We can’t be surprised that William Saletan jumped on this to propagate his anti-choice bullshit, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating.
What we do know: A Philadelphia abortion provider is being charged with 8 counts of murder, including the death of a patient and allegedly seven infants. They’re pretty horrible charges, and if true, they’re pretty heinous crimes. But the first thing I thought when I read this story was what Jill at Feministe said: If this doctor delivered these infants, live infants that were breathing and then killed them? Let’s make something clear: That is not abortion.
But I also agree with Amanda that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet until all of the facts are revealed, as the specific accusation is a common one among anti-choice folk. It’s also important to recognize that this man was an unlicensed OB/GYN and had unlicensed staff performing abortions under his practice, and to say (as many anti-choicers have) that this is your typical abortion clinic is completely unfounded:
What seems to not be in dispute is that Gosnell ran a crappy clinic, something that anti-choicers have been using as propaganda to advocate against legal abortion. But it doesn’t follow logically. There are 1,800 abortion providers in the country, and the vast majority run clean, professional operations. That there are a few shady characters in the bunch is unsurprising, and the pro-choice community exerts quite a bit of effort trying to improve the quality of abortion care, even under the remarkable constraints on provision.
Let’s make something else clear: Only 1.5% of abortions occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy. And what do you think the overwhelming majority of those cases are? Women who might die if they don’t have one. Fetuses who wouldn’t survive outside of the womb. Fetuses with such extreme abnormalities that they’d suffer during what would be a very brief time on this earth. The fact that people assume women actually want to have an abortion in the third trimester is beyond me — not to mention unbelievably offensive to the women who have had to make these very difficult decisions. And this is why William Saletan is a complete dickweed. But I guess that’s not his concern, since it’s, as Jill says, “way more entertaining to play Wise Man and draw lines in the sand around what are actually really complex moral issues.”
Perhaps most importantly, let’s not forget why the likely majority these women went to a potentially criminal practice like Kermit Gosnell’s: because of the anti-choice measures that limit women’s access to safe and affordable (and, in this case, legal) abortion care. RH Reality Check reports that Karnamaya Mongar, the patient who died from a fatal heart arrhythmia caused by too much anesthesia, actually went to Gosnell’s clinic after being turned away by two other clinics in Maryland and Virginia. What if, as Amanda thought, these women could have gone to Dr. Tiller? What if, as Saletan is suggesting, late-term abortions are completely banned in this country? More illegal clinics like Gosnell’s would exist, that’s for damn sure.
P.S. Check out Lori’s great piece at the Grio on Gosnell, the racial segregation of his practice and what this story says about safe abortion access to low-income women of color. Also, reproductive health and justice organizations respond.