The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gosnell case: NARAL claims it was ‘first out of the gate.’ Really?

Ever since NewsBusters, Kirsten Powers and others documented that big-time, national outlets had extended few resources to the multi-week trial of abortion provider and accused murderer Kermit Gosnell, massive speculation has focused on why. Media bias? Details of the goings-on too gruesome? Philadelphia too much of a backwater?

Another angle relates to the work of advocacy groups. Did they pound reporters with news releases and e-mails demanding coverage of Gosnell’s alleged outrages against humanity? That’s one way that a case in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas can pierce the schedules of major networks and cable news producers.

And that brings the discussion to a segment today on MSNBC. In a chat with Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Thomas Roberts asked about the organization’s possible role in the Gosnell silence. Hogue:

The American people join me and my organization in being outraged that this man was able to operate for years, preying on poor women who desperately needed safe and clean medical services but were unable to get it because of the restrictions that drove credible and reputable providers and doctors out of business in Pennsylvania and we were the first out of the gate to call attention to this case. And you know why?… It’s because unfortunately as the anti-choicers try and restrict more and more doctors out of business, they are the ones keeping the Kermit Gosnells operating.

Bold text added to highlight an assertion that curved the eyebrows of the Erik Wemple Blog. Having done precisely 3,454 Nexis and Internet search on the Gosnell case, we missed the part where NARAL had led a charge to highlight the alleged atrocities in West Philadelphia. So we Nexised again, checking on NARAL’s footprint around the time that Gosnell was indicted in January 2011. Not much there. When asked to provide news releases or other evidence of activism around that time, NARAL didn’t provide anything.

The case reemerged on March 18 of this year, when Gosnell’s trial started. Did NARAL get right on the case? Again, evidence is tough to dredge up. A search of the NARAL site for “Gosnell” yields six results, all of which date to the past two weeks. The earliest of them is an April 16 statement by NARAL’s director of communications. It reads, in part:

Kermit Gosnell’s actions were reprehensible, illegal and reminiscent of back-alley abortions from the days before Roe v. Wade. The conditions in Gosnell’s clinic were horrific, demonstrating what can happen to women when abortion isn’t available through safe and legal providers. This is why we work every day to protect the constitutional rights of women to access legal and safe abortion care regardless of income and geography.

In this April 26 release, NARAL includes an inventory of media stories in which it can be heard condemning Gosnell, including accounts in  The Post, the Huffington Post and MSNBC (video below). All of those media spots, however, post-date the upheaval wrought by NewsBusters and Powers — so they hardly constitute proof that NARAL was a pioneer in pushing for public attention to the Gosnell proceedings. (Note: Kate Michelman, a former president of NARAL, co-wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on Gosnell dated March 26).

When asked to provide more details on how it had been “first out of the gate” on the Gosnell case, NARAL passed along this statement from Hogue:

As president of this organization, I found it critical to be more aggressive on this issue than we have in the past. I wake up every morning to protect women’s access to clean and legal abortion care, and from the likes of predators like Kermit Gosnell. This is why I was the first leader of a national pro-choice organization to speak out as the case went to trial. We will do all we can to help women get the care they need from good doctors who have their best interest at heart.

OK, so it’s the first “national pro-choice organization” out of the gate on the Gosnell case. That’s different.

Following the Gosnell-media upheaval, NARAL has been all over the coverage.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy