President Obama defended Planned Parenthood — it's "not going anywhere, it's not going anywhere today, not going anywhere tomorrow" — at the organization's gala Friday, amid increasing state-level restrictions on abortion and controversy over the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor. As Obama spoke (he became the first sitting president to speak at an event held by the group), Fox News aired footage of Gosnell. The coverage is a perfect representation of the split in how we talk about abortion: on one side, a triumphant march of progress for women, and on the other side, a fixation on late-term abortion nationally. Less covered is how some states are working to stop all abortions.
In his speech, Obama spent some time defending Obamacare, and urged supporters to tell their friends to join the health insurance exchanges the law sets up. But he mostly defended the group, saying conservatives tried to "turn Planned Parenthood into a punching bag." Opponents "turn the clock back to policies more suited to the 1950s." In closing, Obama assured the crowd: "You've also got a president who's gonna be right there with you, fighting every step of the way."
The crowd seemed to love the speech. Planned Parenthood probably feels like it needs a fighter. Personhood bills — which would define a fetus as a person, and therefore outlaw abortion — have been floated in several states. After the Arkansas state legislature banned abortion after 12 weeks, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law a bill that bans abortions after six weeks — even though Roe v. Wade allows abortions until a fetus can survive outside the womb. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill saying life begins at fertilization. And Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law abortion clinic safety requirements that make it hard for most clinics to stay open. (An October poll found "an enormous margin" of Americans trusted President Obama to do a better job making decisions about women's reproductive rights.)
Some pro-life people see this case as a knock-out blow against abortion. But what reality about abortion does Gosnell show? That doctors like to store baby feet in jars? Gosnell is not the norm. That's why he's being prosecuted. Should his clinic have been closed down sooner? Yes. Because he's not the norm! The reality is the Gosnell case shows bad people prey on desperate people. The real fight over abortion is over the width of hallways in clinics and how to measure when life begins. The real fight over women's reproductive health is taking place in the laboratories of democracy. But that's not as exciting as a trial worthy of a season finale on Law and Order: SVU.