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July 02, 2013 4:49 PM It’s “About” Kermit, Not Wendy!

By Ed Kilgore

Antichoicers are very displeased about the heroic treatment Wendy Davis is receiving from progressives after her (at least temporarily) successful filibuster against Texas Republicans’ abortion restriction bill. The bill, like other late-term abortion bills that have been churning through Republican-controlled legislatures since 2010, were supposed to be, at least lately, “about” Kermit Gosnell, not brave and charismatic legislators challenging clueless old men.

The Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso was most explicit in his anger against this displaced meme, penning a much-circulated column entitled “If only Kermit Gosnell had worn pink sneakers like Wendy Davis.” The writer/gabber generally credited with launching the liberal-media-won’t-talk-about-Gosnell meme, Kirsten Powers of Fox News and the Daily Beast, testily explained she wasn’t “standing with Wendy Davis.” National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru took a different tack, describing Davis’ filibuster as a phyrric victory than would misposition overconfident progressives on the wrong side of public opinion on late-term abortions.

In my experience, when people get upset at how an issue is being “reframed,” more often than not they are engaged in some “reframing” of their own. That’s definitely the case here. As anyone who has been paying attention for a while knows, the recent focus on late-term abortions by antichoicers is part of a very explicit strategy to create a narrow “winning” issue that would serve as a tonic to the discouraged troops while giving the complacent pro-status-quo majority of Americans some disturbing images to chew over. It was particularly important after the very bad year “pro life” forces had in 2012, when they were associated with attacks on contraception and Planned Parenthood and crazed debates over rape.

But beyond the symbolism of all these 20-week-abortion bans, antichoicers cleverly (or foolishly, depending on your perspective) combined the bans with abortion provider restrictions that affected access to all abortions, not just those occurring in the second or third trimesters. And that where the Gosnell case proved exceptionally useful: as a justification for “health and safety” regulations ostensibly aimed at preventing the horrors of his clinic.

Now in reality, Gosnell was performing abortions and outright acts of infanticide that violated both existing laws and existing (if poorly enforced) regulations. Using this case to justify a wholesale shift in abortion laws and “health and safety” regulations that shut down a majority of abortion clinics, all of which largely perform entirely legal and constitutionally protected early-term abortions, makes no sense substantively, but made a lot of sense as a way to sneak some serious antichoice measures into “symbolic” legislation.

But then along came Wendy Davis and a lot of real, live supporters, and the whole gambit started getting exposed for exactly what it was. In many respects it was like the moment last year when a debate in Virginia suddenly made it plain to everyone what that supposedly noncontroversial ultrasound requirement really involved in the early stages of pregnancy when most abortions occur. The “reframing” was reframed. And then as now, the original reframers don’t like it.

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.

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