By Charles D. Ellison
Abortion could now be the new Black, thanks to Kermit Gosnell – depending on how it all plays out. What we do know for certain is that the West Philly horror stories are dramatically changing the landscape of the national abortion debate. And: it just so happens that the doctor performing the abortions is Black and his victims are Black, making this latest round in that very emotional pastime of American politics rather Black.
Folks on both the left and right have found some common ground out of accusations of mainstream media ignorance. Progressives and pro-choice advocates are suddenly forced to meet conservatives and fanatical pro-lifers halfway on the subject. This strikes many as brand new. All thanks to the froggy, grisly Gosnell who allegedly learned his health clinic management skills from Dr. Moreau.
The larger conversation would have you believe that the Philadelphia story is mostly a case of “liberal” media bias run amok … again. Fascination with the political debate has led to convenient absent-mindedness on the real issue: low income, African American and immigrant women who were getting piss-poor health care. Problem is that issue has actually been more of a norm in many urban centers than an exception. You can make the argument that Gosnell’s lab – churlishly dubbed the “Women’s Medical Society” – reflects a growing trend as economic crisis in poor communities deepens. Clinics and community health centers in low income urban settings definitely provide needed support services. But, as the need grows, questions linger over whether they’re doing it right and whether some even care.
Low income minority women rely heavily on abortion clinics and community health centers as a primary source of preventative health care; over 15 percent of Planned Parenthood patients, for example, are Black women, many using the locations for more than just abortion. Beyond Gosnell’s clinic, there is the larger unaddressed issue of where poor uninsured Black women can go for quality health screenings and care.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “Blacks … received worse care than Whites for about 40% of measures; Asians received worse care than Whites for about 20% of measures; and Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic Whites for about 60% of core measures.”
Disparities in access to quality healthcare are particularly acute among “[p]oor people [who] received worse care than high-income people for about 80% of core measures.”
The tit-for-tat between left and right over media bias is really small and juvenile compared to the more pressing issue of access and quality – which is the reason why the Gosnell story didn’t get as much attention as pro-life conservatives thought it deserved. Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron recently dismissed it as a case of overwhelmed newsrooms that can’t be “conscious of all stories everywhere.” Black WashPo columnist Jonathan Capehart followed up with an open brownnose solid for his boss. Yet, while rightfully leaving some blame with clinic workers and “members of the community,” Capehart left a cold impression (while soft-spotting Baron) that Black folks in rundown neighborhoods are the source of their bad quality healthcare.
What’s left out is routine media ignorance of most issues involving poor or under-served people of color getting the shit end of the stick. One can only imagine the vein-popping outrage if a Gosnell-like clinic was found further out beyond Philadelphia city limits into Whiter neighborhoods nestled behind suburban tree lines. We know that such atrocities won’t exist where there are middle-class Whites with access to better healthcare, as well as better legal or political resources. And we know anger hath no fury like runaway media outlets when crime victims are middle class and White.
Interestingly enough, overlooked is the fact that it was Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R-PA) own Pennsylvania Department of Health, among other state and local agencies with jurisdiction, that ignored complaints about the happenings at the Gosnell house of horrors for years. That should stand out as a political bomb drop on Corbett (who is running for re-election) considering the game he’s played in Pennsylvania rallying the state’s fervent anti-abortion crowd for cover. Here you have a Governor who’s forcing a mandatory ultrasound bill down the legislature’s throat, yet can’t get his Health Department to check into numerous complaints filed about one of only 17 abortion clinics in the state.
It’s not just Corbett. Gosnell’s clinic had been around since 1979. That means he’s been through 7 governors. In that group of seven, 5 Republicans and 1 Democrat all maintained public pro-life stands knowing they couldn’t win statewide without grassroots support from anti-abortion advocates. That’s six self-styled “pro-life” governors that appeared to have slept through years of bloody Gosnell crimes and a West Philly clinic that flagrantly violated the most simple health codes. And let’s not forget the previous Democratic Governor who was a former two-term Mayor of Philadelphia. Where was he?
That selective and collective let’s-play-dumb in the Keystone State seems to have gone viral. Conservative activists might ring their righteous bells in an attempt to call out the “liberal” media, but that’s about as far as it goes. Congressional Republicans are mum on the topic, although they famously use the abortion banner as their money kettle during campaigns, some even using Black conservative goons to spread ghastly gospel about legalized abortions as “Black genocide.” But, let a once obscure, freckled Black doctor in lowly West Philly brutalize and murder poor women of color and you’d be lucky to hear a fart in an empty hallway on Capitol Hill.
CHARLES D. ELLISON is a political strategist, Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and Politics Contributor for UPTOWN Magazine. He can be reached via Twitter @charlesdellison