former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

The Post should have thought twice about running this op-ed

In Blog on August 22, 2014 at 11:16 am

Last Sunday, The Washington Post give its valuable Sunday real estate to a woman whose only credentials for writing about the pro-choice movement happen to be her personal experience undergoing an abortion.   Yes, the writer runs a media analysis firm, and was communications director for Emily’s List, which raises political contributions for pro-choice candidates.  But that doesn’t make her an expert on either morality, or the views of women who have had an abortion, or how a fetus develops in the womb.

Do opinion page editors have a responsibility to not be stupid when they seek out divergent views?

I think they do.  I believe that not all opinions are created equal, and that particularly if they express rather extreme views, the writer ought to demonstrate expertise that goes beyond, “Well, I had this experience, and so I believe X.”

Personal experience is fine, but it shouldn’t be sufficient credentials for anyone who writes for the The Post’s Opinion pages, particularly its Sunday Outlook section.

And yet, again and again, I see this desire by The Post to go with the idiosyncratic voice who has a personal story but nothing else to back up his or her views.  I’m sure these voices draw readers and comments.  But I think it’s irresponsible for a paper of The Post’s caliber to give away its space and soapbox to the next fluent, if inexpert, writer that comes along.

I know this view is not held by everyone.  Many people I respect feel that opinion pages should welcome a variety of views that are well written, including those that rely primarily on personal experience.  But even if you believe that this particular op-ed was appropriate for the The Post, it seems to me that it should not have run without equal space given to a rebuttal view.

It appears that the writer considers abortion more a messaging problem to be addressed rather than an issue that evokes strong views on both sides.  She critiques those in the pro-choice camp who would call the decision to terminate pregnancy a difficult one.  Her contention: It wasn’t a difficult decision for her to undergo an abortion, so it shouldn’t be for other women.  She cites statistics that really don’t measure whether other woman view abortion through her narrow lens.  The numbers she uses only show that an unintended or unplanned pregnancy is a major reason for abortion, not whether the decision was a difficult one for the women involved.  She cites a medical journal reporting that the vast majority of women who decide to undergo abortion have a “high confidence” in their decision.  But again, these findings do not prove that many women did not consider their decision carefully and thoughtfully.

She also includes data that report that women want to undergo an abortion as quickly as possible.  She cites that as additional evidence that women do not struggle to make this decision; others would hypothesize that women can tussle with a decision and be desirous of speed at the same time.

Her refusal to accord the fetus “a status of being” is simply outlandish, as radical as the view held by many in the pro-life movement who consider the fetus equivalent to a person.  One would be hard-pressed to deny that the fetus is a potential human being.   Indeed, the science is working in the other direction – providing viable outcomes to babies born prematurely earlier and earlier in their fetal development.

Her statistics don’t make the case that abortion is not a moral issue to thousands of women, including those who are vigorously pro-choice and those who have had an abortion.  And when you present such an extreme view, doesn’t The Post have the responsibility to offer the opportunity for rebuttal to those who would disagree?

To its credit, The Post has let those who disagree air their views as Letters to the Editor.  But we all know that doesn’t carry the same weight as an Outlook piece, and it’s difficult to rebut in 250 words or less.

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