Friday, April 12, 2013

The Kermit Gosnell Story And Meta-Story: Two Very Different Things (UPDATE, UPDATE II, UPDATE III, UPDATE IV)

Let's just get something right up front here.  The facts in evidence in the case against Philadelphia Dr. Kermit Gosnell are a nightmare.  The clinic he ran wasn't an abortion clinic by any accepted understanding of the term; it was a house of horrors.

I know this because I read the indictment (.pdf).

What fascinates me is the meta-story, which began when Kirsten Powers* wrote a piece in USA Today insisting the story has national implications and should be covered that way.  Since then, both Conor Friedersdorf and Dave Weigel, the former at The Atlantic and the latter at Slate have chimed in, insisting that the cries of a media blackout rooted in a pro-abortion ideology on the part of the liberal media is keeping this story out of the national news.

Except, as Irin Carmon notes in today's Salon, the accusation is false (imagine Big Dead Breitbart and Michelle Malkin being wrong about something!):
If you’ve never heard of the Gosnell story, it’s not because of a coverup by the liberal mainstream media. It’s probably because you failed to pay attention to the copious coverage among pro-choice and feminist journalists, as well as the big news organizations, when the news first broke in 2011. There would be something rich, if it weren’t so infuriating, about these (almost uniformly male, as it happens) reporters and commentators scrambling to break open this shocking untold story. You know, the one that was written about herehere and here, to name some disparate sources.
In other words, the story was and continues to be covered.  The issue on the right isn't really the coverage; Google could clue in any interested party as to the extent of coverage.  No, the real issue on the right is the fact that these outlets and others - the Philadelphia Inquirer has been covering the story from the get-go, and doing a fine job at that - aren't covering the story the way those on the right want it covered.

For anti-abortion forces, the differences between the horror show at Gosnell's clinic and a clean, safe, fully accredited facility that works within the laws and regulations of the municipality and state within which it operates is one merely of degree rather than of kind.  Anti-abortion foes want this story to boil down to this: "This is abortion, folks."

Except, really, this isn't abortion, at least not as practiced in facilities that abide by the laws and regulations that govern the practice.  The charges against Gosnell include the murder of at five children who were born after the legal limit Pennsylvania imposes.  Anti-abortion activists want to scream and shout about the arbitrary nature of the cut-off for abortions; what makes a fetus at 23 weeks substantively different from a fetus at 24 weeks? they will ask.

The short, simple, and to-the-point answer to that question, at least in this case is: the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  With abortion a legal medical practice, with regulation and limitations permitted under a series of Supreme Court decisions, Pennsylvania has determined there is a cut-off point, after which abortions cannot be performed except under certain extreme conditions (none of which are even alleged in the case against Gosnell).

Since the case first arose two years ago, left-wing, feminist, and other journalists (especially those closest to the case) have noted again and again the fact that Gosnell's "clinic" and practices were allowed to run on far longer than they should, despite repeated inspections by various Public Health and accrediting agencies (Gosnell sought acceptance and approval by the NAF; they denied it, but like the rest of those outside agencies, they dropped the ball and didn't push for any investigation), because it operated for women who were largely poor, minorities, or were recent immigrants or perhaps even in the United States illegally.

Which brings us around to the fact that those outlets who have covered the story make the case - and one far more compelling than the whole "baby-murdering by any other name and practice" bunch - that in fact the story is about the need for greater access to safe abortion providers; more investment in public health, in particular women's health; more money to hire more inspectors; more money spent on training and inter-agency communication to catch horror-shows like this before the bodies pile too high for anyone to ignore.  Finally, the story is about the need to keep abortion safe, legal, and create even more vigorous oversight and inspection regimens to ensure that those populations most vulnerable - the young, the poor, minorities, immigrants whether here legally or otherwise - do not resort to death traps like Gosnell.

Death-traps that will surely metastasize should abortion ever be made illegal.

UPDATE: I just published this, but I think a point of clarification is needed.  I do not and will not quote at length from the indictment on the details of the events at Gosnell's clinic.  Doing so is a form of exploitation, even pornography.  One can read the indictment to learn the details, but be warned: you'll need a strong stomach and a box of tissues.

