More abortion? This coming January will mark 41 years since the Supreme Court took this most controversial, intimate, violent, grave, painful issue away from voters in its Roe v. Wade decision. Earlier this year, we heard gruesome, inhumane details from a Philadelphia abortion clinic — once the mainstream media had been shamed into even covering the Kermit Gosnell trial. But now California has an answer to the Gosnell problem (or so says one MSNBC writer): It has expanded access to abortion.
Non-doctors — nurses, midwives, and physicians’ assistants — are now legal abortion providers in California: The Early Access to Abortion Bill allows them to perform first-trimester abortions by aspiration.
While advocates of de-medicalizing abortion and loosening some actual protections of women’s health dismiss concerns, Dr. Elissa Sanchez-Speach worries that “supporters of this bill are missing the point.” She tells me, “If we truly want to see less abortions and subsequent complications, we need to direct our resources to the heart of the matter by providing better support for women to bear children and raise their families with the basic human necessities of gainful employment, food, shelter, and basic health care. To better serve teens, we — doctors, nurses, parents, teachers — need to make a concerted effort to encourage responsibility and accountability for their actions from the start. Abortion expansion, whether in the late or early stages of pregnancy, by whatever means, is just putting a Band-Aid on a wound that won’t stop bleeding until we fix the underlying problem.”
It’s that underlying problem that is at the heart of abortion in America today. While the California move has been suggested as a way to avoid Kermit Gosnells of the future, the conscience of the nation demands a deeper reflection.
“Lowering medical professionalism is precisely what produced Kermit Gosnell,” J. D. Mullane, a Pennsylvania reporter who sat in on the Gosnell trial, points out. Gosnell was providing a procedure that was increasingly unpopular with the public at large. The state did not act on health-inspection violations, “and so Gosnell was able to have a 15-year-old kid, and other marginally trained staff, administer powerful sedatives and birth-inducing drugs in his squalid Philly abortion mill.”
During a year in which the president of the United States called upon God Himself to bless the work of Planned Parenthood, in California PP’s advocacy arm assures us that the new law “Reaffirms California’s leadership on women’s health issues as anti-choice legislation sweeps the nation.” In point of fact, this new law isn’t about women’s health but about old-school abortion politics. It is about creating momentum for Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who won notoriety for filibustering a bill that would have given protection to unborn children in the late stages of pregnancy. It is about “defying national trends,” to paraphrase one headline. It is celebrated as a gift to those who want to bolster an ideologically loaded use of the word “choice” (see Cosmo), in an area where a woman often finds herself feeling as if she has no choice apart from the one that is preordained, expected by the father of her child and by family, friends, employer, and society. (Again, see Cosmo.)
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life, calls California’s new move to expand the availability of abortion “a slap in the face to women across America.” In addition to the bill permitting non-physician abortions, a second bill lowered safety standards, to make abortions easier to do. “Instead of getting serious about enforcing basic safety standards on abortion facilities, the same safety standards other surgical facilities have to adhere to, and ensuring that a Kermit Gosnell type of abortionist never operates within California,” Hawkins observes, “pro-abortion forces have pushed through a new law that holds abortionists to less strict health standards? When is this ever a good idea?”
Women’s health deserves better. Susanne Metaxas, director of the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center in Manhattan, worries that the California move “preys on the most vulnerable in society and creates a false impression of what an abortion is, and minimizes the physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences of an abortion.”
“Abortion can never be good medicine,” reflects Dr. John T. Bruchalski, one of the many obgyns who once provided abortions but no longer do. Bruchalski, the founder of the Tepeyac Family Center in Virginia, explains: “Most doctors do not do abortions because of the brutality of the reality of the procedure. Secondarily, abortion is still seen as not mainstream, and most do not want to face the pickets and the protests on a daily basis.” He asks: “If abortion is so great, why don’t more of us do it?”
Abortion exists because our culture believes it is necessary. Worst cases are often held up as evidence. But the questions many of these worst cases raise are not about abortion at all, but about best care and practice — about treatment of a life-endangering condition.
Why does Planned Parenthood advocate for increased abortion access? Why would anyone believe loosened standards would prevent monstrosities like Gosnell’s clinic? Why is California consideered a trailblazer for women’s health and safety? Because abortion both makes certain lifestyles possible and seems manageable, easier than trying to overhaul our culture and find better solutions — and expect more — for women, children, and men. It’s ugly. It’s painful. So we try to look away. It’s easier to look away now in California. Which is even more of a reason to refuse to.
“The creation of the unlimited abortion license — at any time, for any reason — works to isolate women in their decision about abortion,” Clarke Forsythe writes in his new book on the history of Roe v. Wade, Abuse of Discretion. “Choice is the public mantra, autonomy is supposedly the principle, but the dark side of autonomy is isolation and loneliness.” That darkness is increasingly happening in the light, as a governor puts pen to paper. We know too much, we’ve heard too much, we’ve seen too much to think that more abortion is what we need. Kermit Gosnell believed he was providing a service. Four decades into the era of Roe, women’s having the right to a dead baby has become routine in clinics that provide these services. If doctors would rather not do this harm, someone else has to. Thus the Golden State move.
Doctors are making choices about whether or not to be purveyors of a culture of death, while women too often feel they have no choice, the pressures are so greatly biased in favor of an abortion, a supposed quick fix. That’s not golden. We must do better.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.