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In Search of a New Dred Scott? Kermit Gosnell and the Right-wing Media’s Torture Porn Fixation

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It is a given that Kermit Gosnell should be stripped of his medical license and incarcerated.

Those who support abortion rights see Gosnell as proof of the types of horrible things that will occur if a woman’s right to be the final arbiter over her reproductive choices is curtailed by the state: Kermit Gosnell will be just one of many such tales in a post-Roe versus Wade world. Conservatives (and those others) who would deny women their reproductive rights view him as an example of why abortion should be outlawed in the United States.

By comparison, those of us who have a standing prior that abortions should be safe, legal, and widely available to all who seek them necessarily understand that a post abortion-rights world will create more Kermit Gosnells, not fewer of them.

Those who oppose a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health choices consider Kermit Gosnell as a bogeyman that embodies everything they hate about a country where abortion is legal.

Politics involves the mobilization of emotions to win over supporters in the pursuit of specific policy goals. Story-telling is one way to accomplish this goal.

For the anti-Roe vs. Wade Republican or “pro-life” advocate (“pro-life” being a type of odd newspeak that falls apart in the face of any critical inquiry) Kermit Gosnell is a ready made tale that can be easily exploited for political ends.

In the Right-wing echo chamber, the lurid details about how Kermit Gosnell performed late term abortions are the stuff of a moral panic, where the descriptions fit neatly into pre-existing beliefs about the twin fictions that are “the liberal media” and a “conspiracy” to suppress any discussion of abortion that does not serve the “left-wing” agenda.

The more graphically Kermit Gosnell’s crimes are discussed and detailed, the more powerful the narrative becomes, as it resonates throughout the Right-wing media machine.

The framing of the Kermit Gosnell case by the Right-wing media is pornographic: it is the rough equivalent of a snuff film. There is a prurient fascination with the details of the body, how it can be destroyed, and the various ways that the flesh can be dismembered or hurt. The details are revolting; they are also titillating and exhilarating for those who want to take away women’s reproductive rights, and see such an effort as a moral crusade.

For example,  Andrew McCarthy’s recent piece at the National Review is an example of “habeas corpus” in the Right-wing political imagination— “show me the body” is made into a literal type of visual political vocabulary:

A decade later in Philadelphia, “it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.” So said Stephen Massof, one of Kermit Gosnell’s fellow butchers, as he described for the jury the chamber of horrors that was the “Women’s Medical Society” on Lancaster Avenue. There, scores of babies — perhaps hundreds of them — were willfully mutilated after being born alive.

Standard fare was the “snip.”

“Snip” is a terse, antiseptic word. Like “choice,” it is tailored to those rare, discomfiting occasions when the intentional killing of a “however way you want to describe it” must be spoken of rather than silently done. It is an effort, as much mentally as verbally, to evade the monstrousness we abide in the United States, where nearly 60 million children — a population roughly equal to that of France or the United Kingdom — have been aborted since the Supreme Court’s 1973 fatwa in Roe v. Wade.

In a “snip,” the abortionist, sharp scissors in hand, grasps the squirming and sometimes squealing baby he has just delivered. He stabs the child in the back and then, snapping the blades, severs the spinal cord from the brain. Massof described the snip as “literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.”

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