The murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider, entered its fifth week today riding a peculiar media firestorm. The focus of much attention in recent days was not on Dr. Gosnell, who is charged in the death of seven babies and an adult patient who died of an overdose, but on a claim that the trial is getting modest coverage in the national media — allegedly because of a liberal bias.
Whether sufficient coverage has been given to the trial we would leave for others to judge. The formula for whether any one criminal trial rises to national stature has always seemed difficult to fathom or predict — even for those in the media. But in the Internet age, it doesn't strike us as especially difficult to find daily coverage of the trial — at least given that a gag order bars lawyers from discussing their efforts.
What seems far more noteworthy is to draw the conclusion that any lack of attention to the horrific case reflects a politically liberal bias. Indeed, the circumstances at Dr. Gosnell's clinic would seem to strongly support what pro-abortion rights groups have been saying for years — that abortion needs to be safe, accessible and rare and that this is currently not the case for millions of American women.
Dr. Gosnell was not running the Mayo Clinic, as his own lawyer has pointed out during opening arguments. He was providing abortions to poor minority and immigrant women. He had gotten into plenty of trouble before — some 46 lawsuits in the course of 32 years, yet Pennsylvania regulators had paid little attention to what seems like obvious malpractice. It was only after authorities noted the doctor's proclivity for writing prescription painkillers to alleged addicts and drug dealers that the FBI and DEA raided his office several years ago.
Employing untrained staff and operating under barbaric conditions, Dr. Gosnell is a poster child for what happens when the poor lack sufficient family planning services. As states pass laws that make it more difficult for legitimate abortion providers to operate, the potential for a bad operator to prosper greatly increases. As it happens, the number of free-standing clinics in Pennsylvania has fallen by about one-third in recent years.
That's not to excuse Dr. Gosnell, who operated outside the law — allegedly killing infants after they had been born alive. But it's hard to believe such an appalling practice could exist if anti-choice forces were not constantly threatening legitimate health care providers and their patients (sometimes, with violence) and access to abortion by low-income women hadn't been deliberately made so difficult (or expensive, as Medicaid doesn't cover it).
Nor, should it be noted, would such procedures even be necessary in as many cases if women had greater access to birth control and comprehensive sex education. Yet certain states continue to pile on restrictions on abortion or even access to RU 486, a cheaper, safer alternative than a late-term abortion. The latest — and most obviously unconstitutional — would give "personhood" status to an embryo from the moment of fertilization.
How can anyone be shocked that back-alley abortion operations (or their storefront equivalents) appear when more legitimate clinics are forced out of business? That's the kind of environment that existed prior to Roe v. Wade and could easily return. Illegal abortions are far more likely to be unsafe abortions.
Not enough coverage of Dr. Gosnell for the tastes of Fox News, Michelle Malkin, Breitbart.com or the others in the conservative media? That's a curious charge given that they hadn't latched onto the case until this month either. Nor had Republican members of Congress, for that matter. Perhaps it's because the trial is such a cautionary tale for those who want to deny poor women the right to decent medical care, including abortion.
And it may also reflect the desire of conservatives to see everything — what appears in the media and what doesn't — as a product of liberal bias. That obsession defines American's right-wing as much as shrinking government or reducing taxes. That the heart of the Gosnell case is medical malpractice, lax government regulation and the dearth of decent health care for the poor would appear to concern them not one whit.