Christine M. Flowers: Not your mother's back alley

IKNEW they'd try to spin this one, given the implications.

We've been told for decades that because of Roe v. Wade, abortion can now be safe and legal (at well over a million a year in the U.S., only the naive would call it "rare"). No more dirty coat hangers. Bye-bye, back alleys.

The legalization of abortion was supposed to have protected not only "a woman's right to choose," but women's health in general. Unfortunately, the advocates hadn't yet heard of Dr. Kermit B. Gosnell and his abortion house of horrors.

In the wake of revelations about the unethical practices, unlicensed practitioners and grisly conditions at the West Philadelphia family planning clinic (are mummified fetuses in jars a form of birth control?), I expected the pro-choice activists to circle the wagons and attack a much greater enemy than the doctor himself: pro-lifers.

They didn't disappoint me.

Abortion is still legal and widely available in Pennsylvania. Which means legalization hasn't entirely eliminated the questionable medical practitioners who plied their trade in the dingy pre-Roe alleys. It just moved them into the light of day on Lancaster Avenue.

But the pro-choice crowd simply can't admit that. They'll acknowledge that licensing requirements must be made stricter. They'll applaud the fact that Pennsylvania suspended Gosnell's license, and that he agreed to a suspension in Delaware. They'll say that this doctor wasn't typical of the average abortion provider.

And they'll do what our sister paper did in its editorial on the topic, conjuring up the images of Barnett Slepian and George Tiller, abortionists killed by radical anti-abortion activists:

"Sadly, threats, protests, and even the murder of doctors who perform abortions have forced many good physicians out of the abortion business, leaving others to fill the void."

Like I said, I saw it coming.

You can't risk undermining the whole decades-long charade that legalized abortion is a medical necessity and that only by removing virtually all restrictions on availability can you promote "reproductive health." The women who died at Gosnell's clinic might differ, if they still could.

Still, I'm willing to concede that the vast majority of abortion clinics don't resemble the hellhole on Lancaster Avenue.

I'm also willing to admit that most of the people who perform abortions believe they are providing a necessary service.

But what I refuse to accept is the spin that many pro-choice advocates apply to this and similar issues, trying to make it seem as if they are the only ones who care about women's health.

Or women's rights.

March is Women's History Month. And just as we are duty-bound to remember those in the civil-rights movement who fought for the inherent dignity of black Americans, we are equally obligated to remember women who fought - and still fight - for the inherent dignity of their sisters by opposing abortion.

Feminists for Life, established in 1972, is an organization that's never been accepted by so-called mainstream women's-rights groups like NOW and the Feminist Majority because of its belief that abortion harms women way more than it empowers them, tells us that the earliest feminists were anti-abortion, including Susan B. Anthony and New Jersey's own Alice Paul, who called abortion "the ultimate exploitation of women."

(And there are a surprising number of contemporary celebrities who are also pro-life, but who mostly fly under the radar because the pop-culture PR machine mostly disdains their point of view. People like Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond." Or Sports Illustrated cover girl Kathy Ireland. Or soap opera legend Kate Mulgrew. Or model-actress Jennifer O'Neill.)

These are just a few of the women who reject the false mandate that legitimate feminists must support abortion.

Which brings us back to the whole idea that legalized abortion has freed women from their reproductive shackles.

QUITE THE contrary. Easy access to abortion has devalued sex, relieving many women who really do use it as birth control - in New York City, there are 770 abortions for every 1,000 live births - from having to consider the consequences of being sexually intimate.

It has also, in some important ways, devalued life itself, since the fetus has lost any importance other than what the mother is willing to give it.

And now we also know that the fact that it's legal obviously doesn't guarantee its safety.

Maybe we haven't come such a long way, baby.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. Listen to her Sunday on WPHT/1210 AM from 4-6 p.m.