The wedding section of the New York Times is iconic. It’s considered the ultimate status symbol to have your wedding profiled in the section and it’s the most-read part of the paper, giving it enormous power and influence in terms of shaping ideas about marriage.
When the Times featured its first same-sex wedding, it was seen as a hugely significant moment in pop culture. And last week, another first for the newspaper’s wedding section: the first mention of an abortion
In a feature article telling the story of American basketball player Udonis Haslem and Faith Rein, the Times details the couple’s path to parenthood and the various challenges they faced in working towards a financially stable future together.
One of these was the pair’s decision to terminate a pregnancy while they were at college.
At the time, Haslem was training for the NBA draft and Rein was caught up with sporting commitments of her own. The couple went on to have children when they felt they were in a better position to care for and support them.
The newlyweds tell reporter Linda Marx:
“I am not a huge fan of abortion, but we both had sports careers, plus we could not financially handle a baby,” said Mr. Haslem, noting how he struggled with supporting Kedonis, the son he had in high school, who is now 14 and who lives with his mother.
“Udonis appreciated that I was willing to have an abortion,” Ms. Rein said. “I found him caring, supportive, nurturing and all over me to be sure I was O.K. I saw another side of him during that difficult time and fell deeply in love. He had a big heart and was the whole package.”
Just like that. No big lead-in. No sub-heading drawing attention to it. This abortion was simply one facet of Haslem and Rein’s story.
Unsurprisingly, pro-life media has condemned the Times‘ decision to cover the couple’s decision to terminate. However, many other media outlets and blogs have praised the newspaper.
As Jezebel’s Doug Barry highlights, the reference to abortion in this context – as simply a “difficult yet pragmatic” decision that many couples and women around the world face in their reproductive lives – is a sign that society’s attitude toward abortion may be evolving.
[T]he New York Times openly discussing abortion like this doesn’t make abortion seem like any more or less of a difficult, private decision. It simply shows that it is … a decision, to be considered or ignored or made or nearly made by people based on their own priorities and not some imaginary standard of adulthood imposed by a pious, anti-choice finger-waggers.
Considering abortion has long been a taboo subject in the media and pop culture, this article’s treatment of the issue is quite unusual. As ThinkProgress.org notes, “Shame-based” messages surrounding abortion and abortion care have “reinforced the idea that it’s always morally wrong, and the women who opt for having one always end up regretting it later”.
The abortion option is so often brushed over, ignored, or – bizarrely – not even uttered out loud. In the movie Knocked Up, Jonah Hill’s character goes so far as to allude to the issue without speaking the word, telling his on-screen friend: “I won’t say it … but it rhymes with shmashmortion. You should get a shmashmortion at the shmashmortion clinic”.
Even in the rare instance where a film or TV program broaches the subject – like Juno and Sex & the City - abortion tends to be dealt with trickily. It often eventuates that character chooses not to go through with the procedure, or is actually not pregnant in the first place, as in the first season of HBO’s Girls. Termination storylines tend to emphasise the emotional turmoil that accompanies the decision.
The New York Times piece has generated a mixed reaction from readers, with some expressing bemusement or discomfort at the mention of abortion in a feature about a couple’s marriage. Others found it a pleasant if unexpected surprise.
Either way, the couple’s openness to discuss their abortion experience – and the newspaper’s willingness to publish it – represents a depature from the traditional treatment of the subject. And if it makes just one woman feel less alone in her decision to terminate a pregnancy, surely that’s an indication of progress.
What do you think – is this an important step forward in how society perceives abortion?