crow over stories that seem to denigrate the pro-life cause while steadfastly ignoring those that expose the wrongdoing of the abortion industry. It’s all a game to defend the abortion policy they want by impugning the sincerity or assassinating the character of those who disagree with them, so they never have to admit what abortion is or explain why their policy is preferable.

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