The hot conservative story of late last week, starting with a USA Todayop-ed by Kristen Powers, was the failure of the mainstream media to cover the horrifying case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor accused of committing infanticide, and maiming and, in some cases, killing his patients (most of them poor women) in an unsanitary abortion clinic. Perhaps the story does deserve more coverage than it has received, but the lessons to be drawn from it are different from the conclusions conservatives are making. Here are five points currently being overlooked in the coverage of the controversy.
Last Friday, Judge Edward Korman ruled that the federal government must abide by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations and make emergency contraception available over the counter without age restrictions. Cue the freak-out about girls having unprotected orgies followed by Plan B snorting parties. Emergency contraception, often referred to as “the morning-after pill,” or by its brand name, Plan B, is designed to be taken in, well, emergencies—the condom breaks, you got carried away in the moment and didn’t ever quite get to the birth control, or in cases of sexual assault or coercion in which the victim doesn’t have much choice about contraception.
In March of 2012, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was in trouble. The Republican-dominated state legislature had passed a measure that would require women seeking abortions in the early stages of pregnancy to have a transvaginal sonogram—a procedure in which a wand is inserted into the vagina. Pro-choice activists jumped on the bill, calling it “state-sanctioned rape.” The outrage went national, and the conservative governor with aspirations to higher office backed off. A version of the sonogram bill did make it into law, but it does not specifically require transvaginal sonograms, just the better-known “jelly on the belly” type.
Last week, I noted the extent to which opposition to same-sex marriage and opposition to abortion are still linked tightly together. With its new anti-abortion law—and long-standing ban on gay marriage—Alabama is the latest state to prove the point:
Alabama lawmakers late Tuesday gave final passage to a measure placing stricter regulations on clinics that provide abortions. […]
The bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some clinics now use doctors from other cities that don’t have local hospital privileges. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close that state’s only abortion clinic, which is challenging the law in court.
Here's a contrast: At the same time the Supreme Court held oral arguments on a case that could legalize same-sex marriage, North Dakota lawmakers passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation. It's a sign, argues Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post, that the two have decoupled as issues of controversy, "Younger Americans have become increasingly supportive of gay marriage in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened for abortion rights."
Even if you disagree with Senator Rand Paul's broader politics, there's something inspiring about a politician willing to speak at length—and at some discomfort—for what he believes in. That's even more true when you consider the subject—civil liberties. Paul joins many other civil libertarians in his disdain for targeted killings, the administration's drone policy, and its general approach to due process.
The gun crowd is so paranoid about the erosion of their Second Amendment rights that they make Chicken Little look like an actuary. The president’s recent gun proposals include initiatives such as expanded background checks, a ban on certain military-type rifles, and limits on the size of magazines. But if you listen to the gun folks, even these tepid proposals are—to quote a past president of the National Rifle Association—“unconstitutional schemes to gut the Second Amendment.” Iowa Senator Charles Grassley accused Obama of thinking “the Second Amendment can be tossed aside.” Any skeptical glance in the direction of that Glock on their hip is worth a Second Amendment yelp.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Outside of the convention center, and around downtown Charlotte, are a handful of anti-abortion activists. It’s hard to miss them. They carry large signs plastered with graphic photos of dismembered fetuses and preach their message with loudspeakers:
(AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain)
Three days from now, in the hurricane-lashed hull of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, at the temporal cross coordinates of Congressman Todd Akin’s confession and the Republican Party’s communion, we’re finally going to see what’s truly mesmerized this white, middle-aged, male political conglomerate for the last two generations, and that’s the sexual freedom of women. The language has always been there, but until this presidential election it’s been lip service; next Monday, however, when the Republican platform is approved by the party’s convention, all the fear and loathing that women’s sexuality engenders will be splayed in the aisles before an electorate newly alerted to the party’s unforgiving position on abortion courtesy of Akin’s imprudence. The Akin vocabulary, and the platform’s, may be one of “abortion” and “rape,” but those words are symptoms of what really afflicts the party, which is the intolerable vision of women having sex on their own terms with impunity. This is what much of the anti-abortion movement detests and always has detested in the name of “life.”
Since the Todd Akin affair entered the national conversation, many commentators—myself included—have noted the extent to which Akin’s views are in line with the mainstream of the Republican Party, and nearly identical to ones held by Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee. This video, unearthed by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, illustrates the point. In it, a younger Ryan denounces a women’s health provision that was included in a bill to ban “partial-birth” abortion. Exceptions to the ban, he argues, would make it “meaningless”:
Honestly, some days I can’t tell real news from The Onion. Representative Todd Akin’s staggering comment on Sunday about the female body’s amazing ability to reject unwanted sperm actually made my jaw drop. If only it didn’t represent what so many people believe, as Amanda Marcotte explained so clearly here yesterday. The good news is that it flushed those beliefs out into the open. As she said, it’s not a gaffe; it’s an insight into the anti-choice movement’s distrust of women and its ignorance of science.
Yesterday morning, before the GOP completely turned its back on Todd Akin, I noted that—despite their harumphing—few Republicans disagreed with the substance of Akin’s remarks. In Congress and across the country, GOP lawmakers have supported a raft of bills designed to restrict or end abortion, as well as most forms of contraception. Look no further than the Republican platform, which—as CNN reports—will include radical and restrictive language on abortion:
If you’re going to slander the estimated 32,000 women a year who become pregnant after being raped, it’s probably not wise to do it on a Sunday, when it will lead the next week’s news coverage. Republican nominee for Missouri Senate Todd Akin chose not to follow this bit of wisdom, instead declaring in a television interview yesterday that women can’t get pregnant from rape.
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Last Friday, the Obama campaign released an ad in several swing states attacking Mitt Romney for his stance on abortion. “It’s a scary time to be a women—Mitt Romney is just so out of touch,” says a woman named Jenni. A narrator explains that Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives, supports overturning Roe v. Wade, and once backed a bill that would outlaw all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. The ad concludes: “We need to attack our problems, not a woman’s choice.”