Recently in Philadelphia, a doctor was charged with eight counts of murder, including the death of a woman in a botched abortion, and seven babies that were born alive, according to the D.A.'s office. Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 69, his wife and eight others allegedly turned their clinic, the innocuously-sounding Women's Medical Society into "a house of horrors" that performed "botched and illegal abortions." Containers in the squalid West Philly facility were purportedly filled with fetal body parts, and the office reeked of cat excrement. Be forewarned that the 281-page grand jury report is not for the faint of heart.
Typically, the women who went to Dr. Gosnell's office were women of color, some immigrants, and poor. Desperate, they had no other choice. And the heinous criminal acts Dr. Gosnell is accused of committing really amount to the proverbial and anecdotal "back-alley" abortions women often faced before Roe v. Wade was decided 38 years ago. Anti-choice proponents will use such opportunities to double down against a woman's right to choose. They will even invoke slavery and civil rights when discussing abortion. In reality, the problem is that women need more access, not more restricted access, to safe, quality reproductive services. And the Christian right cares little, if at all, about women's or civil rights.
"Abortion is a legal common routine medical procedure. Yet for 25 years, the state of PA has banned Medicaid funding for abortion," said Susan Schewel, Executive Director of the Women's Medical Fund. The group raises money to provide abortions to women who have chosen to have one but cannot afford it. Schewel believes the answer is not singling abortion providers for new regulations, but public funding for the procedure. "Abortion is the only routine medical procedure not covered by Medicaid. This prohibition on Medicaid payment for abortion leaves desperate women vulnerable to sub-standard providers," Schewel noted.
The Women's Medical Fund took a look at its own records, at the women they helped in that West Philadelphia neighborhood over an eight-week period in 2010. These were six women with an average monthly income of $503, four of whom were on Medicaid, and two of whom were uninsured. And two were unemployed. One was a rape victim, while another was a domestic abuse victim with a protective order. Five were mothers, including a homeless woman. None of these women were able to afford the $350 to $450 needed for an abortion procedure, and none had the insurance to cover the cost.
Meanwhile, the ultra-right tends to grandstand and demagogue on the matter of a woman's right to choose. Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) -- who could not hold his Senate seat yet is planning a 2012 presidential run -- recently told CNS News that it is "remarkable for a black man" like President Obama to support abortion rights. After all, who is more qualified to speak on what black men should or should not think than Mr. Santorum? "For decades certain human beings were wrongly treated as property and denied liberty in America because they were not considered persons under the constitution," Santorum said. "Today other human beings, the unborn of all races, are also wrongly treated as property and denied the right to life for the same reason; because they are not considered persons under the constitution. I am disappointed that President Obama, who rightfully fights for civil rights, refuses to recognize the civil rights of the unborn in this country." It is a common strategy of abortion foes to compare abortion to slavery, even a "black holocaust," and create a false moral equivalency between abortion and the civil rights violations against African-American slaves.
Meanwhile, theocratic GOP members of Congress are proposing the crudely worded "The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." Current law allows for federal funding of abortions only in the case of rape or incest. If enacted, the new legislation would limit this exemption to victims of "forcible rape." Victims of statutory rape and incest victims over 18 would be on their own, presumably because they "asked for it," as the cold-blooded callousness of the bill suggests. This is what happens when Taliban are allowed to write the laws. Chances are that it won't reach the president's desk. But the bill leaves a distinct chill in the air.
I dare say that conservatives such as Santorum just don't like civil rights. As a senator, he received a 25 percent rating from the ACLU, indicating a strong anti-civil rights record. Santorum also received a 27 percent rating from the National Education Association, as someone who is against public schools. And he said as much himself: "Mass education is really the aberration," adding that "It's amazing that so many kids turn out to be normal considering the weird socialization they get in public schools."
In addition, CURE gave Santorum, an anti-rehabilitation lawmaker, a 25 percent rating. He voted to limit death penalty appeals, and to increase penalties for drug offenses. It seems he had little concern for the civil rights of blacks and Latinos who are caught up in an unfair, racially skewed criminal justice system.
If Santorum had cared so much about black people, he would have taken action to deal with the gun violence and murders that are disproportionately affecting communities of color. Yet, he voted to loosen license and background checks at gun shows, and voted to sell guns without trigger locks. Santorum also voted to prohibit lawsuits against weapon manufacturers.
Of the victims of Hurricane Katrina he said: "[Y]ou have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."
Santorum voted against food stamp eligibility for blind or disabled legal immigrants. He also opposed a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for people who exhausted their state jobless benefits.
And not surprisingly, Santorum received a 0 rating from NARAL, a completely anti-choice voting record. As a U.S. Senator he voted no on allocating $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy through education and contraceptives. Yet, the Christian Coalition gave Santorum a perfect 100 pro-family rating. We have to wonder what warped sense of family values they had in mind.
Those who invoke race and slavery when denying a woman's right to choose are trying to obfuscate and change the subject. Their policies are hurting poor women of color. As the most vocal opponents of abortion preach family values, they advocate for the most atrocious policies for women, their families and their communities. And for all their talk about the sanctity of life, these so-called pro-lifers are very selective when it comes to the type of life they deem worthy of protection. When the door is shut on the rights of poor, black and brown women, these women are left with no other option than seeking out the Dr. Gosnells of society, substandard providers who are ready to exploit them for profit. And no good can come from that.
David A. Love is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com, and a contributor to The Progressive Media Project and theGrio. He is based in Philadelphia and is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. His blog is davidalove.com.