Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor whose clinic gained attention for his criminal performance of late-term abortions, was found guilty yesterday of three counts of first-degree murder. He had been accused of killing four babies and one woman, but was found guilty of only three of the babies’ deaths.
Gosnell, 72, operated an illegally-run clinic in Philly that provided late-term abortions to low-income women. He was accused of killing live babies after delivery with scissors, as opposed to terminating the pregnancies during standard late-term abortion procedure. Gosnell’s case became a lightening rod for anti-abortion activists who attempted to paint Gosnell as the standard in abortion care. Similarly, abortion rights supporters underscored the reason abortion needs to be safe and legal is to keep patients safe from doctors like him.
In a statement, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, criticized the state of Pennsylvania for slowly chipping away at affordable abortion access, which allowed Kermit Gosnell to exist:
“Justice was served to Kermit Gosnell today and he will pay the price for the atrocities he committed. We hope that the lessons of the trial do not fade with the verdict. Anti-choice politicians, and their unrelenting efforts to deny women access to safe and legal abortion care, will only drive more women to back-alley butchers like Kermit Gosnell.“From the lack of funding available for low-income women to access abortion services, to the sharp decline of reputable providers in Pennsylvania, to the gross negligence of authorities to enforce the law after complaints were filed against Gosnell, each aspect of this case must be a teachable moment for lawmakers: until we reject the politicization of women’s medical care and leave these decisions where they belong — between a woman and her family and her doctor — women will never be safe. The horrifying story of Kermit Gosnell is a peek into the world before Roe v. Wade made legal a woman’s right to make her own choices.“NARAL Pro-Choice America’s annual Who Decides? publication has given Pennsylvania an ‘F’ grade precisely because it has passed medically unnecessary laws that restrict access to safe and legal abortion care. It is my sincere hope that the women inGosnell’s clinic did not suffer in vain and that Pennsylvania, and every state, will step up and join us in making the protection of women’s ability to get, safe, high quality, and legal abortion care a top priority.”
Journalist Bryce Covert expounded on this same idea last month in a Think Progress piece entitled “Poverty Drove Women Into Kermit Gosnell’s Clinic.” In it, Covert writes:
The answer for many [who used Gosnell's clinic] was likely simple: finances. Abortions are expensive, and they get even more expensive the later into a pregnancy they occur. The average abortion costs $470, and scraping that money together if you’re living in poverty and on a razor thin budget takes time. Seventy percent of women who have had an abortion would have done it earlier in their pregnancy if they hadn’t had to delay to get the money. By the time the funds are raised, the pregnancy can be so far along that few providers will perform an abortion, but Gosnell regularly performed late-term procedures.
Covert’s piece, which I recommend reading in full, goes on to explain how Gosnell provided abortions for nearly $1,000 less than safe, regulated clinics, which he was able to afford by not employing real nurses or having the proper equipment. (Gosnell’s wife, a cosmetologist, helped perform abortions.)
Gosnell’s victims have gotten justice now. However, the low-income women of Pennsylvania are still being victimized so long as their access to legal, safe and affordable abortions are restricted. Nothing happens in a vacuum and Gosnell’s trial shouldn’t be seen as a “win” for abortion opponents, but instead a warning to everyone that “back alley abortions” still exist in 20-freaking-13. Opponents of legal abortion seem not to understand that abortion will always exist and criminalizing this necessary health care for women will only send it underground, where it’s unregulated and unsafe. True reproductive justice means having the access to make decisions for yourself, not being subject to the whims and circumstances of poverty.
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[Image of dictionary definition of abortion via Shutterstock]