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 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."
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”:
(AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove)
If you haven't been worn down reading about Todd Akin's bizarre and ignorant views about the female reproductive system, now turn to Texas, where women's uteruses may soon have to move out of state to find health care. Late Tuesday night, a federal court of appeals ruled that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which provides basic preventative care—like birth control and cancer screenings—for low-income women. The decision has terrifying implications in a state where women's access to health care is already poor.
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.”
On April 12, Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill making Arizona the eighth state in the union to ban abortions beyond 20 weeks. Like most other laws of its kind, House Bill 2036 had been camouflaged as a measure against suffering, predicated on the notion that a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain. Every woman who’s ever been pregnant, however, knows what the law really means: Twenty weeks marks a crucial point in a pregnancy, when fetal abnormalities can be detected, often for the first time. Many women confronted with a grim prenatal diagnosis choose to have an abortion. Now, in Arizona, they can’t.
Women's health and abortion access have dominated state legislatures across the country and, until recently, dominated the headlines as well. But as legislative sessions are wrapping up and final decisions get made, there's been less focus on the issues. Perhaps it's because, in several cases, the bills are dying with whimpers instead of bangs.
It's hard to relax these days (though I still haven't tried yoga.) Take the current fight around reproductive rights. Pro-choice advocates of women's health have heard plenty of good news in the past few days. The trouble is, it's almost always been tempered by bad news. See what I mean:
In October 2007, Kathy Dahlkemper, whose only previous political experience involved raising money to build a public arboretum in her hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, decided to run for Congress. Over the previous two and a half decades, the 49-year-old had worked as a dietician, helped run the landscape-architecture business her husband inherited from his father, and given birth to five children. Struggling to raise a family in Erie, a city devastated by a decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs, had given Dahlkemper an understanding of what millions of Americans were experiencing as the Great Recession began; her grown children had moved away in search of better opportunities. She knew that the rising cost of health care was hurting businesses like hers. She also believed that the Iraq War, which she had never supported, was causing unnecessary deaths while financially draining the country. Dahlkemper blamed not only George W. Bush but also the 14-year incumbent from her district, Republican Phil English, who had consistently backed the president.
Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann reports that House Republicans have turned their attention to abortion rates among African American women:
A House GOP memo obtained by Mother Jones argues for a controversial “prenatal discrimination bill” by referring to “black abortions” as distinct from abortions in general and claiming that “abortion is the leading cause of death in the black community.” […]
Yesterday morning, I looked into my crystal ball and boldly predicted that within 48 hours, Herman Cain would walk back his surprisingly pro-choice comments on abortion ("So what I'm saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide") and come out for full-on, abortion-should-be-illegal anti-choicism. Well here you go: