Type-casting the abortion debate, and Frank Bruni’s “Lady on the Ladder”

At the Washington Post’s “She the People” blog, Melinda Henneberger joins the chorus of voices—which includes Rod Dreher, Ramesh Ponnuru, Mark Shea, Mollie Hemingway, and Gawker’s John Cook—expressing skepticism over aspects of New York Times’ columnist Frank Bruni’s March 24 op-ed “Rethinking His Religion” (Catholic News Agency reports on the issue here, and includes portions of an email exchange with Bruni about the controversy).

In the article, Bruni describes a former college classmate’s transformation from church-going Catholic to atheist abortion doctor. The story culminates with an anecdote about a particularly nasty protester who would stand on a ladder shouting “murderer” and “whore” at those entering the doctor’s clinic. Bruni’s friend said that the woman disappeared from the ladder one day, only to show up in his examination room—asking for an abortion. The doctor performs the procedure and a week later, Bruni relates at the article’s conclusion, “she was back on her ladder.”

Some, like Dreher, have questioned the friend’s very existence (“He is just too perfect an illustration of what a gay secular liberal would want to see from the ‘conversion’ of a conservative Catholic”); others, like Henneberger, believe Bruni’s friend is real but speculate that he may have taken the NYT columnist for a ride with regard to the “lady on the ladder” story.

Henneberger’s real concern, though, isn’t just whether or not Bruni’s story is true, partly true, or fabricated; it’s how the column demonstrates the mainstream media’s made-to-order depictions of abortion opponents and abortion providers:

Speaking of preconceived notions, however, my beef is that those who oppose abortion are routinely depicted as some combo of unhinged and hypocritical, and abortion providers as virtuous and brave. Doesn’t this neat delineation ever strike writers who on other topics gravitate to texture and complexity as quite the coincidence? Nope, so even when the news of an abortion doctor who is most certainly not up for secular canonization gets out, it’s barely mentioned outside right-to-life or church media.

Henneberger continues: “No matter how we feel about abortion, we’re repeatedly told, we are just gonna love that our most fringe representatives are allowed to speak for us! Only, we don’t.”

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.