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A Word to the ‘Deeply Troubled’

Damon Linker wants credit for his feelings about abortion without the burden of opposing it.
pro-life protest march

Damon Linker is unhappy—unhappy with the tone of a recent post by Ross Douthat. Linker says that people like Douthat—but he really just means Douthat, because he doesn’t refer to anyone else in his post—are “losing their cool. And their heads.”

Linker calls Douthat’s post “harsh and angry”—a description I won’t contest, though I’m tempted—but notes that it is “uncharacteristically” so. Maybe he could have spent a few minutes contemplating why a writer as consistently irenic as Douthat might have lost a bit of patience on this particular subject. Might it be that title of the post Douthat was responding to describes his position as “glaring hypocrisy”? A touch on the provocative side, wouldn’t you say? (Yes, writers typically don’t choose titles, but they can protest inaccurate ones; I’ve done it myself more than a few times.)

Or might it be something that runs a little deeper? In that earlier post, Linker writes, “I have faith that Douthat’s honesty and intelligence will lead him to concede that he’s lost his debate with [William] Saletan”—the magnificent condescension of that line would have me banging on Linker’s door to challenge him to a duel—but Douthat demonstrates pretty thoroughly in his reply that he hasn’t lost that argument. And it’s interesting that in his lamentation over Douthat’s so-unfortunate tone, Linker never acknowledges any of the arguments Douthat makes or the studies he cites. It’s much easier to tut-tut over people “losing their cool.”

Linker seems to be troubled that Douthat doesn’t acknowledge how different his position is from that of people like “Katha Pollitt and Rebecca Watson [who consider] the termination of a pregnancy to be as morally insignificant as (in Douthat’s words) ‘snuffing out a rabbit.’” He is, as he keeps telling us, “deeply troubled by abortion.”

But the state of Linker’s feelings may not be the most germane thing here. The really key passage in Douthat’s “harsh and angry” post is one that Linker doesn’t quote:

It is not the pro-life movement that’s forced Planned Parenthood to unite actual family planning and mass feticide under one institutional umbrella. It is not the Catholic Church or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the Southern Baptist Convention or the Republican Party that have bundled pap smears and pregnancy tests and HPV vaccines with the kind of grisly business being conducted on those videos. This is Planned Parenthood’s choice; it is liberalism’s choice; it is the respectable center-left of Dana Milbank and Ruth Marcus and Will Saletan that’s telling pro-life and pro-choice Americans alike that contraceptive access and fetal dismemberment are just a package deal, that if you want to fund an institution that makes contraception widely available then you just have to live with those “it’s another boy!” fetal corpses in said institution’s freezer, that’s just the price of women’s health care and contraceptive access, and who are you to complain about paying it, since after all the abortion arm of Planned Parenthood is actually pretty profitable and doesn’t need your tax dollars?

But instead of questioning the inevitability of this “package deal,” Linker prefers to (a) characterize opponents of it as exhibiting “glaring hypocrisy” and (b) express deeply-felt dismay if any of those opponents bristles at that characterization. To his credit, Linker is straightforward about his allegiances: “People like me—deeply troubled by abortion and yet supportive of women’s reproductive freedom (along with a good bit of the rest of the sexual revolution as well)—will never lend [the pro-life movement] our support. No matter how many barbaric videos its activist wing makes public.” Never.

If you tell people that you will never under any circumstances give them your support, then they may not thank you for instructing them in how to go about their business, no matter the state of your feelings. And if in the face of the horrors revealed by these recent videos of Planned Parenthood’s callous and mercenary attitude towards the organs of killed fetal humans your response is to attack Ross Douthat, then maybe, just maybe, you’re not as “deeply troubled by abortion” as you’d like to think you are.

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.



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