What Kermit Gosnell's Murder Conviction Means for Abortion Rights

4 years ago

What does the conviction of Kermit Gosnell mean for abortion rights?

There's the surface result, that already polarized comment sections, news reports, Twitter feeds, blogs -- pretty much anywhere an opinion can be shared -- split even further on how this horrific incident can be tagged as central in the abortion debate.

There's the leap of questionable logic, that the conviction of a doctor for killing babies outside the womb and ending the life of a patient through the faulty administration of anesthetic, and ending the lives of late-term fetuses with terrible practices like taking scissors to the spinal cord, is somehow a commentary on the safe provision of abortion in countless other circumstances in a country where it is legal, regardless of how unpalatable this may be to some who would seek to reverse this option.

There is the response of the main voices in the pro-choice community, that Gosnell's actions are indeed criminal and in fact inhumane, and not to be confused with the belief in a woman's right to choose.

And that's what really makes it a cloudy question even upon basic consideration. What comparison can be drawn between the legal provision of abortion and other reproductive health services in the majority of clinics, and providing unsafe procedures in a filthy facility staffed with no other trained medical personnel, where investigators discovered a horror show of entire fetuses and severed body parts in jars?

Caption: May 13, 2013 - Philadelphia, PA, USA - Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, right, gets escorted to a van leaving the Criminal Justice Center after getting convicted on three counts of first degree murder on Monday, May 13, 2013, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Credit Image: © Yong Kim/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com)

It actually seems reasonable to say none.

As Kelly DeBie wrote on DeBie Hive and on BlogHer in April:

It is horrific. Unimaginable. Criminal.

He's on trial because he broke the law.

He's on trial because he employed unlicensed employees.

He's on trial because he was performing abortions past the legal limit, delivering babies.

He's on trial because he was delivering those viable newborns, then killing them.

He's on trial because at least one of his patients died due to his actions.

He's on trial because he violated state laws pertaining to abortion.

He's on trial because he violated health codes and made women sick.

He's on trial for criminal acts.

He's not on trial because he is an abortion provider.

But a small sampling of comments from leaders from both the pro-life and pro-choice communities indicate that Gosnell's actions will indeed have an impact on an already swiftly changing reproductive rights landscape, where bills are increasingly introduced to regulate -- and in many cases, restrict -- reproductive health services, with some states down to one surgical abortion clinic.

There are many other bills introduced to regulate the actual physical spaces of facilities that provide abortions, in moves some say are meant to cripple them financially, essentially shutting them down.

Prominent pro-life activists insinuate or outright say that Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations that provide safe and legal abortions, liberals, and/or pro-choice individuals co-sign or at the very least encourage behavior like Gosnell's. Meanwhile, his actions are condemned by reasonable people of any ideology:

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards tweeted:

From Planned Parenthood's Action Fund:

Using Gosnell's actions as justification for the rolling back of abortion rights, Tea Party mouthpiece Sarah Palin summed up the conservative rhetoric neatly on Twitter:

Missing from the conservative rhetoric is the consideration that the "services" Gosnell's clients sought were all they could perhaps reasonably access in their poor, majority-black, neighborhood. Missing is the explanation of what one will reasonably accept when options are few and desperation is high.

Tara Murtha's Philadelphia Weekly story goes in-depth into the timeline and specific circumstances of Gosnell's practice, and how it was allowed to continue in a state that has limited processes for regulating such facilities.

His butcher shop of an abortion factory and prescription-pill mill were operated in the unbridled pursuit of profit. He made little pretense to care for patients. When not fatally neglecting women and killing babies, he regularly hit them and forced abortions on underage girls at their guardians’ request.

The depths of inhumanity that can reside behind a gentle face is one facet of this story. That racism and sexism—both of his own and the institutions that failed to respond to complaints—that enabled the atrocity is another.

“Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that,” states the report. “But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.”

NARAL President Ilyse Hogue writes on CNN.com that the provision of safe and legal abortion is intended to prevent travesties like Gosnell's decades of inhumane, unregulated treatment to continue and to be more widespread:

His willful neglect of the law and of the women who went to him for help is egregious and is exactly the kind of crime that the pro-choice movement has sought to end by bringing abortion care above ground since Roe v. Wade was adjudicated in 1973.

Why is this so important? Because anti-abortion activists would have the public believe the exact opposite.

They are exploiting the Gosnell case to boost their 40-year-old agenda to ban abortion altogether. These opportunists are shamelessly using the case of these victimized women to take even more control away from our ability to make private decisions about how, when, and with whom we have families.

Meanwhile, pro-life organizations, like political action committee Susan B. Anthony's List, maintain that Gosnell's practices are indicative of problems with other abortion providers in the country, and his conviction is a sign that changes are coming. President Marjorie Dannenfelser is quoted on Breitbart:

Kermit Gosnell is the tip of the iceberg. Two former employees have blown the whistle on 'meat market-style assembly line abortions' at Planned Parenthood of Delaware. Hollywood-celebrated late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart has been caught on tape calling babies in the womb 'meat in a crock pot.' The inhumanity of the abortion industry has never been clearer and now it’s time for America to see how deep this lack of respect for life goes.

It's early to say what effect the Gosnell case will have on abortion abortion laws, but political movements continue to increase regulation. On NPR today:

Republicans on the House side of Capitol Hill have already launched a series of efforts. Leaders of the are asking state public health officials to provide "details on state licensing of abortion clinics and providers, information on revoked licenses, state inspections of clinics" and other details about regulation of abortion providers. The deadline for responses is May 22.

Meanwhile, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has asked every state attorney general "if state and local governments are being stymied in their efforts to protect the civil rights of newborns and their mothers by legal or financial obstacles that are within the federal government's power to address."

What is known for sure is that no one should suffer at the hands of a person like Kermit Gosnell, and justice done in this case means that no one will suffer because of him again. Gosnell avoided the death penalty by agreeing to serve life in prison without parole.

What do you think his case has to do with the current climate of abortion and reproductive rights in the United States?

Contributing Editor Laurie White lives online at LaurieMedia, and @lauriewrites.

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