Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Gosnell Matter

It's taken a long time for the mainstream media to come around to the reality of it, but it seems like the trial of Kermit Gosnell, who ran an abbatoir in Philadelphia that was thinly disguised as an abortion clinic, does merit a little attention, even though the narrative is well, a little problematic. Megan McArdle, donning her hairshirt, explains why:
So I'll tell you why I haven't covered it.

To start, it makes me ill. I haven't been able to bring myself to read the grand jury inquiry. I am someone who cringes when I hear a description of a sprained ankle.
But I understand why my readers suspect me, and other pro-choice mainstream journalists, of being selective—of not wanting to cover the story because it showcased the ugliest possibilities of abortion rights. The truth is that most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by "our side."

Of course, I'm not saying that I identify with criminal abortionists who kill infants and grievously wound their patients. But I am pro-choice.

What Gosnell did was not some inevitable result of legal abortion. But while legal abortion was not sufficient to create the horrors in Philadelphia, it was necessary. Gosnell was able to harm so many women and babies because he operated in the open.
Indeed. As has been documented, Gosnell's operation wasn't inspected for 17 years. And that's just part of the story. Increasingly, the story is that there really hasn't been a story. Or at least much reporting of the story. McArdle shares a damning photo of the press gallery at Gosnell's trial:

The presence of absence
Why the press blackout? There are excuses about, including this one, as related by Mollie Hemingway:
Then I decided, since tmatt has me reading the Washington Post every day, to look at how the paper’s health policy reporter was covering Gosnell. I have critiqued many of her stories on the Susan G. Komen Foundation (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Sandra Fluke controversy (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Todd Akin controversy (you know where this is going). In fact, a site search for that reporter — who is named Sarah Kliff — and stories Akin and Fluke and Komen — yields more than 80 hits. Guess how many stories she’s done on this abortionist’s mass murder trial.

Did you guess zero? You’d be right.

So I asked her about it. Here’s her response:
Hi Molly – I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime, hence why I wrote about all the policy issues you mention.
Local crime. Can't be bothered. Not even's Kliff's Notes. So did Sarah Kliff write about the murder of George Tiller, the Kansas abortionist who ran a clinic that performed the same sorts of services that Gosnell provided, although with better hygiene standards? Why yes, yes she did.

When an abortionist is murdered, it's a national story. When an abortionist kills babies who are inadvertently born by snapping their spinal cords with a scissors? Local crime. Good to know.

For her part, McArdle recognizes the moral blind alley:
I could defend myself by saying that I wasn't aware that the Gosnell trial was going on. Abortion is not my beat, and the mailing lists that I am on weren't exactly blasting the news of this trial.
But that doesn't totally let me off the hook. I knew about the Gosnell case, and I wish I had followed it more closely, even though I'd rather not. In fact, those of us who are pro-choice should be especially interested. The whole point of legal abortion is to prevent what happened in Philadelphia: to make it safer and more humane. Somehow that ideal went terribly, horribly awry. We should demand to know why.
True. By now, an alert reader might also ask -- hey Mr. D, you haven't been writing about Gosnell much either? What gives? Are you part of the Media Industrial Complex, too?

And like McArdle, I have no excuse. It's easier to snark on the Vikings than it is to confront something as truly horrific as what Kermit Gosnell did. I have to do better as well. From what we've been able to learn about Kermit Gosnell, he appears to be a monster comparable to Manson, or Dahmer, or Gacy. Yet if you were to ask most people who he is, you'd get a blank stare. Any why is that? Back to McArdle:
Moreover, surely those of us who are pro-choice must worry that this will restrict access to abortion: that a crackdown on abortion clinics will follow, with onerous white-glove inspections; that a revolted public will demand more restrictions on late-term abortions; or that women will be too afraid of Gosnell-style crimes to seek a medically necessary abortion.
A revolted public is dangerous to many things that certain people hold dear. As Justice Brandeis famously observed:
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."
Time for all of us to turn on the lights.


R.A. Crankbait said...

Gosnell's crimes are horrendous, shocking and - hopefully - rare. Pro-abortion citizens and journalists are right to be concerned that too much attention on this case could lead to loud calls for a "serious national discussion" about late term abortions. You could have prominent politicians shepherding the surviving mothers and staff from Gosnell's abattoir around to Congressional hearings and photo ops to press for common-sense restrictions and laws to close the "Abortitarium Loophole" and limit the number of procedures that can be performed in one day to, for example, no more than seven. You'd have people condemning the choke hold the NARAL and Planned Parenthood have on legislators and calls for universal background checks on abortion providers and patients and de facto registration of all abortions carried out, including the names of the doctors, the mothers and their home addresses.

Of course, I'm exaggerating. No one would really want to use a handful of shocking instances to demagogue against a fundamental right, would they?

W.B. Picklesworth said...

None of it seems at all surprising. Not what happened. Not how it has been covered. And not how I've seen most people react. Some are outraged. Some helpfully remind us that George Bush invaded Iraq and that the press didn't raise enough of a ruckus then; ergo, squirrel. I think moral and ethical renewal will come. But I don't think it will happen this side of a major, major disaster. And I'm not sure that it will come to us. Oddly enough, all of this doesn't feel like pessimism to me. And I wouldn't characterize it as realism either. It just feels liberating.