The 'NYT' is publishing dangerous abortion myths that verge on anti-choice propaganda

The 'NYT' is publishing dangerous abortion myths that verge on anti-choice propaganda

"Above all, it's a profoundly dehumanizing argument," Lori Szala writes in a New York Times op-ed responding to the idea that women's access to abortion is an economic issue.

"It reduces mothers and their children to mere economic objects, and amounts to saying we are justified in killing those who impede our economic progress," she continues. 

When tackling polarizing political issues that Democrats can't even agree on, it is important to engage a variety of political viewpoints — which is what the Times was attempting in publishing an op-ed delinking access to abortion with economic concerns. In the service of nuance, though, if you want to argue that women should be mandated to carry pregnancies to term, those arguments should be rooted in data and facts, not morally ambiguous assumptions about the good will of working class would-be mothers.

It is worth noting Szala is the national director of client services at Human Coalition. The Times does say this, but without clarifying that Human Coalition is an anti-abortion organization that runs crisis pregnancy centers. For the unfamiliar, crisis pregnancy centers are the "alternative clinics" that set up shop near abortion providers and attempt to poach women walking in for appointments to sway them to keep unwanted pregnancies. Crisis pregnancy centers are dangerous: They aren't run by actual doctors — the only people who should be doling out medical advice — and package religious beliefs as scientific facts.

Given this information, the rest of the op-ed reads as little more than a piece of anti-choice propaganda. Szala's pleas are based on her personal experience, and they are constructed to advance an agenda. She recalls the woman who ultimately dissuaded her from aborting an unplanned pregnancy that few believed Szala, as a high school senior raised by a single parent who "barely had the resources to send me to college," could manage. 

Szala changed her mind about terminating the pregnancy when that woman, whom she'd asked to drive her to the clinic, burst into tears. The friend found herself "in the same situation just months before" and, "without much contemplation," resolved it through abortion. The choice left her depressed and suicidal, the friend wept. She "begged" Szala not to make the same mistake, and Szala canceled her appointment.

It's entirely possible that the friend in this story did feel heart-wrenching regret over her abortion, and it's possible to she made that decision lightly. Most women, however, consider their options at length before making a choice. And most abortion patients won't become depressed or entertain suicidal thoughts, although the claim that they might features frequently in so-called informed consent materials. It's also one that crisis pregnancy centers peddle, but as the Guttmacher Institute has reported, the American Psychological Association and the UK's Academy of Medical Royal Colleges have failed to identify a link between having an abortion and depression or suicide. 

Studies also show that women who get abortions tend to be confident in their decisions and not to regret them later. What may have a negative impact on abortion patients' mental health, according to one recent study, are the roadblocks legislators and organizations like Szala's would place in their way. 

But Szala firmly believes that women who get abortions overwhelmingly do so because they feel trapped by an utter lack of choice. To Szala, the majority of abortion patients would actually prefer to give birth, but are constrained by surmountable situations as "joblessness, substance abuse, criminal records or homelessness." Her message is simple: If she could overcome her working class background, so can anyone.  

That's willful ignorance. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of abortion patients are poor or low-income. Szala would argue that their financial situations aren't barriers to fruitful pregnancy, but that disregards the reality of childbearing. Pregnancy is expensive even for people who do have insurance, but for those 75% of abortion patients who likely don't, the cost of prenatal and delivery care alone can reach into six figures, before the costs of actually raising a child factor in.

2013 study looked at women who tried and failed to get abortions versus women who succeeded in terminating their unplanned pregnancies. Most participants already had one child or more, and roughly 80% lacked the money to cover bare necessities. The women who weren't able to get abortions were three times as likely to end up living below the federal poverty line within two years.

Mothers aren't "economic objects" in this line of reasoning, they're human beings struggling to secure food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, education and more for their children. Each of these tasks is inestimably difficult, and there are a number of women who've had children who would affirm that abortion allowed them to wait until they were ready  — financially, emotionally, relationship-wise — to have or expand a family, happily. 

It's unfair and often incorrect to assume that "women on the margins" simply want to "scramble up the economic ladder without children holding them back," as Szala writes. Often, they just want to keep their heads above water, and access to abortion gives them more options. 

Szala would take issue with the suggestion that abortion can be a safety net, arguing that "society" should serve that function for pregnant people in need. That sounds great — the U.S. certainly doesn't take care of its low-income single mothers — but it's far from what is happening for poor women under the Trump administration. 

The Republican health care plan, as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, should theoretically offer comparable coverage options for poor and low-income consumers; instead, the American Health Care Act walks back many of those gains. The AHCA would not only curtail access to the very services that prevent people from needing abortions in the first place, it would also revoke essential health benefits like maternal and newborn care they'd need to carry potential pregnancies to term. 

But then again, Szala's not expressly encouraging anyone to turn to the government for help, she's encouraging women to turn to Human Coalition: "Organizations like mine can help women find jobs, enter substance abuse treatment programs, regain their children from foster care, find housing, pay utility bills and sign up for government benefits," she writes. 

At the bottom of Szala's piece, there's a link to another recent Times op-ed arguing for abortion as an economic issue. That piece, authored by Bryce Covert, links to studies, data, polls and legislation. It's an opinion, certainly, but an informed one. Szala's piece is not, and in juxtaposing the two, the Times makes a dangerous suggestion about what passes for a reasoned argument. Hear both sides of the conversation, but hold both sides to the same factual standards.