I've been thinking a lot about the lady on the ladder.
Yes, the one New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote about in his column about the classmate he'd shunned back in college, when the other guy was an uncool, unthinking Christian who'd accepted everything he'd been told. Dork that he was, he even wore a jacket and tie to Sunday Mass.
Now that the guy has chucked his Catholic faith and evolved into a brave abortion doctor, though, he rates not just his former dormmate's admiration but a column devoted to his heroics. Which include the time an antiabortion protester - a fixture outside the doc's clinic, who pitilessly screams "murderer" and "whore" at all who enter - turns up on his examining table.
To get an abortion.
Of course, the good doctor is philosophical about this - and so caring that when he first notices this annoying person is not on her usual perch on a ladder outside the clinic that day, his impulse is to worry about her:
"I thought, 'I hope she's okay,' " he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there.
She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn't like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.
She told him: "I don't have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn't where it should be."
"Nothing like life," he responded, "to teach you a little more."
So imagine Dr. Wonderful's surprise to see this woman back on her ladder the next week, yelling as usual, having learned nothing.
After Bruni's column appeared, several conservative writers, a Catholic news site and Gawker - together again, for the very first time - questioned whether there was any such woman, given that a number of suspiciously similar versions of the lady-on-the-ladder tale have been reported before, in a bunch of different places.
Now, people change their minds about this issue all the time, in both directions, and it's no stretch to imagine that a protester could become a patient, or vice versa. But isn't it odd that in each one of these instances, the antiabortion protester is so dim she never thinks perhaps she'd best seek her abortion at a clinic other than the one where she yells "whore" and "murderer" all day, every day?
Apparently not so odd that this often-told tale raised any questions.
I don't bring any of this up to challenge the ethics or motives behind the column written by Bruni, a talented former colleague and complete professional; no way would he have piped the thing.
We all have our blind spots, however, and the former classmate he once shunned may have embellished the tale, either to impress or ingratiate himself - he also told Bruni that meeting him, a gay man who didn't conform to his preconceived notions, was one of the experiences that had set him on the path to enlightenment and Erasmus.
Or maybe he just wanted to get back at him. (Who is it again who believes everything he's told?)
My real 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, and any evidence of a provider who is definitely not up for secular canonization - like the ghastly Kermit Gosnell, whose clinic was a horror - is simply ignored.