Margaret Thatcher, Kermit Gosnell, & #DingDong

One of these things is not like the others? After all, Thatcher’s sole political merit was that she was pro-choice. Let me explain.

Ding Dong

Ding Dong the Wicked Old Witch is a jolly song. As Angry Women of Liverpool note in their feminist analysis of how to discuss Thatcher’s death “there are so few songs you can sing joyfully about the death of somebody thoroughly deserving”:

Tough one. The history of witch persecution is fraught with the very foundations of modern capitalist and patriarchal oppression, as anybody who’s read Silvia Federici knows. But there are so few songs you can sing joyfully about the death of somebody thoroughly deserving.
You want a proper argument in defence? Give me a minute.
OK, got one. The cultural connotations of “witch” in the modern day are so fragmented, having passed from fairy tale and myth through church/state persecution, a modern reinvention as “Wicca”, developing into a full-fledged sub-culture with often positive portrayals in TV drama and children’s literature, it could be argued that the word “witch” is now primarily a fairly neutral term for a female magic-user and serves only to denote the profession of the woman in question, not her moral status. After all, the song takes care to distinguish: “Which old witch? The wicked witch,” suggesting that wickedness is by no means assumed by the term’s use. If Glinda, the good witch, can allow the munchkins their song of triumph over the ruby-slippered menace that has oppressed them for so long, who am I to begrudge it?


Banning this from being played by the BBC is an inept bit of censorship, but the plain fact is, it will work as well as any kind of censorship ever does: the key thing that the Conservatives wish to avoid is any discussion between the people too young to remember Thatcher (it’s now over twenty years since she was evicted from 10 Downing Street) and those who remember her directly, about how greatly she was hated.

Kermit Gosnell

Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate in January 2011:

What seems to not be in dispute is that Gosnell ran a crappy clinic, something that anti-choicers have been using as propaganda to advocate against legal abortion. But it doesn’t follow logically. There are 1,800 abortion providers in the country , and the vast majority run clean, professional operations. That there are a few shady characters in the bunch is unsurprising, and the pro-choice community exerts quite a bit of effort trying to improve the quality of abortion care, even under the remarkable constraints on provision.

That shady abortion providers get patients at all is something we can safely blame the anti-choice movement for. Most doctors in this country are pro-choice, and many would like to provide abortion, but as Slate ‘s Emily Bazelon demonstrated in the New York Times , the stigma of doing so makes it that much harder to do. Good medical care costs money, but very few women seeking abortion can get coverage, in no small part because of anti-choice initiatives like the Hyde Amendment. If you’re seeking an abortion but can’t afford it, going to a doctor who provides substandard care on the cheap is certainly going to be an attractive option.

Kermit Gosnell is the American doctor on trial for running a clinic in Philadelphia which – among other horrors – was the kind of profiteering abortion mill that flourishes under prolife regimes. Literally the only positive thing I can find to say about Margaret Thatcher was that she consistently voted to keep abortion accessible: prolife Tories found no support from her.

Women went to Gosnell because he was cheap and because, unlike the Planned Parenthood clinic a few blocks away, prolife picketers didn’t cluster outside Gosnell’s clinic to scare off patients. The woman who was killed by Gosnell in the course of ineptly performing an abortion was an immigrant who spoke little English and may not even have known that in the US, technically, she had a legal right to a safe abortion performed by people who would care about her welfare.

Since 1973, it has been unlawful for any state to outright ban abortion: the Supreme Court decision that year ruled that intrusion on a woman’s right to privacy as she consulted her doctor was unconstitutional. But since 1977, it has been unlawful for any federal money to be used to pay for abortion. (One of the consequences of this is that a soldier on active service must travel back from Afghanistan or Iraq to the US at her own expense to get an abortion at her own expense in a clinic outside a military base evenuntil this year – when she had been made pregnant by rape. The US military is not allowed to provide any help or support except allowing her to take personal leave in order to travel.)

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was one of the prolife states within the US which thus created Gosnell’s clinic. How could Gosnell have flourished with a Planned Parenthood clinic within walking distance?

The answer is simple: Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when abortion policy was established, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s primary goal was to overturn Roe v. Wade and, barring that, impose as many barriers as possible to limit access to abortion. By and large, our policymakers have never viewed abortion as a medical procedure – instead placing it under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code — and therefore have not nurtured a system of abortion care that is woman-focused, readily accessible, and responsive to their medical needs. The Commonwealth’s focus has been on denying access, not protecting the health and safety of women who need this medical care. If the charges against Gosnell prove true, Gosnell was an outlaw who repeatedly violated numerous laws and should have been shut down years ago, but the state did not hold him accountable to its own laws and policies.

So why did women go to his clinic? Why not choose a legitimate, reputable provider of abortion care? During a Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee hearing on proposed abortion regulation bills, Tyhisha Hudson, a woman who had obtained an abortion at Gosnell’s clinic, was asked why she went to him. She testified that women in her neighborhood knew that Gosnell was the man you saw for the cheapest abortion.

Prolife policies – and prolife activists – were responsible for Kermit Gosnell’s clinic of horrors. No woman would have chosen to go to Gosnell for her abortion if she had had free access to abortion in a hospital or a safe clinic, where she would be decently treated: the prolife movement in the US has fought to deny just that access to women for thirty years.

In stories reminiscent of the abortionists who flourished in the US pre-1973, Gosnell is reported to have bullied women who changed their minds so that he could perform the abortion and collect the fee: whereas in the kind of clinics prolifers try to defund, and picket outside, a woman always gets to sit down alone with a trained counsellor who will ask directly “Is this your choice? Is anyone making you come here?”

