More Phony Outrage

Well, the transition among antichoicers from drawing attention to the illegal horrors of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic in Philadelphia to a challenge to legal abortions generally is moving along at a pretty good pace, viz. this New York Post column by Kyle Smith:

Gosnell “is not an aberration. He is not alone. There are abortionists all across the country who are performing [illegal] late-term abortions and killing babies,” Rose [an antichoice activist] says. “The inhumanity is business as usual.”

But a primary reason the Gosnell case has received amazingly scant and grudging attention from most of the major media outlets is that it’s impossible to discuss illegal abortions without thinking more about legal ones.

It’s necessary (unless you think abortion should generally be illegal) to declare an arbitrary cutoff point. But is 24 weeks the right one? Fetuses that old have an excellent chance of surviving once born. By contrast, at 21 weeks or less, viability outside the womb is virtually nil.

You can bet that Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups that enjoy strong support from the media would raise an unholy ruckus at any suggestion that the 24-week limit is not strict enough.

Well, I don’t know. Suppose it were possible to engineer a permanent national deal (it’s not, but just consider it as a thought experiment) wherein in exchange for a strictly enforced ban on post-viability abortions that didn’t involve direct threats to the life of the mother, we’d also start treating all forms of contraception and pre-viability abortions not only as legal, but as medical procedures that would be publicly funded just like other medical procedures, under normal (not prohibitive) inspection and regulatory regimes? I suspect a large number of pro-choice folk would go for that kind of deal, which isn’t that different from the situation in much of Europe. It would reflect the fact that most late-term abortions happen not because some bad girl has had sex and now finds motherhood inconvenient, but because she hasn’t had meaningful access to contraception, Plan B, or early-term abortions.

But would any antichoice activists go along with it? No. Because they don’t really care about late-term abortions other than as a lever to move public opinion away from legalized abortion generally. I mean, if late-term abortions were really what upset you, wouldn’t you perhaps be even more adamant than the Planned Parenthood folk in trying to make sure steps short of late-term abortion were not only tolerated but encouraged?

The fundamental dishonesty about the antichoice movement’s exploitation of the Gosnell case is why I just don’t buy the latest bout of false equivalency talk about the case showing that pro-choice “extremists” are just as big a part of the problem on abortion policy as anti-choice “extremists” (defined, in a WaPo op-ed today by Melinda Hennenberger, as the “personhood” fanatics, as though they are decisively different in anything other than strategy and tactics from the antichoice movement generally).

It’s not “extremist” to suggest that a constitutional right established for women 40 years ago ought to be maintained against constant efforts to negate it or chip away at it, waged by people who think of the women involved as baby-killers, irresponsible sluts, helpless victims of God-hating elites, or some combination of those features. It would indeed be nice to forge a genuine and durable “compromise” on abortion policy that protected constitutional rights and treated women as autonomous citizens, while reducing to negligibility the already rare incidence of late-term abortions. But I’m not holding my breath.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.