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.
THE REAL RIGHT-WING MEDIA STRATEGY
From the beginning, Philadelphia Weekly has reported on how the Gosnell case has been willfully distorted by both the Pennsylvania Legislature and extreme social conservatives. (Which aren’t always mutually exclusive groups.)
In the spring of 2011, I drove out to a church basement in West Chester on a Saturday morning to listen as Troy Newman of Operation Rescue—a radical anti-abortion group that has been linked to Scott Roeder, the convicted killer of Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider—explained that he viewed Kermit Gosnell as an opportunity from God.
That is, a media opportunity from God.
This recent ginned-up faux controversy about liberal bias censoring Gosnell coverage is just another phase in the right’s messaging campaign, which, in reality, has kept hammering one specific lie over and over: that Kermit Gosnell was a typical abortion provider.
Here’s their mangled logic: If Kermit Gosnell was a typical abortion provider, and Kermit Gosnell needed to be shut down, then, ergo, all healthcare clinics providing abortion need to be shut down. The underlying premise of that equation is the idea that, if clinics are all shut down, abortion will stop happening. Brilliant plan—except that both the hammer-home statement (that Gosnell was a typical abortion provider) and the premise (that abortion will stop when clinics are shut down or abortion is criminalized) are demonstrably false.
From the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s 2010 report: Of the 36,778 abortions performed in Pennsylvania in 2010, there were 61 reports of complications. That’s it.
If Gosnells are everywhere, where are all of these alleged murderers? Since Gosnell’s arrest, state employees have been aggressively inspecting Pennsylvania abortion clinics—so how are they missing all these other hypothetical criminals, or the fetal remains, or the drug trafficking?
The answer, of course, is that those “other Gosnells” are purely imaginary, and that Gosnell was a rogue actor who allegedly took advantage of authorities’ malignant indifference to the plight of poor women of color and the politicization of abortion that informed the state’s failure to enforce inspections for 17 years.
“[Kermit Gosnell] happened because people weren’t doing their jobs, plain and simple,” Gov. Corbett told reporters in February 2011. Accordingly, he fired several state employees.
The second falsehood in the right-wing campaign is that if abortion is criminalized or abortion clinics shut down, abortions will cease to happen.
Abortion did not begin in 1973, when judges in Roe v. Wade ruled that a woman’s right to have an abortion was protected by the Constitution. Abortion has been a part of society since always—and, informed by centuries of British common law, was legal at the founding of this country.
If Roe were to be knocked down, abortion would not suddenly become illegal throughout the country; what would emerge is a patchwork of access where it would be legal in states like New York but illegal, likely, in states like Pennsylvania.
Though Mitt Romney called for overturning Roe V. Wade last year, no one talked honestly about what a post-Roe world would actually look like. Experts estimate that abortion would become illegal in approximately 25 to 30 states.
If that were to happen, women would still seek abortions, but the difference would be that rich women will be able to afford the expense of traveling to states where it is legal, and poor women would not. It would enshrine the two-tiered system of healthcare that, given the unprecedented number of state-level restrictions and subsequent shrinking of abortion clinics, exists now unofficially: Rich ladies can have safe abortions, while poor ones are left to risk their lives on the black market.
Both the criminalization of abortion and the shutting down of clinics creates a tiered system of discriminatory enforcement that, by design, preys on working and poor women, particularly those of color, who can afford neither an abortion from a private physician nor travel to a distant clinic.
The data is backed up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that, “from 1972 to 1974, the mortality rate due to illegal abortion for nonwhite women was 12 times that for white women.”
In short, the laws of supply and demand make it clear that reducing access to safe, legal abortion will result in more illegal abortion providers committing the kinds of crimes of which Gosnell stands accused.
To place the issue in a global context: Abortion rates are higher in countries where it is illegal. “Researchers found a link between higher abortion rates and regions with more restrictive legislation, such as in Latin America and Africa,” according to a CBS analysis of a report conducted by Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization. “They also found that 95 to 97 percent of abortions in those regions were unsafe.”
They also concluded, unsurprisingly, that access to birth control reduced the number of abortions. That’s because poor women obtain birth control at clinics. Shutting down clinics just encourages more unwanted pregnancies, not fewer abortions.
A timeline of events in the case against Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
PW's Summer Guide 2014