Sunday, August 16, 2009

How To Write About Abortion Providers

There's been a lot of linking among my pro-choice friends to the article that ran in Esquire last week. The Last Abortion Doctor has made its rounds to pretty much every major feminist blog: Shakesville, feministing, Feministe, and I'm sure plenty of others. None really commented specifically on the article; their posts just sent readers in the direction of Richardson's craptastic article.
Yes, craptastic.
I don't know if I'm in the minority in thinking it was so awful. Lots of people commenting on these posts loved it. I know, though, that I wasn't the only one who really hated the way that John H. Richardson wrote about Dr. Warren Hern.

Dr. Hern is an abortion provider in Boulder, CO. He is one of very few doctors in the US that will perform late abortions, usually defined as after the 22nd or 24th week.
Dr. Hern is a wonderful doctor, and I'm more grateful than I can express that he's continuing to do his work after losing his friend and colleague, Dr. Tiller, to the same threats that he receives daily.

John Richardson, however, is a terrible writer and ruined what could have been a great profile article of the personal side of an abortion provider and the life he must lead just to be safe. Not only is the article riddled with inaccuracies, he insists on calling Dr. Hern "the abortionist," a vilifying term coined by the anti-choicers...and one that Dr. Hern explicitly requested he not use.

So, the subject? Fantastic. The actual article? Piece of crap.

(At least one blogger agrees, and wrote a great piece about all the reasons John Richardson's article was terrible: see Ema's post at The Well Timed Period.)

Today, I found another profile of another abortion provider who is now performing more late abortions. This time, it was written by a journalist who actually knows how to write without ruining really fantastic subject matter.
Newsweek created a video a couple weeks ago:

And Newsweek published an article yesterday, The Abortion Evangelist: Why LeRoy Carhart Won't Stop Doing Abortions.
Sarah Kliff, who has covered abortion-related issues for Newsweek for at least a couple years, did a fantastic job with the article. She spent time with Dr. Carhart, got to know him, and told his story. She turned him into a person, and crafted a simultaneously emotive and informative profile of Dr. Carhart. She understood abortion politics, did not refer to him as "an abortionist," and, well, acted like a professional journalist.

This is how you write a personal profile of a doctor who provides abortions.
This is a good article.

And when you want to write more of your own personal narrative in a journalistic context? You do what Sarah Kliff did, and write a separate piece about your experience in watching an abortion procedure. Read that one, too: Watching My First Abortion - Competing Emotions


ema said...

Thanks for pointing out the piece on Dr. Carhart; very good catch.

placenta sandwich said...

Hey, I know this is late, but: I disliked the Esquire article a lot too, and so did a lot of my colleagues (we work in various roles in the abortion field). Newsweek ended up also running a brief response to it, called "Why the Esquire Abortion Story Got It Wrong", which was short and sweet and factual, and then the Esquire writer left a long huffy comment about it! The cool thing was, then Newsweek posted a response they got from Dr. Hern himself also disputing the Esquire piece. I was really gratified. Here's the link to his response- - and I promise I'm not associated with Newsweek in any way, in fact I was surprised to read something from them that didn't roll my eyes!