June 30, 2013
State Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, dons pink tennis shoes during a Tuesday filibuster.(AP)
Imagine a parallel universe in which the media coverage of legislators' recent efforts to pass gun control omitted any reference to last year's slaughter of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
To be sure, opinions vary on these laws and their effect. But it would still be absurd if everyone writing about these new proposals chose to ignore the incident that set them off, and instead treated them by default as a completely unprompted assault on Second Amendment rights.
Something like this happened last week in Texas. Legislators there offered a bill in response to another terrible tragedy — a bill that enjoys support from 62 percent of the state's voters. Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator, received great praise for filibustering Senate Bill 5, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks and impose on abortion clinics the same health and safety requirements that exist for other ambulatory surgical facilities.
As of Friday, the pink sneakers Davis wore on Tuesday night while standing up for late-term abortion were mentioned in more than 90 newspaper articles and 15 television segments, according to the Lexis-Nexis database. Yet a far more relevant detail — the reason this law was ever considered — received just four mentions in the papers and two on FOX News.
That reason, of course, concerns the lack of regulation that enabled the notorious Philadelphia abortionist and now-convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell.
It wasn't easy to find coverage of Gosnell's recent trial, but it provided a textbook example of how under-regulated industries can spawn unscrupulous businesses that gravely harm consumers. It's the kind of regulatory story that left-leaning mainstream political journalists normally love — except that this one touches on abortion, that mysteriously sacred cow of American public life.
You may be aware of the unsanitary conditions within Gosnell's Philadelphia clinic and the horrific methods he used to "ensure demise" of babies already-born and wriggling. But the grand jury report also demonstrates how something as simple as rules requiring wider hallways — rules the abortion industry has fought tooth-and-nail — might have saved the life of Karnamaya Mongar, a Gosnell patient who died in 2009.
The grand jury noted that even after Gosnell's unqualified, unlicensed staff had (at his direction) given her a lethal overdose of local anesthetic, she might have still been saved but for the clinic's "cluttered," "narrow, twisted passageways" which "could not accommodate a stretcher" to get her out. Mongar still had a pulse when paramedics arrived, but they lost a critical 20 minutes just trying to get her out of the building.
The grand jury concluded that, had Gosnell's clinic been regulated like other "ambulatory surgical facilities" — say, your average plastic surgeon's office — then health inspectors "would have assured that the staff were all licensed, that the facility was clean and sanitary, that anesthesia protocols were followed, and that the building was properly equipped and could, at least, accommodate stretchers."
These are the kind of rules that Davis filibustered against. Even that doesn't necessarily make her wrong. But who could even start to make a fair judgment based on media coverage that left out all the key facts? Gosnell's connection to this story is one without which the rest cannot be understood.
Political journalists have very strong and lopsided views on abortion. The Washington Post was one of only four newspapers even to mention Gosnell in connection with the Texas law, yet its editorial board seemed unaware, responding to Davis' filibuster by complaining about new rules in Virginia (also inspired by Gosnell) that require five-foot-wide hallways in clinics.
Perhaps the Post's editorialists — and the rest of us — wouldn't be so ill-informed on these matters if more news outlets hadn't omitted such an important part of the story.