Sunday, December 09, 2012

Bring Out Your Dead (Part 1: The Narrative)

Images are powerful, particularly images of tragedy.

This fact makes images a favorite tool of activists. A picture, as the saying goes, paints a thousand words. A well-chosen image can convey an entire story. It serves as shorthand to convey a useful narrative. The narrative itself might be true or false.

These images, gathered easily from activist web sites, convey a singe overarching narrative. Can you fill in the blank?

"___________ kill women."

If you don't follow political or social-issues news, I'll give you a hint: The images of Becky Bell and Rosie Jimenez are from the web site of the National Organization for Women.

These women's images are used to rally people to the cause of abortion-rights activists. The overarching narrative, in a nutshell, is, "Abortion laws kill women." Each specific image is used to convey a specific piece of that narrative.

The first women, Geraldine "Gerri" Santoro, is the woman in the infamous photo first published in Ms. magazine in 1973. The photo, taken by police, showed Gerri, nude, face-down with her knees under her, on the floor of the motel room where she died on June 8, 1964.  Gerri had arranged the abortion out of fear of a violent estranged husband that the law had failed to protect her from. In 1995, Boston filmmaker Jane Gillooly produced a film, Leona's Sister Gerri, to spell out the narrative in specific detail: Laws banning abortion never  prevented women from seeking abortions; they only forced women to resort to desperate, amateur abortions that inevitably killed them.

The second woman is Rosie Jimenez. On September 26, 1977, 27-year-old Rosie had shown up at the emergency room of McAllen General Hospital in the Texas border town of McAllen, with septic shock. She was put in intensive care, but died on October 3 from renal and cardiac failure caused by complications of a criminal abortion. This criminal abortion cost $5 less than legal abortions being arranged for poor patients by the same Planned Parenthood that had arranged an earlier, tax-funded abortion for Rosie.  The narrative in Rosie's death, put forth not only by abortion-advocacy organizations but also by their supporters at the Center for Disease Control, was that the newly-enacted "Hyde Amendment," banning use of federal tax dollars for any more elective abortion, forces women to forgo the prohibitively expensive safe, legal abortions and instead resort to cheap but dangerous criminal abortions.

The next image is that of Becky Bell, a 17-year-old Indiana girl who died of pneumonia on September 16, 1988. Becky's story is a bit different from those of Gerri and Rosie. There is no doubt whatsoever that Gerri and Rosie had died as a result of botched abortions, however much one might argue about the causal role played by criminal law or funding restrictions. On the other hand, the only abortion connected with Becky's death is a "spontaneous abortion" -- the medical term for a miscarriage. This inconvenient little fact did not stop abortion-rights activists from latching on to the word "abortion" on Becky's autopsy report and using it to convince her parents that she had not simply miscarried while dying of pneumonia, but had instead developed the infection because she had undergone a criminal abortion. The specific narrative put forth using Becky's image is that laws requiring parental involvement in abortions performed on underage girls force teens to resort to deadly illegal abortions.

The final image is that of Savita Halappanavar. Like Becky Bell, Savita did not undergo an induced abortion. Rather, she died in an Irish hospital of massive infection related to a miscarriage during a wanted pregnancy. If the events recalled by her husband are correct, Savita was not given antibiotics until after she had already collapsed from the raging sepsis. Given three days notice prior to publication of the story, Irish abortion-rights organizations latched onto Mr. Halappanavar's recollection that Savita had asked that doctors induce labor to complete the progressing miscarriage, and the doctor refused on the grounds that Ireland, being a Catholic country, would not permit taking any steps to remove or expel the fetus until the heart had stopped beating. Despite the fact that the type of induction Savita reportedly requested is legal in Ireland and sanctioned by the Catholic church, the narrative being attached to Savita's image is that laws against abortion, foisted off on society by the Catholic church, forbid doctors to save women's lives in the face of pregnancy complications.

The fit between the image and the narrative, as we have just seen, does not need to be a snug fit. The most tenuous link between image and narrative is sufficient. And once that link is established, the images are splashed across newspapers, magazines, web sites, posters and banners.

There are some images, however, that must be avoided like the plague, even though they depict women who died due to abortions.
Row 1: Marla Cardamone, Carolina Gutierrez, Diana Lopez,
Karnamaya Mongar, Belinda Byrd
Row 2: Alice Bowlsby, Alexandra Nunez,Sharon Hamplton,
Eva Swan, Laura Smith
Row 3: Tonya Reaves, Eva Shaver, Holly Patterson,
Christin Gilbert, Mary Parks
Row 4: Kris Humphrey, Edrica Goode, Barbara Covington,
Barbara Lofrumento, and Tamiia Russell
These abortion victims won't be featured in anything put out by those who hold themselves up as defenders of women's lives or champions of women's safety. These women's deaths must, at all costs, be ignored. Why?

They simply do not fit the abortion-rights narrative.

Alice Bowlsby, Eva Swan, Eva Shaver, Mary Park, Barbara Covington, and Barbara Lofrumento don't fit the narrative because they died from criminal abortions that would not fit into the modern "unsafe abortion" category. Their abortions were perpetrated by physicians with the same tools, training, and technology that would have been available had abortion been legal. Admitting that such deaths happened prior to legalization would detract from the narrative that pre-legalization abortion was an age of "back alley butchers," of abortions perpetrated by rank amateurs. Admitting that such deaths were happening would open the door to thought about what it was that was making pre-legalization abortions deadly. Those thoughts, leading off the safe path of the "legalization saves women's lives" narrative, threaten the abortion advocacy establishment.

Kris Humphrey, after feeling mistreated by Planned Parenthood staff during an abortion there, opted to go "natural" for her next abortion, and poisoned herself with pennyroyal tea recommended to her by friends who likewise embraced herbal abortions. Looking too closely at Kris's death would also open a can of worms the abortion establishment would prefer kept tightly shut.

But it's the last group of women whose deaths pose the greatest threat to the narrative. Marla Anne Cardamone, Carolina Gutierrez, Diana Lopez, Karnamaya Mongar, Belinda Byrd, Alexandra Nunez, Sharon Hamplton, Laura Hope Smith, Tonya Reaves, Holly Patterson, Christin Gilbert, Edrica Goode,  and Tamiia Russell died from supposedly safe, legal abortions under circumstances that call the claim that legalization improved safety into serious question. Even worse, they raise questions about how much the abortion-rights establishment can really be trusted to look after women's lives.

They must, absolutely must, be hushed up.

Narrative is all.

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