STI Stigma, Memphis Pregnancies, and Confronting Kermit Gosnell


Download  Ending the STD stigma for people’s health. A Philadelphia illegal abortionist gets caught, and controversy ensues. Also, a rash of pregnancies in a Memphis high school causes silliness.

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Liberals in general getting a taste of what pro-choice activists have put up with for years

Kermit Gosnell indicted for murder

90 girls at a Memphis high school are pregnant or mothers

CNN report on teen pregnancy

O rilly?!

Sexism in soccer

On this episode of Reality Cast, Lynn Harris will be on to talk about STDs and why the stigma needs to end. Also, a report on the Philadelphia butcher that tried to masquerade as a legit abortion provider, and the discovery of  a whole bunch of pregnant girls in Memphis causes some silliness.

Jon Stewart took on the relentless invocation of Nazis on Fox News recently. 

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Anti-choicers run ahead of the crowd and show where the right is heading.  Antis have been comparing abortion to the Holocaust and calling pro-choicers “feminazis” for a couple of decades now.  Now it’s just jumped the line and become mainstream right wing nonsense.

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Out of Philadelphia, a horrible story that is, unfortunately, causing anti-choicers to get giddy at the hopes that this can be used to create an emotional plea that overrides reason, or their own responsibility for this tragedy.

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Unfortunately, the  immediate focus on the babies to the exclusion of the women that Gosnell tortured and preyed upon set a tone that anti-choicers were ready to exploit.  The accusations against Gosnell for delivering and then killing babies are very serious, but that’s far from all he did.  He treated the women that he was supposed to be caring for like crap.  He made many sick, and it accused of killing at least one.  He’s accused of photographing their genitals while they were under anesthesia, taking particular care to take pictures of women who had gone through female circumcisions.  He subjected them to so-called treatment at the hands of employees who weren’t nurses, some of whom were teenagers. 

  • gosnell 2 *

Gosnell was discovered after a raid that was kicked off because he was selling illegal prescription medications.  That alone tells you what kind of man we’re dealing with  here, and he’s not typical of abortion providers.  In fact, the way that anti-choicers are grabbing onto this story for dear life shows how little they have to work with otherwise.

So, who’s to blame, besides the obvious choice of Gosnell?  Why was he able to work for years and years without running into any real trouble for running this horrible, illegal, disgusting operation?  The primary blame lays with Philadelphia for having a broken down regulatory system.  Gosnell basically worked without interference from regulators because regulators aren’t around to do this work.  This is true across the board, and in no way means that we need new regulations on abortion clinics specifically.  It means mainly that we need existing regulations on all doctors and clinics to be enforced.  Gosnell was caught because he’s in violation of current laws.  He wasn’t caught before because of lack of enforcement.

Gosnell seems to have preyed on impoverished women, immigrant women, young women, and basically anyone who was vulnerable.  It makes sense; his clinic was a horror show, and no one would go there unless she felt she had to. 

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While the authorities that had the obligation to regulate clinics in Philadelphia are to blame, so is the anti-choice movement.  As a friend said when she emailed a link to this story to me, it looks like the days before Roe v. Wade.  Agreed.  One thing pro-choicers have been pointing out for a long time is that if you don’t make it easy for women to get safe, early abortions, then they will, in desperation, end up getting unsafe abortions, often later in their pregnancies.  Because the Hyde Amendment prevents women on Medicaid from getting coverage for safe, early abortions, many of them have to raise the money, and that can take weeks or even months.  Meanwhile, the price keeps going up.  Gosnell specifically preyed on women who were priced out of decent abortion care.  And the reason they’re priced out is that anti-choicers have made it hard to get coverage for abortion, especially if you’re poor. 

This is what the world pre-Roe looked like.  Safe, private abortions for women of means, or who were old enough to get a quiet abortion from a professional.  Back alley butchers and attempts at self-abortion for the poor and the young. 

