Why The Response To A Philadelphia Abortion Doctor’s Ongoing Murder Trial Gets It All Wrong

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

A Philadelphia-area abortion doctor is currently on trial for murder, based on gruesome reports about the illegal techniques that he and his staff used to perform late-term abortions for desperate, low-income women. Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s high-profile case is sparking understandable outrage, as evidence has emerged that he may have taken advantage of vulnerable women, violated multiple medical codes, and performed inhumane surgeries.

According to prosecutors, Gosnell’s clinic went 17 years without an inspection — and abortion opponents are leveraging that to go after other abortion clinics that have no affiliation with Gosnell or his crimes. “Unfortunately and tragically in Pennsylvania, facilities were going uninspected for years,” Maria Gallagher, a lobbyist with the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said in reference to the ongoing trial. That’s a big reason why abortion opponents like Gallagher were able to push Pennsylvania legislators to tighten restrictions on abortion clinics in 2011, updating state law to require abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as outpatient surgery centers. According to NPR, Gosnell’s case was “mentioned frequently” as Pennsylvania lawmakers considered, and ultimately approved, the unnecessary new restrictions.

If proven guilty, there’s no doubt that Gosnell and his staff committed horrific crimes. But the knee-jerk reaction to his murder trial — the assumption that most abortion doctors aren’t adhering to medical standards, and that the women who visit health clinics are in grave danger of receiving unsafe care — is off-base. In fact, as the right-wing pushes for tighter abortion clinic standards to make sure nothing like this ever happens again, that crusade could end up having exactly the opposite effect.

Pennsylvania’s abortion clinic restrictions fit into a larger anti-choice effort across the country that is solely intended to force abortion clinics to close their doors. In states like North Dakota, Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, and Texas, abortion opponents are pushing legislation to force abortion clinics to adhere to unnecessary new regulations in the name of “ensuring women’s safety.” That sounds like a noble goal. But these measures — known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP — aren’t really about ensuring women’s safety at all. As Mississippi’s Republican governor once admitted behind closed doors at an anti-choice event, TRAP laws are about indirectly restricting women’s access to abortion by shutting down health clinics.

In Pennsylvania specifically, one Planned Parenthood affiliate was forced to spend nearly a half a million dollars to get two of its clinics into compliance with the new regulations. That involved unnecessary updates like installing hands-free sinks, replacing the floors, and updating the air-conditioning system. The affiliate’s CEO, Dayle Steinberg, explained to NPR that the state’s stricter requirements didn’t actually do anything to improve the care provided to the women at her clinics, where the complication rate is already less than one-tenth of 1 percent. “They were thinly disguised as improving patient safety, when really it was about increasing the cost for abortion providers — hoping that some of them wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Steinberg said.

In fact, women’s health advocates consider TRAP measures to be some of the most dangerous threats to women’s access to safe abortion services across the country. In North Dakota, where anti-choice Republicans are advancing the most stringently anti-abortion legislation in the nation, one doctor warned lawmakers that the new TRAP law will force women into dangerous, “backroom” abortion procedures. Retired pediatrician Ted Kleiman worked at a hospital before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, and he watched women die from botched abortions. “The thought of returning to those days is really beyond imagination,” Kleiman told his state lawmakers, urging them not to shut down the only abortion clinic left in North Dakota.

Women’s health advocates, particularly those who work at health clinics, are extremely concerned about ensuring that women receive the highest standards of reproductive care. But clinics that help women terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester of pregnancy — which can involve simply taking a pill, or having a less-invasive surgical procedure — aren’t analogous to Gosnell’s clinic, which performed incredibly late-term, illegal abortion services. Over-regulating the clinics like Planned Parenthood’s, where the vast majority of patients are already receiving incredibly safe care, will actually limit women’s options instead of keeping them safe. That could lead more desperate women who feel like they don’t have any other options left to seek out doctors like Gosnell.

This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.


Photo: loop_oh/flickr

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

This man is a monster! This story should be followed by ALL news media outlets!

Deirdre G.
Deirdre G.2 years ago

Annmari L. has got it in one

Heather G.
Heather G.2 years ago

Why is it that the person here who considers herself PRO-LIFE is inviting others to commit suicide, talking about giving birth to a bicycle, and thinks women need someone else to make decisions for them??

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

Elaine A.......I wonder who you are referring to ELAINE !!!!......No, I'm sure you are the only smart one..... you keep telling us that anyway !! Have a wonderful night, ELAINE !!!!

Leia P.
Leia P.2 years ago

this is exactly what anti choicers want

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad2 years ago

stacey t. If it's abortion in or out of the womb...it's murder, DUH! Baby loses chance to live, at the hands of an abortionist. When you locate a woman who has given birth to a bicycle after 9 months of pregnancy...Then be so kind as to inform the rest of those who do not appear to "Get it"!!! Thanks, I'll be waiting....Forever!

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad2 years ago

Berny p. Sorry to burst your fallacy of bubbles...You are completely wrong!!!

Dennis D.
Dennis D.2 years ago

Sharon Beth L. I would agree with you in principle. However, all such laws and regulations that have been passed to date has one objective in mind. To shut down all planned parenthood clinics and any private clinics that may do abortions.

So while I applaud any effort that would make a clinic safer and even more sterile. At the same time it can be helped be noted that such laws and regulations are most often are passed for one reason. For the eventual closing of any clinic that dares to preform an abortion at any time.

Annaliisa A.
Annaliisa A.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin2 years ago

Gosnell's clinic had nothing to do with abortions. He's basically an untrained butcher, who committed crimes against his patients. Some women died after his "surgeries". He catered to poor and defenseless women, with no other choices. Back-alley clinics are frequent in countries with abortion bans. There's a risk we'll see a return of these in the US, if politicians keep using Gosnell as an example. But the authoroties appointed to do inspections failed or were payed off and several women payed the price. Gosnell did this for profit and his staff is as guilty as he.