The Gosnell Case Shows Abortion Isn't a Red or Blue Issue—It's Pink

While reproductive healthcare is embraced as a religious issue on the right and ignored by too many men on the left, actual women—particularly poor ones—get hurt in the shuffle.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Apr. 23, 2013

Share this Story:

The story of Kermit Gosnell has been unfolding in Philadelphia since 2010—yet some national writers who missed the story are suddenly, only now, paying attention. Recently, in response to a Twitter shame campaign ignited by a USA Today op-ed calling for the story to be on the front page, the writers who missed it (or perhaps more accurately, dismissed it) have snapped to attention. Unfortunately, rather than admitting their own biases and blind spots, they blamed a bogus conspiracy theory for keeping them in the dark.

Gosnell, of course, is the 72-year-old doctor currently on trial in Philadelphia, charged with four counts of murder in the deaths of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar and three infants. He is also charged with performing illegal late-term abortions (in Pennsylvania, the law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks), illegal prescribing of drugs and other charges. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Gosnell’s clinic was discovered by way of the alleged illegal drug distribution; it was the Drug Enforcement Agency that raided his West Philadelphia clinic in February 2010. After the raid, a grand jury spent the rest of the year interviewing 58 witnesses and published its findings in a January 2011 report. (You can read the whole report online at

Philadelphia Weekly published the first of many articles exploring the Gosnell case in February 2011. Our coverage throughout 2011 and 2012 focused on Pennsylvania legislators who exploited the case in order to pass one of the strictest new regulations on abortion clinics in the country, which, as it was designed to do, shut some clinics down.

Legislators claimed the new regulations were drafted in response to the Gosnell case with women’s safety in mind. “This is about patient safety and preventing future cases of murder and infanticide within abortion clinics,” said state Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford/Tioga counties). Here’s the reality: Bills like the one Pennsylvania passed—which mandates clinics must undergo prohibitively expensive architectural upgrades that have nothing to do with patient safety—have been pushed nationwide by Americans United for Life, a powerful pro-life lobbying group dedicated to chiseling away poor women’s access to abortion clinics through state-level legislation.

Before Act 122, which requires clinics offering abortions to be licensed as ambulatory surgical facilities, was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania had 19 freestanding abortion clinics offering surgical abortion services. Now there are 13, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Many clinics simply could not afford the costly architectural changes as required under the new standard.

Proponents of the new regulations—who notably include only religious organizations and no medical associations—say the law better protects patients from the Gosnells of the world. History, however, shows the opposite. Before Roe v. Wade ruled that states could not outlaw abortion altogether, women seeking abortions used to routinely endure the types of violence Gosnell allegedly inflicted on his victims—a fact documented by hospital records at the time.

Forty years after Roe, abortion is still legal, but that legality does not guarantee access—specifically, for poor and working women. To wit: According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s 2010 report, 65 private physicians in Pennsylvania perform abortions. Anti-abortion activists focused on shutting down clinics aren’t actually stopping abortion; they’re just stopping poor and working women from accessing safe abortion.

And that’s when those women go to the Gosnells of the world.


The recent surge of national attention to the Gosnell case comes not from pundits discovering any sudden new personal interest in reproductive healthcare—access to which is profoundly stratified by class and race—but in response to charges of a cover-up by a liberal media.

“This story—which if nothing else suggests that live births do, in fact, happen during late-term abortions—upsets a particular narrative about the reality of certain types of abortion, and that reality isn’t something some pro-choice absolutists want to discuss,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, after admitting he had not heard of the Gosnell case until the USA Today piece.

Give or take a few profound basic errors—Gosnell’s alleged crimes and grotesque methods are unheard of in medical literature and in no way reflect any type of regulated abortion, which an expert could have explained and which is clear in the grand jury report—Goldberg’s assertion that the so-called pro-abortion rights liberal media chose to hide the story is a premise endorsed by, mostly, the journalists who missed the story.

It’s also demonstrably false. In fact, the opposite is true: Outside of Philadelphia and Harrisburg, most of the early coverage of Gosnell came from overtly pro-choice writers and outlets such as Amanda Marcotte and Slate, Katha Pollitt at The Nation and RH Reality Check. In other words, the indie media that are actually pro-abortion-rights liberals covered the case even more than the mainstream corporate media that get labeled that way.

The case was also covered across the spectrum of mainstream big media, such as The New York Times. The Associated Press has been filling daily reports from inside the courtroom. I would be more convinced of a big, bad monolithic liberal media monster if the story of an alleged drug trafficker who allegedly got away with maiming and murdering victims for years due to a complex web of government oversight failures hadn’t been dismissed as a “women’s issue” by the very writers who are now wondering why they missed—or, more accurately, dismissed—the big story.

To wit: Slate politics writer Dave Weigel, after wondering why no one told him the story was important, admits that he read about Kermit Gosnell back in 2011, but he simply “didn’t see a political story to chase.”