Anyone genuinely concerned for women and girls would strive to ensure everyone who needs an abortion would have access to safe, legal abortion free on demand at a hospital or clinic where medical and legal responsibilities are taken seriously. Prolifers are not so concerned, and never were, and never will be.

Dozens of complaints had been made about Kermit Gosnell’s clinic. But the doctor prolifers loved to loathe was not Gosnell in Pennsylvania but George Tiller in Kansas. There was never a mass prolife/right-wing campaign against Dr Gosnell: there was no public hatred, no picketing, no attempts by prolifers to shut his clinic down or bring him to court. Kermit Gosnell is on trial, finally: but George Tiller was shot in church by prolife activist Scott Roeder.

So what is the prolife movement’s reaction to Kermit Gosnell’s case coming to court? Shame? Apologies? You’d think. Some kind of horrified realisation that all the while they were getting pissy over Planned Parenthood and George Tiller, they had ignored a clinic like Gosnell’s?

No. The prolife movement, never short of chutzpah, has claimed that the prochoice majority is responsible for Gosnell.

Margaret Thatcher

Younger LGBT Tories and other Conservatives have tried to pretend that Margaret Thatcher was no anti-gay hatemonger.

But this isn’t Meryl Streep giving a speech at the 1987 Conservative conference on how children being told “it’s okay to be gay” are being “cheated” of a good start in life – the reasoning of Section 28 which became law in 1988 – Labour and Liberals voting against – and was not repealed until 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in England and Wales. (The House of Lords, packed with former Tory MP peers and Conservative backwoodsmen, were able to block the earlier attempt by Labour to repeal Section 28.)

Thatcher's funeral party in Trafalgar Square: planned 1994, took place 13th April 2013The hugely expensive display of political power by the Conservatives that will take place in London next Wednesday is £10 million spent to try to whitewash Thatcher’s memory: to pretend, despite the spontaneous party attended by thousands in Trafalgar Square yesterday, despite Ding Dong shooting up through the charts, despite all the protests of the majority in the UK, that the prime minister driven out of office by her own party, who was roundly loathed by most of us during her time in office, was deserving of this unique honour: no prime minister has received a state funeral since Winston Churchill.

There will be protests along the route. The police and the right-wing supporters of this travesty are especially afraid of insulting banners, jeering and booing – the more public the display of contempt, the more likely this is to appear on the public record. The BBC, televising this with narration by Bullingdon Boy David Dimbleby, will attempt to avoid getting these protests on film for the archives, but the more protests, the more public they are, the less likely they are to be able to censor them out of the record.

I have every sympathy with the frustrated desire of Margaret Thatcher’s immediate family to have a quiet, respectful funeral for their mother and grandmother. Carol and Mark Thatcher should have stood up to David Cameron and told him no. I appreciate how difficult this may have been, but it should be clear to them that it’s David Cameron’s desire to have this huge and horrible spectacle paid for by the public, that ensures they will have constant reminders that their mother was, as prime minister, a despised and rejected politician. (It would be crass to suggest their inheritance of a sixty-million+ estate, partly offshored to dodge tax bills, would console them.) This is not a family funeral: this is a public statement by the Conservative party that they are in power and can do what they like. Protests against it are a civic obligation.

Other events on 17th April:

Historical revisionism

David Cameron decided when he was elected leader of the Conservative Party that there were no votes in being the Nasty Party. His support for LGBT equality is essentially a recognition that whipping up anti-gay hate is now a vote loser. But, that does put him on the right side for that at least – however corrupt his motives, lifting the ban on same-sex couples getting married is a good thing. We cannot ignore his previous anti-gay voting record, but we can acknowledge that LGBT equality is becoming so mainstream that even the Conservatives realise – for the most part – that they can’t afford to continue relying on the homophobic vote. That makes David Cameron smarter than Mitt Romney, if no more ethical.

Less than a decade after Labour repealed Section 28 (and yes, David Cameron voted to keep this anti-gay legislation, accusing Tony Blair of being against family values) over a hundred Conservative MPs voted for equal marriage in the House of Commons: some, yes, because they knew it would now be career death to refuse, but some honestly on principle. We can celebrate, honestly, that the Conservative Party is moving on from its knee-jerk homophobic past.

But denying that past existed, pretending Margaret Thatcher was universally respected, is pure revisionism – on a scale equivalent to the prolife movement holding up its collective hands and complaining that the abortion mills their movement creates are nasty places and it’s all our fault.

3 Comments

Filed under Film Reviews, LGBT Equality, Police, Poverty, Scottish Politics

3 responses to “Margaret Thatcher, Kermit Gosnell, & #DingDong

  1. Steve Cheney

    “the key thing that the Conservatives wish to avoid is any discussion between the people too young to remember Thatcher (it’s now over twenty years since she was evicted from 10 Downing Street) and those who remember her directly, about how greatly she was hated.”

    Weird, when you think about it. Many of us grew up with parents who would tell us all about life under Thatcher’s callous regime after a half-glass of Jacob’s Creek. It’s weird that they think that stopping people talking about it now will make everyone forget decades of talking about it before!

    • I think the point is they want to keep the widespread hatred of Thatcher off the historical record – Cameron is (or was) hoping that a huge big ceremonial funeral with a Falklands theme will just work. Not if the BBC has to show the protests en route though – and if they’re large, loud, and obstreperous enough, that will be unavoidable.

  2. Part of the proceeds from the sales of the Ding Dong song will go to the Yip Harburg Foundation. Yip Harburg wrote the song and I can’t thnk of a better place for the money to go.
    http://www.yipharburg.com/

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