Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No national abortion regulation debate

For the last few years my favorite example of politically-opportunistic regulation has been safety regulation legislature for abortion clinics, which are always promoted by pro-life Republicans.

It never occurred to me that they might be worth doing.

Now that the Dr. Kermitt Gosnell case has become a national story and he has been sentenced to prison for illegally killing just-born children with scissors at his abortion clinic, a reasonable person might consider supporting some of those regulations.

Yet, that option isn't on the table the same way gun control was on the table following the Sandy Hook shooting.

Plenty has already been written about the media's reluctance to cover this story, and how much of the subsequent focus has been on the media itself and not the actual case. I found Megan McArdle's explanation for the lack of coverage to be the most compelling:

...I understand why my readers suspect me, and other pro-choice mainstream journalists, of being selective—of not wanting to cover the story because it showcased the ugliest possibilities of abortion rights. The truth is that most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by "our side."

...If I think about it for a moment, there are obviously lots of policy implications of Gosnell's baby charnel house. How the hell did this clinic operate for seventeen years without health inspectors discovering his brutal crimes? Are there major holes in our medical regulatory system? More to the point, are those holes created, in part, by the pressure to go easy on abortion clinics, or more charitably, the fear of getting tangled in a hot-button political issue? These have clear implications for abortion access, and abortion politics.

After all, when ostensibly neutral local regulations threaten to restrict abortion access--as with Virginia's recent moves to require stricter regulatory standards for abortion clinics, and ultrasounds for women seeking abortions--the national media thinks that this is worthy of remark. If local governments are being too lax on abortion clinics, surely that is also worthy of note.

Moreover, surely those of us who are pro-choice must worry that this will restrict access to abortion: that a crackdown on abortion clinics will follow, with onerous white-glove inspections; that a revolted public will demand more restrictions on late-term abortions; or that women will be too afraid of Gosnell-style crimes to seek a medically necessary abortion.

I have never considered that abortion clinics actually need more regulation before this, but as McArdle said 17 years of Gosnell's unsanitary, brutal practice implies it should be considered.

While we should expect the pro-choice crowd to have this conversation in their own sphere, shouldn't we also have a national conversation about increasing health standards for abortion clinics? Why isn't the media leading that charge now that they cat is out of the bag? I submit it is because they are afraid of where it would lead.


  1. I think such a proposal would be a good idea. Or at least not a bad one.

    I'm certain the reason the vast majority of pro-abortion rights voters would be extremely skeptical of such a proposal is because it would most likely originate from an avowed enemy of abortion rights. Recent history shows plenty of examples of not earnest legislation designed to protect women choosing to undergo abortions, but attempts to essentially regulate abortion rights out of existence through forced waiting periods, parental/spousal consent, forced ultrasounds, scripts about fetuses feeling pain, onerous taxes and safety practices, etc.

    However, I would take the legislation at face value. The difficult part would be selling it to the broader public. A necessary PR campaign would involve prominent, very liberal, pro-abortion rights women out front and leading the campaign. Someone like Barbara Boxer would have to cosponsor the bill and include broad language ensuring that none of the regulations would prevent a woman from choosing an abortion. Perhaps it would also involve increased federal actions to pre-empt state laws that clearly violate Roe v. Wade (like North Dakota's).

    Sort of the inverse of the recent gun control debate: When people like President Obama and Chuck Schumer are the public face of the push for gun control, I suppose I can understand the skepticism of any card-carrying NRA member or gun owner more generally towards the final legislation (though I think gun owners should have supported it regardless).

  2. Well said Derek. Clearly the regulations would have to originate from the left, as the ones concocted by the right were designed to shut down abortion clinics, not increase safety.