UPDATE II: (This is getting to be like a Glenn Greenwald post, but what can I do?)  I cannot make the point often enough that while this may be the view of many on the right:
The real complaint is that the story isn't being covered in order to protect the concept of abortion. Abortion itself is way past the indictment stage and honest people see it for what it is, and we'd be happy to explain it to the rest of you. 
The reality is quite different:
Whether the mainstream national media has given adequate attention to the Gosnell case is a matter of judgment, although claims that it's been entirely ignored are incorrect. (Consider, for example, Sabrina Tavernise's lengthy New York Times story from 2011.) But it should be remembered who hasn't been ignoring the story: feminist writers. Many prominent feminists, for obvious reasons, reacted with horror to the charges against Gosnell. To the extent that the mainstream media has not been as attentive, there's a clear reason: Gosnell's victims were predominantly poor women of color. As Salon's Irin Carmon puts it, "How often do such places devote their energies to covering the massive health disparities and poor outcomes that are wrought by our current system? How often are the travails of the women whose vulnerabilities Gosnell exploited—the poor, immigrants and otherwise marginalized people—given wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage?" The lack of coverage by broadcast networks is simply part of a larger trend of ignoring the problem of massive inequality in the United States.
As for the last sentence in the first quote above, I'll again turn it over to Limieux:
Finally, the Gosnell case is an illustration of a deeper problem with abortion politics in the United States. A number of pundits—most notably Slate's William Saletan and The Daily Beast's Megan McArdle—have argued that even though it's best that abortion remain formally legal, pro-choicers should concede that abortion is an icky, immoral procedure that should be discouraged. But the stigmatization of abortion, as it functions in the United States, greatly harms women. In most other liberal democracies, the Gosnell clinic wouldn't be an issue because even poor women could obtain safe abortions in a public hospital. In the United States, even where abortion is legal the constant stigma attached to the procedure—up to and including acts of violence against abortion providers and clinics—contributes to a making safe abortions less accessible. The best way to prevent future Gosnells is to treat pre-viability abortions like the ordinary, safe medical procedures they in fact are, not to engage in sexist moralizing. 
I cannot emphasize enough that (a) there has been no "silence" in the media on the Gosnell story, so charges there has been out of fear from pro-choice advocates is nonsense especially since it was feminist writers and pro-choice advocates who were on the story the most from the beginning; and (b), which follows from (a), pro-choice advocates are more than happy to have a discussion about the Gosnell case precisely because it highlights everything that is wrong with access to abortion in this country.  I've said it, am saying it, will say it; others who are also pro-choice have said it, are saying it, will say it: The case of Kermit Gosnell's "clinic" in Philadelphia, if it has any national implications at all, are all about how the anti-abortion forces have whittled away safe, legal access to abortion - along, of course, with the illegal harassment, intimidation, and murder of abortion providers and destruction of women's clinics - as well as slashed budgets for oversight and management and regulation of what clinics do exist creating a situation where Kermit Gosnell could perform illegal, late-term, post-viability abortions that resulted in infanticide, in conditions that threatened and eventually ended the lives of the women desperate enough to seek him out.

Because this is the way abortion used to be prior to Roe, let's have that talk.

UPDATE III: And, thankfully, we have Mr. Charlie Pierce.

UPDATE IV: I swear this is the last "update".  I'm only doing this as a service to Art because he apparently has no idea how to use Google to find pro-choice advocates who are happy to write about the Gosnell case.  This last link, to a piece by Jill Filipovic writing at Al Jazeera (she also posts at Feministing), needs to be read in full, but the final paragraph is full of juicy goodness.
The lessons of Gosnell's house of horrors are clear: women in the US need access to good health care, including abortion care. Just like outlawing abortion, stigmatising it and making it unavailable for low-income and rural women does not make abortion go away; it just makes it dangerous and unregulated. The lessons from the Gosnell media criticisms are similarly obvious: Do not trust known liars with an agenda. 
And because I wasn't aware of this detail until today: After the Gosnell was indicted in 2011, the judge issues a gag order on the case.  Now the case is at trial and there has been daily coverage in the Philadelphia press.  Initially, there was a flurry of coverage; now that the trial is underway, there is coverage again.  It makes sense there was silence in between because there was nothing to report and a legal restriction on information.  So, yet again more evidence that the non-existent media blackout on this story actually wasn't a blackout at all but an absence of new information in the long run up between Gosnell's indictment and trial.

