On Tuesday, the New York Times published an op-ed penned by an employee of the Human Coalition, an anti-abortion group that, among its many outreach programs, uses search engine optimization to redirect “abortion-determined women” to Coalition-run crisis pregnancy centers in four cities.
The piece, written Lori Szala, director of client services for Human Coalition, reiterates some of the anti-abortion movement’s standard arguments reframed in the language of economics. I won’t bore you with the details but, in brief, Szala rejects the argument that reproductive rights are an essential part of economic equality for women. Szala describes that economic argument as “dehumanizing,” positing that they reduce “mothers and their children to mere economic objects, and amounts to saying we are justified in killing those who impede our economic progress.”
Szala’s arguments aren’t particularly unique. She presents a series of familiar anti-abortion arguments that, for whatever reason, national op-ed pages seem to be enthralled with: abortion is murder, abortion preys on vulnerable women who regret their decision, etc. What’s notable is less the argument presented in the Times and more that this is the second time this year that the paper’s opinion page has published an anti-abortion op-ed written by an employee of Human Coalition.
On February 27, the Times published an op-ed titled “How the New Feminist Resistance Leaves Out American Women,” by Lauren Enriquez, the public relations manager at Human Coalition. In that piece, Enriquez argued that the Women’s March, and by extension feminists, reject “the position that most American women take on abortion — that it should be completely illegal, or legal but with significant restrictions.” Op-ed columnist David Leonhardt wrote in the Times’s Opinion Today newsletter that he disagreed with “major chunks” of Enriquez’s argument, but that “she’s right that the progressive movement will be stronger if it’s willing to welcome abortion opponents.”
Leonhardt’s point is perhaps an insight into why the Times has published two op-eds by the same anti-choice group, even though that argument, as well as Leonhardt’s reading of Enriquez’s op-ed, are both equally unconvincing. It’s not clear what a group that compares “abortion-minded women” to “animals caught in a trap,” contributes to the debate about progressive policy or feminism. What is clear is that these pieces are intended to further the op-ed section’s opinion of itself as a facilitator of smart debate and political conversation.
But neither Enriquez’s or Szala’s op-eds actually do that; instead, they read like advertisements for the Human Coalition. Szala’s piece includes the abortion testimony—a scene where she chooses life after witnessing the regret of a woman who chose an abortion, a narrative device familiar to anyone who has spent time in Evangelical circles, followed by an evasive description of the work Human Coalition does:
There are better solutions; they just require more creativity and more effort. 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.
Such efforts require a community commitment. We recently had a client whose husband needed a car to get to work. A donor sold her car at a steep discount, another donor purchased it for the client, and a third paid for six months of car insurance.
Enriquez’s February piece offers a similar assessment of the group she represents:
Groups like ours work with each woman to identify the unique circumstances that have made her feel powerless, and then we respond to those needs. That can mean going with her to apply for Medicaid; helping her to secure safe, affordable housing; finding child care solutions; or helping her improve her résumé and find employment. There is no debate: Women face hurdles in pregnancy. But I refuse to accept that peddling death in the face of crisis can ever truly empower a woman.
Nowhere, in either piece, does the Times disclose that the Human Coalition is a religious-based organization that runs crisis pregnancy clinics and supports 34 similar clinics across the country. They also fail to disclose that Szala herself runs a crisis center in Pittsburgh and, according to her biography on Human Coalition’s site, has “co-authored two versions of IN THE KNOW, a high school abstinence curriculum that she has shared with thousands of youth in the Greater Pittsburgh Area.”
What’s increasingly clear is that the Times’s op-ed page values the pretense these narratives offer. In the coziness of the op-ed page, anti-abortion radicalism is presented as just another opinion, part of the diversity of voices that fill the political landscape. Facilitating an honest conversation about abortion is not the point. As Bret Stephens’s hiring indicated, the point seems to be the Times’s ability to signal its perception of itself as the embodiment of liberal values, particularly the free exchange of ideas. Be it climate change or abortion, it’s the mere articulation of a side that’s valued not the content of the arguments.
It’s a facile approach that treats the opinion pages as a place for conversation where every opinion—simply by virtue of existing—is worthy of inclusion. No doubt, the Times would point to blogs like this one as an example of that “conversation,” a buzzy and empty word that is often confused for intelligence or insight. But that, of course, is the point. If the Times’s op-ed page has to do the work of anti-choice activists to generate conversation, to produce tension or debate, then they are clearly happy to do so.