Lila Rose, Kermit Gosnell, And The Distorted Way We Talk About Abortion

Anti-choice activists, playing on media bias toward sensationalism, have manipulated journalists into making an exceptionally rare procedure the face of abortion in America.

Lila Rose, the proprietor of the group Live Action and a veteran anti-choice crusader with a long history of mounting deceptive campaigns targeting abortion rights, released a video on April 28 of an undercover activist's experience at a New York women's health clinic that she dishonestly said illustrated “illegal and inhuman practices” that should lead to a murder investigation.

On cue, Washington Post blogger Melinda Henneberger quickly tied the video campaign to Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician facing multiple murder charges resulting from the monstrous and horrific procedures he is alleged to have carried out under the guise of women's reproductive health.

Henneberger was quickly forced to correct a central point of her post and tacitly acknowledge that she did not view the entire, unedited video before writing a blog post that drew sweeping conclusions about what this video means to the larger abortion debate. The New York Times also took the bait, noting that Live Action is tying its videos -- a second video was released Monday -- to Gosnell and adding:

The release comes as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has thrown his support behind legislation that will guarantee a woman's right to an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, if her health is in danger or if the fetus is not viable. The current law permits abortion after 24 weeks only if a woman's life is in danger, although it is not enforced because federal court rulings have allowed less restrictive late-term abortions.

But the conversations documented by Live Action have absolutely nothing to do with the realities of abortion in America. Medical practitioners in both videos make clear that the situation they are ostensibly discussing -- what they do when a fetus survives a late-term abortion -- is something they have never had to deal with. So the entire conversation is now based on a hypothetical scenario cooked up by Lila Rose to demonize abortion providers.

This is a longstanding tactic of the anti-choice movement, as noted by Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check:

Third trimester abortions are about 1% of all abortions performed, and frankly, the anti-choice movement only focuses on them because they are especially disgusting, and therefore make a good cudgel to attack all abortion rights. And since they are so emotionally fraught, they have a great deal of appeal to the ghouls that populate the anti-choice movement, the ones who spend obscene percentages of their lives dwellling on graphic pictures of dead fetuses.

The overwhelming majority of abortions performed in the United States -- 90 percent -- occur during the first trimester, according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute. Note that while Live Action is currently focused on late-term procedures, their stated goal is “ending abortion.”

The actions Gosnell allegedly took do not fall under the framework of medical abortion and constitute murder -- murder -- under Pennsylvania law. Yet those actions, along with a hypothetical situation that the experienced practitioners in the video say they have never encountered during procedures that make up a staggeringly small fraction of abortions in this country, now form the basis of the conversation.

In recent weeks, journalists have debated whether ideological bias caused media outlets to ignore the Gosnell trial. The conventional theory in elite media circles is that journalists have downplayed that trial because they are ideologically opposed to a story that sheds a negative light on reproductive rights.

Yet, since Gosnell's arrest, pro-choice advocates have focused on the trial as an illustration of what happens when women do not have access to safe, legal reproductive health services, including legal abortions.

If any bias is at play, it is a bias in favor of sensationalism, allowing anti-choice activists to make the entire discussion of reproductive health defined by an exceptionally rare procedure in order to achieve their political ends.