Editorial: Lessons of the Kermit Gosnell murder case
Limiting access to abortion does not stop the procedures from happening — that’s the takeaway from the Kermit Gosnell trial. For more than 15 years, Gosnell operated a cash-only, squalid West Philadelphia practice that specialized in late-term abortions for desperate, uninsured women.
This week, Gosnell was found guilty of murdering three infants who survived abortions he performed as well as 24 counts of terminating a pregnancy after the 24-week gestational limit imposed by Pennsylvania and involuntary manslaughter. He is going to prison for the rest of his life.
But it’s clear if women had better options, they wouldn’t have risked — and in some cases lost — their lives in Gosnell’s greedy hands. His staff said as much during the trial.
Gosnell had once performed mostly first-trimester abortions, his staff testified, but that changed as first-trimester patients found better options than his chaotic, dirty clinic, and second-trimester patients increasingly had fewer options, according to the New York Times. Gosnell came to rely on untrained staff, unsterile equipment and unorthodox abortion methods that included women delivering babies that were then “snipped” with scissors after they were born alive, the paper reported.
If Kamamaya Mongar had any other option, it is unlikely she would have trusted Gosnell. In 2009 and at 15-weeks pregnant, the Bhutanese refugee was searching for an abortion provider close to her home in Virginia. She went to three clinics before she found Gosnell. She was 41 years old when Gosnell administered to her a fatal drug overdose during the abortion procedure.
Women face many barriers when it comes to controlling what happens in their wombs, including a shortage of trained abortion providers, state laws that make getting an abortion more complicated, Medicaid restrictions and fewer hospitals providing abortion services, according to the National Abortion Federation. About 87 percent of counties in the U.S. have no identifiable abortion provider, the federation reports.
Yet about 18 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion, according to 2009 data from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 784,507 legal abortions were performed that year.
In the 1950s and ’60s, when abortions were illegal in the U.S., the Guttmacher Institute estimates the number of illegal abortions ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. One analysis concluded that an estimated 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions occurred in 1967 alone.
Back-alley abortions, like the ones women were forced to endure before legal abortion, much like the ones Gosnell performed, hurt women.
Mildred Hanson has seen this first hand. Hanson has provided abortions for 30 years and was a young doctor in the ’60s. She lent her voice to Physicians for Reproductive Health, an online pro-choice project, to remind people of the painful aftermath of illegal abortion.
“We saw women who ... went to illegal abortionists,” Hanson wrote in an essay for the site. “They bled to death. They died of infection, or they did self-mutilation procedures in an attempt to end the pregnancy: coat hangers in the uterus, slippery elm in the uterus, potassium permanganate in their vagina — anything they could think of. These women were left as reproductive cripples: Many of them needed hysterectomies, many of them were left with pelvic abscesses, left with infertility, so that at a time in their life when they wanted children, they were unable to have those children.”
Limiting access to abortion doesn’t change the demand and need for the procedure, it pushes it underground into stinking lairs like the one Gosnell ran.
There are some people who say Gosnell is an example of the larger abortion industry. As New Jersey U.S. Rep. Chris Smith put it, “abortionists may have cleaner sheets than Gosnell, and better sterilized equipment and better trained accomplices, but what they do — what Gosnell did — kill babies and hurt women — is the same.”
Smith’s comparison of Gosnell to legal abortion providers ignores the entirety of the trial, which established Gosnell’s practices were illegal and dangerous.
What abortion providers do is legal, necessary and safe.
Reducing access to abortion treats women as second-class citizens incapable of deciding whether to have a child at age 45 or age 15, carry a rapist’s baby, or add another child to a family living paycheck to paycheck.