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

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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.

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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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.”

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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?

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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 .

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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.”

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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.”


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