So tell me, again, Art, what point am I missing here?

*Full disclosure.  Years ago, when I had my first trial run at blogging on a different blog, as well as doing a lot of dialogue and discussion at Huffington Post and other sites, Ms. Powers contacted me by email and, over some ensuing days, had a very thoughtful, and on her part encouraging, exchange.  When I criticized a piece she wrote at HuffPo, however, the emails and encouragement ended.  I have followed her career with interest nonetheless, and and still glad I received that kind of encouragement from a woman who, despite being controversial among liberals, still has a certain media cachet.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Being In A Clergy Family

I got thinking about the topic after reading this article at United Methodist Insight.  What's aggravating (to this reader, at least) is the lack of any specificity about the conflict between Adams' family and church.  What, precisely, was the source and course of the conflict, a conflict that resulted in the resident Bishop siding with the local church over the clergy family?  It is impossible to get even a glimmer.  For that reason, it is impossible to say much of anything at all.

It did get me thinking, however, about living for the past two decades as a clergy spouse.  My first rule as a minister's husband has been: Do no harm to Lisa's ministry.  I think I have, by and large, managed to avoid doing grave and long-lasting harm.  The assumption behind this rule is that Lisa's ministry is more important than I am, or we are.  Whether or not I agree or disagree with something she says or does, well, I can take that matter up with her in private.  Thankfully, there's only one serious matter where I've come down pretty hard on her.  All the same, that was done between the two of us, out of the earshot of anyone.

That's also the reason why, for most of her time as a pastor, while I had the right as member of the congregations she served, I have not attended most of the Church/Charge Conferences.  When I have, I have both refrained from saying anything (by and large, little has gone on except reporting on general activities; there was one exception of a special called Charge Conference where I attended and voted but did not speak) and abstained from voting on her salary.  Far better to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest (and voting "yea" or "nay" on a spouse's salary is pretty much the definition of conflict of interest).

I have not always rested easy with the assumption behind Rule No. 1.  Because I am far from perfect, I have become indignant, occasionally passive-aggressive (such a lovely trait, I know), and just plain angry that Lisa's work for the church keeps her from home and family as much as it does.  Usually, the end-game of these little family set-pieces has been the same: She gets weepy and apologetic, and I, having vented, insist that I am the one needing to apologize.  The simple fact of the matter is that Lisa manages quite well balancing her ministry with her life as a wife and mother.  All the same, living out a call to ministry is difficult under the best of circumstances; adding family responsibilities on top of that increases the difficulty; add gender difference to the mix, and the difficulty becomes one of near impossibility.  If, that is, you pay attention to the nagging voices from all around.

Which brings me to one of Lisa's more remarkable traits: She is quite adept at keeping her priorities, ministry & family, always in view.  If there's one thing that blows me away is her ability to balance the expectations she hears in her call, the expectations of the institutional church, and the expectations of her family, and improvise so many ways to cut through the too-often insisted upon either/or with a surprising, joyful, both/and.

All the same, as I told her during one of our chats after I melted down a bit, I was not and am not really angry at any of this.  On the contrary, that is the way it should be.  I love Lisa, and respect Lisa, and am so happy to call Lisa my wife, precisely because she lives out a call to ministry that comes first in her life.  That I occasionally let that bug me, well, that's my problem not hers.  I'm no less selfish than most other people, and probably a good deal more when it comes to my wife and the many demands upon her time and people who demand her attention.

I suppose you're wondering about Rule No. 2.  In fact, there really isn't one.  The only reason I call it Rule No. 1 is, when Lisa moved to her first appointment, I started with that thinking there would be more needed.  In fact, as long as Rule No. 1 is kept in mind - never interfere with her ministry; always understand the ministry comes before me - there really isn't a need for any more rules.

Virtual Tin Cup

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