TO: David Brooks
FROM: NARAL Pro-Choice America Members
RE: Imaginary Political Consulting Gone Wrong
Late yesterday, you made the unfortunate decision to play an imaginary political consultant for a day, and shed your “wisdom” on the issue of abortion rights — a topic you will never understand in the same way we do thanks to basic biology and the experience of living as women in America. You did so on the heels of the failed attempt by Senate Republicans earlier this week to advance a dangerous bill that would ban abortion care after 20 weeks, an effort that Donald Trump personally called for in order to fulfill a campaign promise he made to the anti-choice movement.
Next time, may we recommend you take time to actually speak with, or feature, a woman or a family who had to make the incredibly difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy under these circumstances. If you had, maybe you would have set the laptop down. But, since it’s clear you did not, allow us to lift up these stories — stories fundamental to any debate about banning abortion.
Skipping over the human aspect of difficult policy issues might make it easier to write a fake political strategy memo, but omitting it endangers the rights and the lives of the people who live these experiences every day in our country.
“It was like any other appointment until the moment we met with our doctor to go over the results. He told us there was an excess of amniotic fluid and that growth had dropped off the chart. He explained that the fetus could not swallow, and if it survived birth, the baby would not be able to breathe outside the womb. Some terrible, unnamed condition that had been winding through the pregnancy, showing itself in glimpses, came into focus at 30 weeks and snuffed out any hope. I shuddered at the morbid thought of Erika carrying this pregnancy for another 10 weeks knowing that there would be such a tragic outcome; and it was a risk. She couldn’t push during pregnancy due to a brain surgery the year before. If my wife suddenly went into labor and wasn’t in a hospital, she could die from a stroke.” -Garin Marschall, New York
“The neurologist delivered more bad news: additional brain anomalies. My little daughter would likely never walk, talk, swallow, or support the weight of her head. She would require brain surgery to extend her life, but no surgery could ever cure her. ‘What can she do?’ I asked. ‘Does a child like mine just sleep all day?’ He winced at the question. ‘Children like yours are not generally comfortable enough to sleep.’ My wall of hope and denial crashed down around me. I could not subject my child to that kind of suffering. I wished for a miracle, but I would not risk my daughter’s well-being. My heart sang clearly: I would give my daughter peace.” — Kate Carson, Massachusetts
“The doctor came in and looked at the black-and-white image moving on the small screen. She reiterated that things weren’t measuring correctly and recommended that they see a specialist at the hospital. Nicole left the appointment crying. Twenty-four hours later, they met with the fetal care specialist… ‘The doctor was nice, but her delivery was ice-cold. She said, ‘Things aren’t measuring correctly — the femur, the arms, the head, the heart. There’s a constellation of abnormalities.’ My whole confidence got really bleak. All of the sudden, the conversation turned to, ‘You need to start considering what your options are.’ It took a moment for what that meant to sink in…‘There were two situations in front of us, and both of them were horrible,” says Nicole. ‘One was that we brought a child into the world who would never have a normal life and would probably only live a few months. And then there was this other possibility, which I think we all felt very, very grateful for, that we could terminate the pregnancy.” -Nicole and Anton Schlessinger, Texas
Had you done any actual research on abortion performed later in a woman’s pregnancy, perhaps you would realize that the women who need this care need it for reasons that include highly complex medical problems that could result in serious, even life-threatening health risks for the woman, or the delivery of a baby unable to survive even hours outside the womb. These are also women who face incredible difficulty obtaining care thanks to laws intended to make abortion inaccessible, or have to live with the fear that comes with reporting rape, incest, and abuse.
Beyond the serious problems that come with ignoring these stories, you fail to recognize that there is serious political risk to ignoring the fundamental right a woman has to make her own health care decisions — especially the risks associated with suggesting, as you do, that we all might be better off if Roe v. Wade were overturned and left to the states (a reminder that, so far, states have been the breeding ground for legislation responsible for massive clinic closures, leaving women to access care in potentially unsafe places and ways, as before Roe).
If you haven’t noticed, women are more politically energized than ever before, and black women are responsible for saving this country and electing pro-choice candidates like Ralph Northam in Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama. Ignoring the right to abortion care — fundamental to the values of these critical, energized, marching, voting blocs that are overwhelmingly pro-choice — is politically naive at best, grossly irresponsible at worst. Women are marching in the streets, and running for office in unprecedented numbers. Advising a strategy of not taking women seriously in this way would be bad advice from any political consultant — imaginary or not.
For what it’s worth, Cook Political Report has this to offer in the New York Times:
“Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said vulnerable Republicans — she cited Dean Heller in Nevada — might have as much to lose in voting for the measure as vulnerable Democrats had in voting against it. ‘Since when’s the last time we saw a Democrat pay for what is essentially a pro-choice vote?’ Ms. Duffy asked. ‘It’s been a long time.’”
Democratic hopefuls should thank their lucky stars that you are only an imaginary consultant, not a real one. You should quit playing pretend and try to step into the reality women face every single day.
NARAL Pro-Choice America’s over 1 million members