Political Animal


April 29, 2013 1:22 PM More Phony Outrage

By Ed Kilgore

Well, the transition among antichoicers from drawing attention to the illegal horrors of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic in Philadelphia to a challenge to legal abortions generally is moving along at a pretty good pace, viz. this New York Post column by Kyle Smith:

Gosnell “is not an aberration. He is not alone. There are abortionists all across the country who are performing [illegal] late-term abortions and killing babies,” Rose [an antichoice activist] says. “The inhumanity is business as usual.”
But a primary reason the Gosnell case has received amazingly scant and grudging attention from most of the major media outlets is that it’s impossible to discuss illegal abortions without thinking more about legal ones.
It’s necessary (unless you think abortion should generally be illegal) to declare an arbitrary cutoff point. But is 24 weeks the right one? Fetuses that old have an excellent chance of surviving once born. By contrast, at 21 weeks or less, viability outside the womb is virtually nil.
You can bet that Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups that enjoy strong support from the media would raise an unholy ruckus at any suggestion that the 24-week limit is not strict enough.

Well, I don’t know. Suppose it were possible to engineer a permanent national deal (it’s not, but just consider it as a thought experiment) wherein in exchange for a strictly enforced ban on post-viability abortions that didn’t involve direct threats to the life of the mother, we’d also start treating all forms of contraception and pre-viability abortions not only as legal, but as medical procedures that would be publicly funded just like other medical procedures, under normal (not prohibitive) inspection and regulatory regimes? I suspect a large number of pro-choice folk would go for that kind of deal, which isn’t that different from the situation in much of Europe. It would reflect the fact that most late-term abortions happen not because some bad girl has had sex and now finds motherhood inconvenient, but because she hasn’t had meaningful access to contraception, Plan B, or early-term abortions.

But would any antichoice activists go along with it? No. Because they don’t really care about late-term abortions other than as a lever to move public opinion away from legalized abortion generally. I mean, if late-term abortions were really what upset you, wouldn’t you perhaps be even more adamant than the Planned Parenthood folk in trying to make sure steps short of late-term abortion were not only tolerated but encouraged?

The fundamental dishonesty about the antichoice movement’s exploitation of the Gosnell case is why I just don’t buy the latest bout of false equivalency talk about the case showing that pro-choice “extremists” are just as big a part of the problem on abortion policy as anti-choice “extremists” (defined, in a WaPo op-ed today by Melinda Hennenberger, as the “personhood” fanatics, as though they are decisively different in anything other than strategy and tactics from the antichoice movement generally).

It’s not “extremist” to suggest that a constitutional right established for women 40 years ago ought to be maintained against constant efforts to negate it or chip away at it, waged by people who think of the women involved as baby-killers, irresponsible sluts, helpless victims of God-hating elites, or some combination of those features. It would indeed be nice to forge a genuine and durable “compromise” on abortion policy that protected constitutional rights and treated women as autonomous citizens, while reducing to negligibility the already rare incidence of late-term abortions. But I’m not holding my breath.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on April 29, 2013 1:43 PM:

    My bet is that the vast majority of the future Gosnell's will be from Red States, where the Conservatives are doing everything they can to put up as many impediments as possible to getting an abortion, if not make getting one at all, virually impossible.

    The shock to me, when he was first arrested, was that he was doing what he was doing, in Philly, and not in Mississippi, or Alabama.

  • Tom Hilton on April 29, 2013 1:49 PM:

    Good old Melinda Henneberger...my very favorite anti-abortion concern troll. She is really a piece of work.

  • DRF on April 29, 2013 1:57 PM:

    Ed is way off base. The reason "antichoice"activists (nice way to frame it!) wouldn't go for his proposal is real simple: They are opposed to all abortions, perid.

    You don't have to agree with them to recognize that they have a perfectly legitimate position and that there's nothing hypocrital about using late-term abortion abuses as propaganda to sway public opinion. This isn't "fundamental dishonesty", and attacking the genuiness of of anti-abortion activists' convictions isn't a winning strategy.

  • Mauka on April 29, 2013 6:00 PM:

    I think that the debate has to be approached in a whole different way. Challenge what "pro-life" really means, not just opposition to abortions. A real "pro life" position means every baby has a home that wants it - pro lifers should take in all children up for adoption. Pro life means supporting children through life - health insurance, good schools, etc. Pro life means supporting the biblical commandment, "Thou Shall Not Kill" starting with opposition to capital punishment, and possibly to war. Tibetan Buddhists walk the walk on non-violent resistance, can the pro lifers in the U.S. say the same?
    The environment for compromise will only come after pushing back on the anti-choicers who call themselves "pro life." Hammer them on the falseness of their label unless they are willing to live up to it.

  • RaflW on April 29, 2013 6:32 PM:

    To say that progressives are not talking about Gosnell is just false. But that's no surprise. Here's what the MN Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is saying. It won't go over well for Kyle Smith:

    We are aghast & repelled by the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania man who was not certified in OB/GYN, and whose procedures fell far below any standard of care. Some anti-choice commentators are using the Gosnell case to condemn all abortion care. Be assured, and please bear witness, this hall of horrors bears no resemblance to the safe, legal, dignified care that women in Minnesota routinely receive from excellent, professional, courageous & dedicated providers.

    Make no mistake: the erosion of access to safe & legal abortion care creates exactly the kind of environment that allows someone like Gosnell to thrive - a scarcity of abortion providers in PA & across the nation, Medicaid's refusal to provide insurance coverage for most abortions, fear of violence by protestors at clinics, a right-wing culture that has so stigmatized abortion that many think it is still illegal 40 years after Roe v. Wade. Yes, we should be appalled at what investigators found at the Women's Medical Society of Philadelphia, and we should understand why it happened.

    As progressive people of faith, we stand for safe & legal reproductive health care services. Because of our faith we stand for dignity for women, for their families, for their personal & sacred reproductive health care decisions. May we know that as people of faith, we can hold at least two ideas at the same time - grief for what befell the women & babies at that awful clinic, and the conviction that expanding, not reducing, access to safe, legal reproductive health care is the way to prevent more monsters of the back alleys. Let us continue to work & pray that there will be no more like Gosnell. Justice for women, for children, for responsible health care providers demands it.

  • Sarah on April 29, 2013 8:35 PM:

    How could anyone say there isn't access to birth control? I got birth control for years for free at the county health department. Free exam, no insurance, no public aid. If you make below a certain amount, you get it for free. If you make over the poverty line, you pay a small fee. And, if you want condoms or spermicidal gel, the health department will give you a brown bag of it ffor free, no questions asked. Anyone, almost any age has access to birth control.

  • Doug on April 29, 2013 9:13 PM:

    Sarah, there are many who make too much to get birth control free - and not enough to pay for it themselves.
    Then there are the teen-aged girls who really shouldn't be having sex but...