A Few Reasons Why Ross Douthat’s Ideas Are Problematic

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Before we begin, let’s first introduce Mr. Douthat, and why it matters in the slightest that I’m experiencing secondhand embarrassment on his behalf (due to his problematic opinions). A thirty-something year old living in D.C., Ross is a columnist for the New York Times in their Opinion section. He is notoriously conservative in thought, and is quite honestly a very talented writer. That might explain why he seemed an attractive option as a panelist for the O’Connor Conference for Life being held  at Georgetown this weekend.

  1. Ross Douthat isn’t really sure what his opinions are.

He takes on some pretty unforgiving topics, such as oh, I don’t know, abortion. Typically, we’re used to reading clear opinions on women’s reproductive rights — and with good reason (if you’re going to take a strongly unilateral stance, you best be able to defend it to the ends of the earth). But for Ross, there’s a lot of ambiguity. In fact, he openly admits as much in one of his articles, claiming that he hasn’t determined his ‘moral stance’ on a few issues. Because, you know, this one middle-aged White man’s moral stance should play a large factor in our reproductive health decisions .

Even beyond his own confession, it’s easy to see in his articles about Planned Parenthood. In the same article, he claims he approves of access to over-the-counter oral contraception. But he continues on to say that sex-ed programs which provide contraception to teenagers are Not Okay in his book. Let me get this right: teenagers — a high risk demographic when it comes to sexual health, perhaps the group that most needs access to this very resource, should not be given contraception? Cool, Ross, cool. It’s just…. Kind of weird that you apparently think teenagers aren’t having sex.

  1. Ross Douthat’s logic isn’t logical.

In another of Ross’s articles, he references abortion rates in conservative states (where there are significantly more restrictions on access to abortion) as compared to abortion rates in liberal states (where there are fewer restrictions). He says that there are fewer abortions in conservative states, and more abortions in liberal states, and that somehow that difference means we should defund Planned Parenthood (funding for family planning will prevent “future abortions”). The glaring issue with this whole section of his article is that Ross apparently doesn’t understand or want to acknowledge what “restrictions” encompass. Did it not occur to him that perhaps the reason for fewer abortions in these states with heavy restrictions is that people simply could not access the healthcare they needed?

If there are only two functional clinics in my state, and I work six days a week, and there’s a waiting period to get an abortion, those barriers might be preventing me from getting an abortion and lowering abortion rates in my state. But no, according to Ross, the reason rates are higher in liberal states with more funding for Planned Parenthood is that the organization was funded, is more visible, and people think it’s easier to get an abortion than to “family plan,” or avoid pregnancy in the first place. Ross did not consider the fact that accessibility plays a massive role in rates of abortion. Logic…?

  1. Ross Douthat’s understanding of Planned Parenthood seems to be slightly sideways.

Planned Parenthood never claimed to be “pro-life.”  I can assure Ross, and anyone else who might be confused, that Planned Parenthood isn’t pro-life. The easiest explanation for that is that “pro-life” is the wrong terminology — what he meant to write was “anti-choice.” Planned Parenthood as an organization stands for every person’s ability to make their own choices about their reproductive rights and sexual health. Just check out their website, I’m sure they word that sentiment more eloquently than I did. By imposing his “pro-life/anti-choice” value set onto their platform, Ross creates this weird confusion that’s just totally unnecessary. He keeps referencing this “pro-life case for Planned Parenthood” and how problematic he finds it to be. He asks that proponents of Planned Parenthood defend abortion simply as the removal of a clump of cells, or as a procedure that is without any moral context or circumstances. This is quite plainly wrong. He asks the impossible. Supporters of Planned Parenthood do not have to personally ascribe to the pro-choice movement in order for their support to be “valid.” People who are pro-choice do not all have to have the same exact reasoning for their stance, either. That’d be like every fan of a sports team feeling the same way for the same reasons. Somehow, that seems pretty sideways to me. Regardless of his understanding (or lack thereof), however, Ross seems to also have made the assumption that his opinion on what females should do with their bodies is necessary for understanding the issue as a whole. Unfortunately for Ross, we don’t need another guy telling us what to do with our uteruses.

Generally speaking, it’s problematic that think-pieces by a man have the potential to be taken more seriously than a person’s desire to choose how they manage their reproductive capabilities. Being pro-choice means respecting the ability of other human beings to make their own choices for themselves. If you are someone who thinks people generally can’t or shouldn’t be able to make their own decisions, you should probably go back to Nineteen Eighty-Four, where Orwell will welcome you with open arms.

To be fair, objectively speaking, Ross seems to be an intelligent, well-spoken guy — when he isn’t falling into some strange logical black hole, or showcasing his ignorance of the fight for reproductive rights. He writes well, he communicates effectively, and he has interesting opinions on issues other than reproductive rights. But that’s not why we at H*yas for Choice find his ideas to be problematic. Seemingly “moderate” pieces like his are the very ones which normalize ideologies which are dangerous for reproductive healthcare and rights across the board (even though his pieces aren’t very moderate at all). We find his anti-choice rhetoric fraught with issues and quite frankly, dangerous.

Emma Vahey (COL ’20) is on the leadership team of H*yas for Choice

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