Kermit Gosnell: Crime, Class and Race

An African-American doctor is on trial for murder in Philadelphia.

Two years ago, a headline writer wrote this over a story by Lynette Holloway for The Root: “Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has been charged with eight counts of murder. Both sides of the abortion debate are having a field day with this case. But what happens to poor women of color facing unwanted pregnancies?”

Holloway wrote, “The grisly murders and gruesome discoveries inside Kermit B. Gosnell’s West Philadelphia abortion clinic leave one wondering what would make mostly poor, minority women so desperate that they would utilize his filthy clinic, where body parts of dead fetuses allegedly were stored in jars that lined the shelves of the macabre scene.”

She included this figure: “Overall, African-American women account for 36.4 percent of all pregnancy terminations in the United States, although blacks make up only 13 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Now Gosnell, himself African American, is on trial, and in the last two days the Internet has seen a dramatic rise in commentary asking why the Philadelphia case hasn’t received national media attention.

Obviously, conservatives believe the media is ignoring this story because it’s about abortion, and the lefties who run our media empires hate stories that put abortion in a bad light,” Kevin Drum wrote Friday for Mother Jones. “Alternatively, it could be because it’s a Philadelphia story, and the national media doesn’t usually give a lot of time to local cases like this. Frankly, I don’t know — though I’ll note that even the conservative media didn’t give it a huge amount of coverage until fairly recently, when Gosnell’s trial started. . . .”

Others say the Gosnell story — and it is a horrifying, grisly one — is also a story about race and the media.

When the case broke in 2011, Jill Filipovic, who blogs as “Jill” on the Feministe site, wrote:

“Gosnell’s clinic hadn’t been reviewed by the Department of Health in 15 years. Members of his staff were unlicensed and not properly trained. And Gosnell knew that he could get away with offering sub-par care to women who he thought were less likely to complain — young women, immigrants, poor women and women of color.”

Filipovic quoted Lori Adelman, who wrote in January 2011 on the Grio, “buried deep in articles describing ‘bloodstained furniture’ and ‘jars packed with severed baby feet,’ is a less gory but equally as horrifying insight that, at Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, ‘white women from the suburbs were ushered into a separate, slightly cleaner area‘ than Gosnell’s regular clientele, which was comprised primarily of poor minority women, including many immigrants. Gosnell reportedly treated these white suburban clients to a more pleasant and sanitary experience because he believed they were ‘more likely to file complaints’ about substandard care.”