Claiming that Gosnell’s case proves that late-term abortion is always a horrific act, anti-choice activists are hoping to use the buzz around the murder trial as an impetus to ban those services altogether. A Republican Congressman from Arizona has already revived his effort to force a 20-week abortion ban upon the nation’s capital by invoking Gosnell’s name, claiming that criminalizing late-term abortions in DC will help “keep attention” on the Gosnell case. And now, an anti-abortion group is touting a new investigation into late-term abortion clinics, claiming their research proves that murdering live babies is actually a rampant practice among other abortion doctors.
Live Action — an anti-choice group that has a long history of spearheading smear campaigns against abortion providers, particularly Planned Parenthood — provided the Washington Post with the exclusive details about their six-month long investigation into abortion clinics. The group sent women to inquire about late term abortion procedures and recorded the exchanges that those women had with the staff at several clinics. Live Action’s president, Lila Rose, says the resulting videos expose the “truly gruesome, illegal and inhuman practices” that occur at these clinics.
But in reality, as Media Matters details, Live Action simply edited the transcripts of the exchanges to make it appear as if the abortion clinic staff is endorsing infanticide. The group’s undercover investigators are posing hypothetical scenarios to the abortion providers about what would happen if a late-term abortion procedure were unsuccessful and a baby were born alive. Such a situation is incredibly rare, and most late-term abortion providers say they have never seen it happen.
The tapes do not depict abortion doctors endorsing murdering live babies. Rather, the doctors are simply explaining that the situation almost never happens — but if it did, they would follow the standard medical procedures that are employed when a wanted baby is born very prematurely. In those cases, it is not always possible to save the baby despite the best efforts of medical staff.
Another reporter at the Washington Post followed up with Cesare Santangelo, a DC-based abortion doctor who unknowingly appeared in Live Action’s video. Santangelo, who has been an OBGYN in the District of Columbia since 1987, thought he was having a routine conversation with a client who was nervous about the medical procedure. He said he was “tripped up” when that client posed a hypothetical situation — a live baby being born after a failed abortion — while he was trying to reassure her. During the more than two decades that he has practiced abortion care, Santangelo has never experienced that, and he has no desire to commit crimes against a live baby. “Once the baby is born, it’s out of everybody’s hands, and the baby has rights, too,” Santangelo said. “I understand that and I support that.”
Santangelo explained that the majority of the clients who come to his clinic for late-term abortions have discovered serious fetal abnormalities, and are choosing to terminate a pregnancy that they would not have ended otherwise. Some of them are victims of rape and incest. That’s very typical for the few women who opt for late-term abortions, which is already a very rare procedure. On a national level, barely one percent of abortion procedures are performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy. Banning these type of services affects a very small number of women, but those women are the ones who are in the most desperate of circumstances.
This is not the first time that right-wing outrage has erupted over a manufactured controversy stemming from a totally hypothetical “live birth” scenario. At the beginning of this month, abortion opponents claimed that a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Florida openly endorsed murdering live babies. That false claim was driven by the exact same hypothetical situation that Live Action posed to abortion doctors like Santangelo. During a congressional hearing, anti-abortion state lawmakers demanded to know what Planned Parenthood would do if a baby was born alive following a botched abortion, even though the organization doesn’t actually perform that type of late-term termination procedure. When Planned Parenthood’s lobbyist wasn’t able to provide any concrete details in response — since it was an entirely hypothetical situation that is practically impossible at a Florida Planned Parenthood clinic — the right-wing media declared that the women’s health organization had endorsed infanticide.
But just as the statements made during that congressional hearing in Florida were taken totally out of context, Live Action’s new “investigation” is also based solely on taking abortion clinic employees’ words out of context. Abortion opponents are currently trying to make a case against reproductive rights by conflating issues that don’t actually have anything to do with each other — equating incredibly rare late-term procedures with first-trimester abortions, illegal acts with legal health care, and criminals with reputable abortion providers.
And, as many progressive outlets (including this one) have pointed out, this knee-jerk reaction to Gosnell’s alleged crimes is actually counter-productive. Pushing to tighten restrictions on all abortion providers ultimately makes it more difficult for women — particularly vulnerable, economically disadvantaged women of color — to access the reproductive care they need. And that drives those desperate women to put their lives at risk at illegal clinics such as Gosnell’s, rather than successfully accessing safe and legal abortion services at clinics like Santangelo’s.