So which is a more likely explanation for mainstream national journalists who missed the Gosnell story until now: that a vast media conspiracy exists to condone an alleged murderer who kept severed fetal feet in jars for fun, or that mainstream national journalists function in an echo chamber, collectively obsessing over a single sensational story rather than responsibly covering all the topics that need covering?

Notably, many of the journalists who have emerged from said echo chamber wondering what happened are white males. Perhaps if reproductive healthcare wasn’t embraced as a religious issue on the right and dismissed as a “women’s issue” on the left, it would have received more national coverage. Though abortion as a buzzword is considered a red-state-vs.-blue-state hot-button issue and, in fact, was considered one of the most important issues of the 2012 presidential campaign, what the Gosnell media case reveals is that abortion in reality—specifically, the reality of what poor women’s bodies must endure when safe access is not ensured—is neither a red nor blue issue. It’s pink.

Either way, the newfound interest in the case—whether disingenuous or not—comes way too late for Pennsylvania women.

Page: 1 2 3 |Next
Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend


Comments 1 - 8 of 8
Report Violation

1. Anonymous said... on Apr 24, 2013 at 07:52AM

“I live one block from 38th and Lancaster. This situation was no secret for years,pro-lifers and the pro-choice community were all very much aware of what happened here. Where is the accountability? There were no late-term legal abortions available in PA, so if you were 16 and 25 weeks pregnant you could go to Gosnell's legal clinic for an illegal abortion or be forced to carry to term. People knew about this, 70 year-old Mom-mom's and Pop-pop's picketed this joint for years. Pro-choice advocates down the street (Penn for example) would suggest that women not go to this place, but, without better options, it was always there in a pinch. In addition to abuse and murder of women, this clinic was committing murders under the law by the hundreds. Where were the articles then? There may not have been a nation wide conspiracy to squash this story but there was most definitely a local one for years before. If those that value safe abortion had stood up ealier, this would not have happened.”

Report Violation

2. bobguzzardi said... on Apr 24, 2013 at 01:10PM

“How is that Department of Health and Department of Public Welfare did not know when 17 year girls knew where to find Dr. Gosnell. He did kill quite a few poor black girls, women and babies. And it seems his clinic was known to a network and no one check. I thought Late Term Abortions and Partial Birth Abortions were considered to be infanticide by most. Am I wrong about that?

Report Violation

3. Anonymous said... on Apr 24, 2013 at 07:01PM

“Are you all going to excuse these hundreds of young women of being ignorant of contraception, and not being aware a late term abortion of a viable fetus is murder, and the male partner being complicit in the abortion act and uncaring. Gosnell , as monstrerous as his alleged acts were, could not provide his service if his customers did not demand them or assistants to help him.
Planned Parenthood provides contraceptive services. What's the brain surgery here. Contraception or Abortions with death consequences.”

Report Violation

4. D. Broussard said... on Apr 25, 2013 at 06:49PM

“I realize the cuteness of calling this issue pink, not red or blue, but abortion is not just a female issue. True Feminists want access to safe, legal abortion and male partners who take responsibility for their actions as well. I expected a journalist to write a story from the basis of facts, not to thinly veil their agenda and hatred of anyone, rich, white or male. To say that anyone (except you, of course) who is outraged or publicizes the Gosnell story in a right wing Pro-life zealot is sloppy. Not everyone disgusted by Gosnell wants it to end with the overturn of Roe vs. Wade, and more regulations for clinics isn't an attack on the poor. When something bad happens Gov't responds with more laws. Blame the people who want bigger gov't. The Conn. shooting brought about pressure for harsher gun laws. That doesn't mean the ones pushing it want to take away everyones guns, right? Right? They want to save children, but only the wanted ones.”

Report Violation

5. Anonymous said... on Apr 28, 2013 at 11:18PM

“Wait, so you are saying that pro-lifers want to manipulate the Gosnell story in order to pass regulations of abortion that they believe will save lives and restrict access to something they don't believe is a constitutional right, despite a slight majority of the country disagreeing with them? They must have have gotten the idea from the anti-gun activists after Sandy Hook.”

Report Violation

6. Anonymous said... on Apr 30, 2013 at 09:47AM

“Re: Broussard : "When something bad happens Gov't responds with more laws. Blame the people who want bigger gov't. "

AND blame the people who profit from bigger government. Bigger government profits from their system .

Report Violation

7. fantasy said... on May 3, 2013 at 11:05AM

“I think people should be a little more cautious about the situation, if you heard really bad stories about the clinic, and you decide to still go whatever happens after that is on you.”

Report Violation

8. Charlotte Taft said... on May 31, 2013 at 10:13PM

“The anti abortion forces are determined to control women. In today's world, it's not only poor and non-white women who won't have access to birth control and abortion care. As the middle class shrinks and even private insurance is legally prohibited from covering abortion, the majority of women of all races, ages, faiths and political parties will not have access to safe, legal services.”


(HTML and URLs prohibited)