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More on the Gosnell Non-Sequitur


I have a longer piece up at the Prospect explaining why attempts to use the Gosnell case to argue that we need even more arbitrary regulations of pre-viability abortions than Pennsylvania already has make less than no sense:

Claims of media bias by conservatives dovetail with the suggestion that the Gosnell clinic is some sort of embarrassment for the pro-choice movement. But this is a non-sequitur. Let’s start with this basic fact: Infanticide and medically unnecessary post-viability abortions were already illegal under Pennsylvania law. Pro-choicers do not, of course, oppose either policy. The problem here is not a lack of law on the books, but that the state devotes insufficient law-enforcement resources to protecting the interests of the disadvantaged. It’s even more important to remember that Pennsylvania, to put it mildly, does not have liberal abortion laws. The Keystone State—which was the instigator of the 1992 case that substantially watered down the protections of Roe v. Wade—has long been a pioneer in passing extensive, arbitrary regulations of abortion that are among the nation’s most onerous. Far from being a demonstration of the failure of pro-choice policies, the Gosnell case shows that opponents of reproductive freedom favor regulatory obstacles that endanger women’s health.

The belated conservative reaction to the Gosnell case is a classic example of the bait-and-switch at the heart of the increasing proliferation of abortion regulations. Anti-choicers talk a great deal about the relatively tiny number of medically unnecessary post-viability abortions—which Roe v. Wade explicitly allows to be banned and are already illegal—in order to pass regulations that apply at every stage of pregnancy. The most common of these regulations—prohibitions on public funding for abortion, waiting periods, parental-involvement laws, mandatory ultrasounds, and the targeted regulation of abortion providers—are not merely irrelevant, but counterproductive. All of these legal burdens make obtaining a safe first-trimester abortion more difficult. Although the Gosnell case will be used by opponents of reproductive freedom to advocate for more arbitrary regulations, to argue that a single doctor performing already illegal post-viability abortions means that we should make safe pre-viability abortions less accessible is self-refuting nonsense. As Carmon puts it, women kept going to Gosnell’s clinic “because they felt they had no alternative.” That alternative is clinics where even poor women can obtain safe first-trimester abortions in a timely manner, without having to navigate a blizzard of regulatory impediments with the sole purpose of inhibiting access to abortion.

I also argue that the case is a pretty definition refutation of the Saletan/McArdle idea that “formal legality combined with endless fulminations about the ickiness and immorality of abortion” is a good comprise.

I should also mention that several times in the previous threads Sebastian Holsclaw has been touting the superiority of European abortion law. My response to that is the same as it always is: sure! Let’s start with repealing the Hyde Amendment and making RU-486 widely available. Alas, conservatives generally want the arbitrary regulations of European (and much American) abortion policy without the wide access and lack of powerful anti-abortion fanatics dedicated to using regulations to deny abortions at any stage of pregnancy that mean that the European policy framework provides much greater practical access to safe abortions.

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