You Can Judge an Editorial by its Title

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Oklahoma vs Women is the title of an editorial in the New York Times that discusses a few abortion-related decisions the government has reached.  Right from the title, the reader can guess the author's stance on the issue (which isn't a bad thing.  It's an editorial, so opinions are expected).  To briefly summarize the article, in May, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a law that stated women wanting an abortion must fill out a ten-page questionaire, and that the details of her answers can be posted on a public website. 

The author calls this law "a real beaut" and dubs the questionaire "intrusive."  This law was temporarily blocked; a fact that the writer says is fortunate.  These small touches make the writer's opinion clear and his point persuasive without resorting to a didactic sort of editorial, or, worse, a page of name-calling and insults.  After outlining the basis of the would-be law, the writer point-blankly states,

"The law's purpose is political. Its real aim is to persuade doctors to stop performing abortions by placing new burdens on their practice, to intimidate and shame women, and to stigmatize a legal medical procedure that one in three women have at some point in their lives."

OK, so this is definitely the writer's opinion, but as I said, that's the point of an editorial.  And even though the writer has some strong feelings on the subject, they do not veer into attacking the people on "the other side." 

I didn't choose this article because of any position I have on abortion, but because I think the writer does a good job of controlling passion in an emotionally-charged issue.  This is a skill that earns respect for editorials and gets people to listen.  Remember when writing that if you're only preaching to the choir, you've really accomplished nothing.  Write in such a way that someone who disagrees with you will be inclined to at least listen.

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7 Comments

Dave said:

I definately agree that this calm, reasoning style is far more effective than the empassioned, malicious rants, which tend to be only effective at whipping the choir (to whom you're preaching) up into a frenzy.
I also liked the fact that they kept it specific, by arguing about the law, rather than falling completely into the "is abortion right or wrong?" argument. There really isn't anything that can be said on that general topic that hasn't been said numerous times. We're at the stage where arguments have lost their meaning and volume (in both senses of that word) is all that matters.

Aja Hannah said:

Let's see if I can keep my personal opinion out of this while I try to comment on the article without really commenting.

First, I think that the questionnaire could also be used to stop women from being pressured by the father or by anyone else to have this abortion and to make sure they are mentally stable enough to handle the consequences whether they ultimately chose to sacrifice their life or the baby's.

As helpful as this may seem to be, it (like your other medical documents) should remain private.

The author does clearly show her opinion (as I have shown mine) and she got a good reaction from me at least without bashing the other side like Josie said. I didn't know this law had come to pass and now my blood boils and I want to petition. I suppose she succeeded.

Dave said:

I definately agree as far as medical info goes. It seems insane they'll put those questionaires up online....(unless they did it anonymously, as sections of some sort of psychological research project to which all the participants have consented).

This is especially ridiculous because they're usually sticklers for medical confidentiallity, well beyond the realm of common sense. My mom tried to get a copy of my immunization records (when I was 20ish), and they flat out refused, despite the fact that she had all the relevant info, birthdate, SSN, etc. and explained to them that I was out of the country and I needed them sent somewhere immediately (fortunately they will assume any male who says they're me, and knows my info is me, so my dad could get it).
Honestly, the fact that I've had a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is no big secret. It is simply not something I am ashamed of, and yes I may be a bad example as I'm completely shameless, but seriously, is ANYONE ashamed of having had the same vaccines that virtually every baby born in the US has had? Does anyone feel that their enemies could someday use this info against them?
If they wont release mundane info to one's MOTHER, how could they possibly justify releasing far more personal medical information to the general public.

Josie Rush said:

Aja and Dave,
I have to agree. The section about posting the answers to that questionaire online is the part that surprised me the most. The writer seems to know that this is her ammunition, too. She says that they "may" post the findings on a website open to the public. That's the most detail we get (it's still an outrageous detail, I'm just saying that it's tinted with uncertainty). Maybe she doesn't know anymore, maybe what she does know other information, but it's not as damning as she'd like it to be, either way, she smartly mentions what *could* happen,then goes on.

Dave said:

That is definately a bit suspect Aja. It is pretty vague....and there is a big difference between posting things like "Of the some number of women who got abortions in 2010, X% were in such and such age group, while X% were in the such and such age group" than "So-and-so killed her baby...AND according to her questionairre she didn't even KNOW who the father was...slut."

Then again given the view of the author, it certainly serves her position to suggest the later rather than the former, when the reality is likely somewhere in the middle.

Jessica Orlowski said:

If this editorial exercise were just meant for us to rant about the content of the editorial, I would be here for a long, long time writing about how abortion is bad. However, the purpose of the exercise is to see how well the author remains unbiased. I read the article, and I agree with you- the author remains rather unbiased. However, one thing I didn't like about this article is how the author is SO general that we're not provided with many details at all. This is particularly evident in the first sentence when she states "... on a particular method of abortion." She could have afforded a few more words and told us what this was. Also, she wasn't very opinionated (it was an opinionated editorial). There's some there, just not as much as there could be.

Josie Rush said:

Jessica- Yeah, I was actually a little iffy on using this particular editorial, because I know people are very passionate about this multi-facted subject. Understandably so. However, as you rightly point out, the purpose of the exercise was to judge technique. I see where you're coming from. If the author was a little more specific in certain places, we may have gotten a closer look at the topic. Though in this case, I'm not sure if the reason she didn't give us the specific type of aborition was because we wouldn't recognize the name of it, then she'd have to waste words describing it, or she just didn't think we'd care.
Also, I have mixed feelings about her being more opinionated. I think that especially with this subject, the calmer, more analytical one is, the better the point will travel. I know you're not saying you expect her to lose her head, but there's just so much baggage with this topic, and the author sort of used the facts she found to speak for her. If someone of a different opinion could pick out other facts, he/she would present them in a way to back up that view. However, letting statistics do the talking for you can be effective as well, and I think that's what that author did here.

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