Meanwhile, the pro-choice community has done what it can to help.  The National Abortion Federation inspected Gosnell’s clinic years ago when he tried to become a member.  Even though he cleaned it up and tried to hide what was going on from them, they still denied his application and provided information against him in the grand jury report.  There are monsters out there in this world.  The discussion is whether or not we as a society are going to enable them by feeding them victims, or if we’re going to try to stop them by making sure that potential victims have options that leave them and their families safe and healthy.

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Insert interview

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There are a few things in this country that can reliably create the kinds of wrong-headed hysteria that the discovery of large clusters of pregnant teenage girls can create.  Even though we all know intimately what causes unintended pregnancy, all of a sudden the usual culprit of unprotected sex suddenly doesn’t seem good enough.  Nor is it ever enough to suggest that the number one reason post-pubescent people on the female side of the gender divide have sex because it’s human nature.  There must be some kind of perversion that would drive a healthy young teenage girl to engage in sexual activity.  And so, the silliness began when it was discovered that 90 teenagers at a Memphis high school are mothers or pregnant, which is about 18% of the girls.  As when such a thing happened at a similarly impoverished high school in Massachusetts a couple years ago, the rumor started to fly that the girls did it on purpose, and even had a pact to get pregnant. This rumor popped up in local coverage in Memphis, when a young mother was interviewed. 

  • Memphis 1 *

People will never learn.  Last time the rumor of a “pregnancy pact” emerged, it turned out to be complete nonsense.  But let’s dig a little deeper and ask what this Memphis situation has in common in the real world  with this situation in Massachusetts.  Let’s start with the levels of poverty.  In all the hysteria over the pregnancy pact that turned out to be completely fictional, little attention was paid to the fact that the student body at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts is composed of largely working class kids.  And so it’s true with Fraser High School in Memphis.

  • Memphis 2 *

Huh.  That’s an interesting correlation between these two stories.  What else might these two schools have in common?  Well, in the Massachusetts case, there was a huge controversy over contraception in the high school. Health care workers with boots on the ground in the high school said that the students had poor access to contraception and demanded that they be able to provide birth control prescriptions.  The local hospital revolted, and it looks like it’s because it’s a Catholic hospital.  It certainly doesn’t have any information about family planning on its website, though all other women’s health services are discussed.  Health workers at the high school resigned in protest, and the school eventually cracked and started to offer limited access to contraception.

What’s the contraception situation at Fraser High School look like?

  • Memphis 3 *

Gosh, that’s super vague!  I did some searching online and discovered that the program is called “No Baby!” and it’s an abstinence-only program.  It’s run by Girls, Inc., who has already been doing this sort of thing, which suggests to me that what we’ve got here is an environment where abstinence-only is being pushed, girls are getting pregnant, and they’re just doubling down on abstinence-only.  Just like what happened in Massachusetts before they cracked and realized that contraception has to be part of the picture.  Indeed, the young mother interviewed by local news has an opinion on what it would actually take to reduce the teen pregnancy rate at her school.

  • Memphis 4 *

Common sense, right?  As soon as you graduate high school, it ceases to be controversial to suggest the cause of pregnancy is not nefarious pacts or scheming women, but that skipping the condom will do it.  But when it comes to teenagers, blaming anything but lack of contraception use is standard.  Even when it gets super ridiculous. My favorite was Kim Kardashian blogging that she blames MTV for its “Teen Mom” show for somehow glamorizing teen pregnancy.

Pregnancy pacts, reality TV shows, the lack of the catchphrase “No Baby!”.  We turn to these silly culprits because we don’t want to look at the facts on the ground.  We don’t want to admit that a combination of poverty plus hysteria over teen sexuality, especially teen girl sexuality, makes getting and using contraception consistently incredibly hard for some teen girls to do.  But as long as we keep evading responsibility on this, we can continue to expect these high teen pregnancy rates.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, over the pond edition.  A couple of sportscasters went off on sexist rants about a female linesman working in the English Premiere League.  They claim they didn’t know the mics were on.

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I’m still a little bemused and amazed that grown men can’t see the flaw in believing that what’s between someone’s legs could, in any way, influence her ability to see what’s going on the field in front of her eyes.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on Twitter: @amandamarcotte