What Dr. Kermit Gosnell practiced was indefensible. His actions were horrific, disgusting, brutal, illegal and criminal. The guilty verdict was just. But what the Gosnell case did not prove is that we should ban abortion.
The anti-abortion movement is trying to use Gosnell’s atrocities to outlaw all abortions. It seeks to show that Gosnell’s butchery is the common practice at all legal abortion clinics. The movement’s leadership knows that is not true and that Gosnell violated federal regulations governing clinics. That is why he was convicted.
The State is supposed to inspect these clinics. Gosnell’s clinic was not inspected in more than 15 years, during which it evolved into a filthy “house of horrors,” violating not only the law, but standards of medical and human decency. Gosnell turned to second-trimester abortions to make his money because some women were without insurance and living on the fringes of society. His staff was untrained, the equipment was not sterile, and he took cash only.
Statistics show most women avoid second-term abortions. About 1.5 percent of U.S. abortions during a given year occur after 21 weeks, according to The Huffington Post. So why would any woman turn to Gosnell’s clinic? Many of his clients were reportedly poor, uninsured, uninformed and desperate. States with restrictions, such as waiting periods, often force women to go to a rogue clinic. Gosnell made his blood money off such women. Other women in similar circumstances had the choice to go to safe and sanitary clinics. A Bhutanese refugee who died at Gosnell’s clinic, tried unsuccessfully to get an abortion near her Virginia home when she was 15 weeks pregnant, only to be turned down three different times, according to The Huffington Post. She wound up going to Gosnell, and it cost her life.
It seems to me it is counter-intuitive to conclude the way to prevent the Gosnells of the world from subjecting women to their butchery is to completely ban abortion. What happened at the Gosnell clinic was not only a horrible crime, but a failure of the State to ensure its own prescribed standards were met. We know what happened before Roe v. Wade when abortions were banned in this country. The Gosnell clinic and back-alley abortions were the rule, not the exception. Wealthy women able to travel to places where abortions were legal were the only ones who could obtain safe abortions. The rest were left to the underbelly of society, to the back-alley butchers, or, out of sheer desperation, to resort to coat hangers. This is not some pro-choice propaganda, it is our history.
Before the Gosnell case hit national headlines, several states had hoped to place restrictions on clinics to make safe, legal abortions almost impossible. Arkansas tried to ban abortions after 12 weeks until a court blocked the law’s implementation. North Dakota will put a measure on the ballot in 2014 that, if passed, would define life as beginning at conception (for all practical purposes that would outlaw abortions).
Access to clinics performing abortions is severely limited in many southern states. Some states have simply implemented many roadblocks to make abortions difficult. In some cases, the requirements border on the bizarre. North Carolina has banned pregnancy terminating pills and subjected doctors to increasing lawsuits and heavy fines. These laws, known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, impose requirements not deemed medically necessary and are often imposed in the guise of women’s safety issues.
Abortion, no doubt, will remain a divisive issue in this country for a long time. Polls indicate the country is almost evenly split on the issue. Even as the country has become more liberal on other social issues, it has become more anti-abortion. Most of the pro-choice folks I know, like myself, are not “pro-abortion.” We believe, as former President Bill Clinton once said, “Abortion should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare.”
Religious belief is at the core of the anti-abortion movement. There is also an inconsistency there that often goes unchallenged — the idea that contraception is also wrong. If we are truly to make abortions rare not only in this country but across the globe, then we should be encouraging contraception.
Pro-life protesters often hold up posters with pictures of bloody fetuses, but outlawing abortion wouldn’t change those horrific pictures. In fact, those instances would become more frequent if we leave women in the hands of a Gosnell.
Ensure abortion is safe, legal and rare in this country, and be willing to pay for public service health workers to ensure clinics meet medical and safety standards. That’s the best way also to ensure there are no more Gosnell clinics in America.
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