Thursday, December 8, 2005

Don't Ask, Don't Care
A Guest Post by the Raving Atheist

[The Dawn Patrol steps briefly out of hibernation on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception for two pro-life posts. I'm honored to publish the following one by the Raving Atheist. — Dawn]

"Being pro-choice," cautions Debbie Nathan, "is a morality that takes you morally out of the picture."

The words of a pro-life advocate decrying the abortion culture's abandonment of any pretext of principle? In fact, Ms. Nathan is a proud volunteer for the Haven Coalition, an organization that provides overnight housing for women who flock to New York for elective, late second-trimester abortions. Its clients come from states lacking clinics capable of stomaching the procedure -- and Ms. Nathan's statement is a celebration of her own indifference to the practice, or more specifically, her ability to fully recognize it as evil without really caring.

The New York Magazine article which glorifies Ms. Nathan's work with Haven spotlights her stint as hostess to "Adeena," a Pennsylvania refugee who is is 24 years old and 24 weeks pregnant. Adeena has, in Nathan's own words, a "disturbingly" large belly. Disturbing, as Nathan concedes, because "[l]ate-term abortion is serious, hard-core":

This afternoon, sticks made of seaweed were inserted into her cervix, and a drug that causes fetal heart failure was injected into her belly. Now the seaweed is getting moist and swelling, and Adeena no longer feels movement in her womb. By tomorrow the swelling will have opened her cervix a few centimeters, allowing a doctor to extract the dead fetus with surgical tools and a vacuum machine.
Nothing about this procedure is so disturbing, serious or hardcore, however, that Haven's helpers would ever consider discouraging Adeena from undergoing it. The volunteers understand that there are side effects and that "some complications go beyond the medical," but Adeena's state of mind, like their morality, is out of the picture. "I don't know how much Adeena knows about these details," confesses Nathan. Indeed, nothing about their clients' circumstances seems to provoke enough curiosity for the simplest of inquiries. "Why did she wait so long? we all wonder. We never ask."

Don't ask, don't care. Never mind that sometimes after hosting a guest Nathan has "bad dreams about sick babies." She simply reminds herself that "my dreams are just dreams, and that they're less important than my guests' realities." But what are her guests' realities? Don't ask. At one point Adeena seems on the verge of volunteering her reasons -- while watching a video about a girl who aborts to further her boyfriend's basketball career only to discover that he decided to support the baby -- "[b]ut the movie credits are rolling and she asks for lights out . . . I set the alarm, fluff the quilt, and tuck her in." No need to know. To Nathan, all that matters is that in a few hours, Adeena will "be back on a bus to Philadelphia, free to do her thing, whatever that may be."

Unclear, too, is why Nathan's dreams are "just dreams" and not "realities." As Nathan admits, "[a]t 24 weeks, a fetus is at the same stage of development as those gruesome images shown on pro-lifers' protest placards." And one volunteer, Jennifer, reported that a client showed her a sonogram and pointed out that the fetus was a boy: "God! I didn't know what to say."

So just as they ask no questions, they have no answers. Occasionally, however, enough is learned about a case to be certain that there is no reason for the abortion. And so while Nathan frets that her "worst story is really no story at all" -- she then showcases it as a triumph for choice for the sake of mere choice:

The first woman [Haven volunteer] Levine ever hosted was here having a late-term abortion because she had simply "put off" dealing with her pregnancy until it was almost too late. The delay certainly didn't seem to be for financial reasons: "She had a late-model pickup truck that was better than my car," remembers Levine, "and I wondered, Why am I the one paying for dinner?"
Levine rolled out the red carpet anyway. "I had to tell myself, 'Every abortion is the choice of the woman having the abortion'".

Judgment, nevertheless, is not withheld with respect to some of the clients' lesser choices. "[S]ome Havenites insist that their guests eat 'healthy' food -- fresh fish, for instance, or vegetarian." And Nathan is "annoyed" at her guests' "crude manners" at a cozy Dominican restaurant. A patient who wanted to go out dancing to 2 a.m. is condemned for "shocking obliviousness." Silent on the ethics of the procedure that brought Adeena to her home, the bedtime issue makes Nathan "all chatty and gingerbready and just a little bossy. (Now, honey, no staying up too late. We've got to get up bright and early to go to the clinic tomorrow!)

Entitled "The New Underground Railroad," the New York article lacks the courage to devote a single word to justifying the comparison with Miss Tubman's enterprise. It does summon the effrontry to reframe the entire issue in terms of class. In aid of this cynical diversion we learn that "[m]ost Haven hosts are white, Jewish, well schooled, and political" while "most of the women helped by Haven are black and Latina, with GEDs or less, low literacy skills, and not much civic moxie." The relevance of any of this to the moral question of abortion question is never explained. What's important is that Nathan's tastes run to Film Forum, Cuban bolero and Yiddish theater, so she finds Adeena's aforementioned video selection, Coach Carter, to be as unsubtle as Adeena finds her hostess's own CD collection to be "uncool."

This conceit, which pervades the article, itself has all the subtlety of most Hollywood interracial buddy movies. As Nathan said of Coach Carter, "the plot is so thin it's obvious they'll all be hugging by the end." At the clinic goodbye scene, Adeena thanks Nathan for making her feel "just like you was my moms." The hugging is made easier than when they first met by the intervening extraction of swollen seaweed sticks and a dead fetus with surgical tools and a vacuum machine -- details which, as noted, Nathan's sense of noblesse oblige for some reason never compelled her to disclose.

Haven volunteer Katha Pollitt preciously ponders whether she is patronizing her charges by offering them People Magazine. "Maybe they’d rather read The Nicomachean Ethics," she muses. The reader is then patronized by the suggestion every serious moral issue raised can be explained in terms of class differences. "Sometimes, bridging the divide is just impossible: One patient walked into a volunteer's home, looked around, said she was going out for a smoke, and never came back," writes Nathan. Perhaps if these poor, desperate, immature women would only develop a taste for Bolero, Yiddish theater and Aristotle, they'd more fully appreciate Mademoiselle Nathan's gift of abortion.

Nathan's white woman's burden, however, is not shared by all of her race. One day outside the clinic another "white, well dressed" woman scolds a young Latina about "killing your baby." Although this is precisely how, for all intents and purposes, Nathan views the "serious, hardcore" act, the protester's willingness to articulate it -- to actually care -- now somehow renders her "birdlike," i.e., birdbrained, flighty, inhuman. And despite her presumed illiteracy and lack of civic moxie, for the purpose of the anecdote the young patient is suddenly transformed into a fully informed, empowered moral agent who deflects her detractor with a blast of urban sass: "Get the hell outta my way what business is it of yours f---in' goddamned puta bitch!"*

In short, the Haven Coalition exploits the powerlessness, ignorance and trust of impoverished minority strangers to insure that they kill their unborn children without a second thought. Its volunteers do not bother to discover or understand their clients' individual circumstances, nor do they care what they are. Their sole mission is to encourage conduct they consider reprehensible for no better reason than the lack of any reason at all.