There are two roles anti-choicers like to play for which they are ill-equipped. First, they like to play doctor. And second, they like to play God. In doing so, they spread outright lies about both abortion and contraception to mislead and whip the public into a frenzy about sex, pregnancy, and childbirth. And then, believing themselves to be the righteous ones, they seek to capitalize on their self-created panics to make public health and medical policy for the country based solely on emotion, facts be damned. Their end goal, as they make clear, is to outlaw abortion and contraception no matter the costs to public health, women’s lives, or society writ large.
The trial of Kermit Gosnell provides anti-choicers and their allies with a perfect platform for their efforts. In Gosnell, they have an unethical, unscrupulous criminal acting as a doctor. He preyed on women too poor to seek early, safe abortion care, ran a filthy “clinic,” and conducted illegal abortions during which, it is alleged, some infants were born alive and killed. In their quest to make safe, legal abortion care as inaccessible as possible, anti-choicers are now seeking to sway public policy by conflating safe abortion care with Gosnell’s atrocities, to tar all legitimate providers of safe abortion care as Gosnell clones, and to use a criminal case as a justification to drive legitimate providers out of business.
Rubin, for example, calls for changes in Medicaid but appears not to understand how Medicaid works in the first place. She also calls for changes in federal funding of abortions, but appears not to understand that current law already severely restricts public funding of abortion.
First, all Medicaid and other federal support for abortion services should come with caveats—health standards (of the type Pennsylvania refused to issue and enforce) and appropriate training for all personnel. Second, federal taxpayer dollars should not go for late-term abortions.
Let’s start out by making clear that this is the kind of grasping for irrelevant straws I described above (using the existence of a criminal to tar and feather an entire field of professionals who have no relationship to the criminal activity). For one thing, as confirmed in a phone call today to thePennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and notwithstanding the fact that what he did was illegal in the first place so the case illustrates nothing about safe abortion care, Gosnell was not receiving Medicaid payments for women seeking abortion. In fact, in 2010, there were only seven abortions in the entire state of Pennsylvania paid for by state tax funds, and no federally funded abortions anywhere in the state that year. As in zero. Zip.
Rubin’s suggestion that federal taxpayer dollars should not go for abortions also is a head-scratcher, since the Hyde Amendment already forbids the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. This law has guided public funding for abortions for low-income women under joint federal and state programs since 1977.
Perhaps Jennifer Rubin was out of the country or not reading the papers in 2002 when President Bush signed into law the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. This is federal law, as in it covers all the states. Since Kermit Gosnell is and was a criminal, he was not adhering to the law, as is the nature of the term “criminal.”
And exactly how far does Rubin want to go to eliminate late abortions? Under Roe v. Wade, states may not prohibit abortions even after fetal viability in cases where it is “necessary to preserve the life or health” of the woman. Third-trimester abortions, which make up an estimated 1.3 percent of abortions in the United States, happen when there are medical complications that compromise the life or health of the woman in question or fetal anomalies incompatible with life. In the Gosnell case, women who came for late abortions came for them because they didn’t have enough money to get early abortions, conditions created by the very policies Rubin advocates.
If she wants a total ban on late abortions without exceptions for life and health, which women does Ms. Rubin suggest should be left to die? Which women should be left with lifelong health problems from a pregnancy gone horribly wrong? It’s a little harder when you have to face real people in need, so I ask, for which of these women does Rubin feel she or others are better equipped to decide what to do? Would she make the choice for Kate? For Gracie’s parents? For Autumn Elise’s parents? Why does Rubin or anyone else get to decide for these families what is best for them?
The inconvenient truth here is that the very policies anti-choicers espouse are the ones that create the conditions in which Gosnells thrive: limiting access to safe abortion care by closing clinics, driving up the costs, requiring women to go through innumerable unnecessary hoops to secure an abortion, and driving them later in the process—denying women living in poverty public support for safe abortion care. All of these and other policies espoused by anti-choicers drive women to desperate circumstances, as a trip to any number of countries with high rates of maternal mortality from complications of unsafe abortion will tell you.