The Stigma of Abortion, and How It Connects Chris Evert and Kermit Gosnell

BlogHer Original Post

We’ve had two major stories this week around abortion. As wildly different as they are, they both share an important thread.

The first, of course, is the guilty verdict in the highly politicized trial of Kermit Gosnell. On Monday, the Pennsylvania abortion doctor was convicted of murdering three babies, and of voluntary manslaughter in the drug overdose of a woman who died during an operation. I’m not going to repeat the gruesome details of Gosnell’s crimes--Laurie White's post on BlogHer offers a glimpse--or describe his “house of horrors,” except to say I’m glad he got convicted and will spend the rest of his wretched life in prison. But who wouldn’t be?

But I also have to ask: why in God’s name wasn’t he stopped sooner? Gosnell was allowed to operate his filthy clinic in a poor neighborhood for three decades without health officials so much as giving him a fine. Gosnell’s wife, Pearl, who routinely helped her husband perform abortions, was a cosmetologist. I don’t mean to make light of this, but by way of comparison, marijuana clinics have been shuttered in my hipster neighborhood in Los Angeles for far less. Even when patients alerted authorities about the unlicensed, untrained staff, the nightmarish and dangerous medical conditions, nothing was done.

From the grand jury report:

Several different attorneys, representing women injured by Gosnell, contacted the [health] department. A doctor from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia hand-delivered a complaint, advising the department that numerous patients he had referred for abortions came back from Gosnell with the same venereal disease. The medical examiner of Delaware County informed the department that Gosnell had performed an illegal abortion on a 14-year-old girl carrying a 30-week-old baby. And the department received official notice that a woman named Karnamaya Mongar had died at Gosnell's hands.

From Salon:

Pennsylvania authorities had failed to conduct routine inspections of all of its abortion clinics for 15 years by the time Gosnell’s facility was raided and closed down. In the scandal’s aftermath, two top state health department officials were fired, and Pennsylvania imposed tougher rules for clinics.

Would this appalling lack of oversight have occurred If Gosnell’s clinic had served mainly middle-class white women instead of low-income black and Asian women who had nowhere else to go?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Again, the grand jury report:

A former employee testified "that white patients often did not have to wait in the same dirty rooms as black and Asian clients. Instead, Gosnell would escort them up the back steps to the only clean office -- O'Neill's -- and he would turn on the TV for them. Mrs. Mongar, she said, would have been treated 'no different from the rest of the Africans and Asians.

May 1, 2013 - Beverly Hills, California, USA - Jimmy Connors, Tennis Champion during the Milken Institute Global Conference held Tuesday, May 1, 2013 at the Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Image: © Prensa Internacional/ZUMAPRESS.com)

The other abortion story dominating headlines this week is sensational in a different way, and it involves Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert. For those of you too young to remember, or don’t follow tennis, Connors and Evert were the sport’s biggest male and female stars in the 1970s. In 1974, during the height of their fame, both won their respective singles matches at Wimbledon. He was 21, she just 19. Making their story even more glamorous, the two young champions were engaged.

As someone who was an obsessive tennis player then, who followed Evert’s every Grand Slam, it’s hard to underestimate how influential she was in the sport, how adored “Chrissie” was. Young girls flooded into tennis, awed by her competitive drive, her strength, and her success. As for Connors, he was the first bad boy of tennis. I often wondered what she saw in him, a tantrum-throwing, foul-mouthed jerk. When their engagement suddenly ended in 1974, I thought, good riddance.

Now Connors has confirmed just how much a jerk he really is. In his new memoir, “The Outsider,” he suggests that the reason he and Evert broke up is because she got pregnant and had an abortion. There are two things wrong with this. The first being that Evert has never said one way or the other whether she did have an abortion.

As Jessica Luther points out in The Atlantic, Evert has been pretty forthcoming about other private matters in her life, including an affair and two divorces. That she chose not to reveal whether she did have an abortion was her decision, not Connors. The second problem is that Connors never bothered to speak with Evert before he chose to disclose this utterly private and difficult experience. Instead, he took what was her story to tell and used it to serve up controversy and sell books.

“Jimmy Connors: ‘Youthful passion’ left Chris Evert pregnant with our love child…” blared the headline on the New York Daily News,”but the timing was bad for her tennis future."

If I were Evert, I’d probably be throwing my tennis racket against the wall. Instead, the 60-year-old tennis icon who continues to be a prominent figure in the sport released this dignified statement:

In his book, Jimmy Connors has written about a time in our relationship that was very personal and emotionally painful. I am extremely disappointed that he used the book to misrepresent a private matter that took place 40 years ago and made it public, without my knowledge. I hope everyone can understand that I have no further comment.

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