Terrifying Times

This Sunday's New York Times gave us reason to be very afraid.


Rebecca Traister
April 10, 2006 3:32PM (UTC)

Sunday's New York Times Magazine contained a piece that should be required reading, and sadly, not just for Broadsheet readers (see: Choir, preaching to). "Pro-Life Nation," by Jack Hitt, is about El Salvador, a country where abortion is illegal in every circumstance. If a woman is caught having terminated a pregnancy, she can be sentenced to two to eight years in jail, her doctor six to 12. Of course, that's if the fetus is determined not to have been viable; should it turn out to have weighed more than about a pound, sentences run 30 to 50 years.

The horror of the piece was amplified by the sense that it's just a sneak peek at what life in the U.S. could be like if sweeping abortion bans like South Dakota's become law. It turns out that many of our worst nightmares are already facts of life in El Salvador: The rich still have access to safe abortions, while the poor are forced to turn to Internet information and shady underground networks to help rid them of their unwanted fetuses. Traditional "back-alley" procedures (wire probes, coat hangers) are becoming less common, replaced by ulcer medicine inserted into the vagina to induce abortions that can be disguised as miscarriages once the women have made it to hospitals. That's important, since if a doctor figures out that a patient has terminated on purpose -- noticing, for example, a torn or lacerated uterus, cervix or vagina -- the doctor is required to turn her in.

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The most chilling sentence in Hitt's piece is his description of how, if a woman has a botched abortion that requires hysterectomy, her womb is "sent to the Forensic Institute, where the government's doctors analyze it and retain custody of her uterus as evidence against her."

Only marginally less depressing is "Blue Devils Made Them Do It," an Op-Ed by Allan Gurganus about the gang-rape charges against members of the Duke lacrosse team. Gurganus covers lots of territory -- from lacrosse's roots as a Native American sport to the tension between Duke athletes and the town of Durham, N.C. It ends with this plaintive call: "When the children of privilege feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing, we must all ask why ... Boys 18 to 25 are natural warriors: bodies have wildly outgrown reason, the sexual imperative outranks everything. They are insurance risks. They need (and crave) true leadership, genuine order. But left alone, granted absolute power, their deeds can terrify ... The imperative to win, and damn all collateral costs, is not peculiar to Durham -- and it is killing us ... Why is there no one to admire?"

Also in the Week in Review section was an extended rumination by Jill Abramson about Katie Couric's new job, and when we will stop using the phrase "the first woman to ..." (Word may have reached you, last week, that Couric is soon to become the first woman to anchor an evening news broadcast solo.)

The Arts & Leisure cover was a light -- not to say "puffy" -- piece about Condoleezza Rice's chamber music group. And the Book Review carried a great review by Alexandra Jacobs about the new book by crypto-feminist Bonnie Fuller. Fuller, now a much-reviled tabloid editor and former top dog at Glamour and Cosmo, has penned a volume of advice for women looking to "have it all," in which, Jacobs contends, she "makes a surprisingly potent statement for the sisterhood."

Finally, over in the Styles section is a story about how domestic responsibility breaks down along gender lines. (Hint: Arlie Hochschild's 1989 book "The Second Shift" is not quite as dated as one might have hoped.) The piece quotes housework evangelist and Broadsheet's recurring migraine, Caitlin Flanagan, who observes that "a man can sit in, watching television with newspapers scattered everywhere and food all over, and they just don't care ... We women have the sense that someone's watching us. We need those newspapers picked up because what would people think?"

Gosh, I don't know what people would think, but maybe Flanagan could stop by my apartment this morning -- preferably with members of her household staff -- and pick up the remains of the Times, which I'm done writing about, but which lies scattered everywhere. Apparently, "we women" is a collective that doesn't include me.

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Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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Abortion Broadsheet Katie Couric Love And Sex The New York Times

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