Posted Monday, May 10, 2010, at 10:22 AM
Ross Douthat has a formula for his New York Times columns, especially his culture war columns, that has become more predictable than the plot of a superhero flick: Establish a veneer of reasonableness by conceding something to liberals, bundle up a still-reasonable-sounding opinion under the guise of "what conservatives think," and then, when the audience is properly lulled into thinking Douthat isn't one of the crazies, hit them with a conclusion that's straight out of Rightwingnuttersville. And usually one that's so factually incorrect that the newspaper ought to run the correction alongside it. His latest column epitomizes the form, especially since Douthat is trying to wave off the statistical reality that blue-state families tend to be more stable on average than red-state families.
Culture warriors like Douthat are in quite a bind when it comes to the statistical realities laid out by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone in their book Red Familes v. Blue Families . The fundamental social change that conservatives object to is the feminist revolution, but coming out against female equality directly isn't a palatable argument, so instead, conservatives argue that "traditional" (read: male-dominated) families are better for children, more stable, etc. But the ugly reality is that feminism has been good for families; when women delay marriage and childbearing to get an education and to be more settled and mature when they marry, they create more stable families. This is what Cahn and Carbone discovered, and this is what Douthat wants to deny.
And so he leans on an ugly, hard-right stereotype to do so. After conceding that the middle-class, liberal model in which women are permitted to marry later and have egalitarian careers is also a model that creates more stable families, he implies that these women only achieve this impossible goal with the heavy use of abortion. That childless yuppies and sorority girls are the main clients of abortion clinics is an article of faith in the anti-choice community. If you ever want to see the Internet version of a feeding frenzy, for instance, check out anti-choice blog comments when the blogger holds up a white, middle-class feminist as a hate object. The speculation about the frequency of said woman's abortions competes only with disingenuous calls to pray for her wicked feminist soul.
The problem with this stereotype of the yuppie slut with her abortionist on speed dial is that it has no basis in reality. Douthat hangs this sour stereotype on very thin evidence, mainly that blue states have higher abortion rates than red states. But when you look at the more direct statistics about abortion , the picture Douthat paints of yuppies escaping shotgun marriages via abortion doesn't add up. Mothers make up more than 60 percent of women having abortions, and low-income women are disproportionately represented. In fact, the latest statistics show that 42 percent of women having abortions live in poverty. The most direct statistic Douthat is willing to use involves teen pregnancy, but this also is misleading, since most women having abortions are in their 20s and 30s. The typical woman having an abortion is remarkably different from the stereotype Douthat conjures-she's likely to be a low-income single mother who can't afford another child, not some "selfish" yuppie avoiding marriage to slut it up and make Douthat crinkle his nose in disapproval.
Why do blue states have higher abortion rates, then? Most likely it's because they have more abortion providers and more public and private funding available for abortion. Red states often do everything in their power to run providers off, leaving women to give birth against their will ... or travel great distances to get an abortion in a blue state, artificially driving the rate up. The evil yuppies who manage to achieve conservative stability goals through immoral feminist sluttitude delay marriage and childbearing with contraception , which is way easier to get if you're a yuppie than if you're a single mother living in poverty. Of course, we know that Douthat isn't too keen on women using contraception , either, but he's smart enough to know that doesn't sell as well as hysteria over abortion.
Photograph of Sex and the City women by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.