Kermit Gosnell, a doctor whose West Philadelphia abortion clinic was allegedly referred to as a “house of horrors,” was charged with 8 counts of murder in what prosecutors called a “complete regulatory collapse.” Among other atrocities, he was accused of delivering seven babies and then killing them with scissors. The grand jury report contains 300-pages of what the AP called “stomach-turning” details about conditions at the clinic, which catered mostly to poor and minority women. At least two women died as a result of the procedures. Gosnell’s wife and nine of his employees have also been charged.
Gosnell apparently made millions of dollars over his thirty-year career, by performing late-term abortions, which are very difficult to access. Abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy is illegal in Pennsylvania, and most doctors won’t perform abortions after 20 weeks because of the risks. This did not stop Gosnell, who typically “induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord.”
Women would come from all over the state and region for these horrible procedures, largely because they had no better options, although women from the suburbs were allegedly given slightly better treatment because Gosnell believed that they were more likely to file complaints. Authorities say that the clinic took in $10,000 – $15,000 a day.
None of the employees other than Gosnell had any kind of medical background, and one was a high school student. When the clinic was raided, prosecutors say the “place reeked of cat urine because of the animals that were allowed to roam freely, furniture and blankets were stained with blood, instruments were not properly sterilized, and disposable medical supplies were used over and over.”
State regulators repeatedly ignored complaints about Gosnell and the 46 lawsuits filed against him. The story is horrible on two levels: first because the state did not inspect the clinic at all after 1993 because of a “pro abortion rights attitude,” although being pro-choice does not mean that the state should not conduct inspections or make sure that abortions are being performed in safe and sanitary conditions.
But it’s also horrifying because it illustrates the dramatic need for safe, legal and accessible abortions, even late in pregnancies. As Amie Newman writes for RHRealityCheck,
“Most of the women who visited Dr. Gosnell would not have chosen a center like his if they had other options, or if they knew they had other options, of course. It’s why making abortion care more difficult to access – through state laws which prohibit abortion coverage in the new state exchanges to laws which make abortion care illegal for any number of reasons – can be a deadly decision. Women do not stop needing or making the decision to have an abortion because we make abortion increasingly more difficult to access. They just end up at centers like the one run by Dr. Gosnell and his staff.”
Most abortion clinics are safe and sanitary – Gosnell’s is a grisly exception. But this story is yet another reminder of what can happen when abortion is difficult to access, particularly for disadvantaged women. And the fact that the state allowed this clinic to stay open for so long demonstrates a blatant disregard for women’s health and safety.
Photo from alexandralee.
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