Gosnell Has Gotten Two Years of Press, Bills Enacted in Reaction

The Internet is alive with indignation that the “mainstream media” is ignoring the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the unlicensed physician and abortionist who ran a clinic in West Philadelphia for 31 years. Gosnell was indicted in January 2011 for the horrific murders of babies, and patients who had come to him seeking late-term abortions. I can’t vouch for the entirety of the “mainstream media,” but I can tell you that here in Philadelphia, the scene of the crime, there has been plenty of press (search Gosnell at Philly.com, for starters) since Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams first filed the Grand Jury report indicting Gosnell with 7 counts of first-degree murder and one instance of third-degree murder.

Gosnell is a murderer (alleged, as his trial is not over). I am pro-choice, meaning I believe individual women should make decisions about if and when they will be parents. I do not believe that zygotes are entitled to civil rights. But, as the law states, babies are. And that’s why Gosnell is now on trial, because he murdered babies and women. As for Gosnell, really nothing more need be said about him than that.

But not only has much more been said, much more has been done in the name of outrage at Kermit Gosnell. Using the fact of Gosnell as self-righteous cover, the Republican-dominated General Assembly in Pennsylvania pushed through a bill to add another completely unnecessary layer of regulation to stand-alone abortion providers in the state, forcing them to meet the code for ambulatory facilities, changes which include, for instance, major alterations to the physical plant that have not a thing to do with ensuring safety for women during abortion. And that’s because the law wasn’t about safety or women, it was about regulating lawful abortion providers out of business. Some “pro-life” advocates of the bill at that time did not bother to hide their glee, although they were careful to wrap it up in outrage about Gosnell.

Michael McMonagle, president of the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, said he hoped clinics would close.

“The other side claims that 17 of the 20 facilities in Pennsylvania would close down, and to be candid, I hope that’s true,” McMonagle said. “But I don’t think that is true. We see this as a small step toward the day when all women and children in Pennsylvania are protected from abortion.”

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is now set to pass SB 3, a bill that would ban abortion coverage in the state insurance exchanges, which would have the no doubt intended effect of eliminating it as a private insurance offering. Which is a huge health problem for pregnant women, because, as adults know, not all pregnancies go according to plan. But, as the majority of elected state representatives seem to believe that women need to be protected from abortion, rather than provided a safe, stigma-free way to exercise their legal right to an abortion, it will likely pass. These bills are called TRAP bills, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. They are happening all over the country. A lot of people are very sure they will miraculously stop abortion. But history and evidence shows otherwise.

For many feminists, though, the question is why did women go to Gosnell in the first place? His clinic did not have a great reputation. Why didn’t they go to Planned Parenthood? The original grand jury report is careful to depict the differences between Gosnell’s facility and abortion providers who scrupulously adhere to the letter of the law and fiercely protect the rights and privacy of the women who come to them. Despite the stringent oversight on the books of abortion providers by Pennsylvania, Gosnell’s clinic was routinely given a pass even though over the years numerous code violations were noted.

In testimony given before a Senate Committee upon Gosnell’s indictment, former patients indicated they went there because Gosnell was cheap, and because there were no protesters in front of his clinic. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams testified before a State Senate Committee to the blind eye turned by the state departments charged with oversight.

From the grand jury report:

There were several oversight agencies that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago. But none of them did, not even after Karnamaya Mongar’s death. In the end, Gosnell was only caught by accident, when police raided his offices to seize evidence of his illegal prescription selling.

Various local hospitals dealing with patient consequences of botched abortions, the National Abortion Federation, and even the Pennsylvania Department of Health itself all noted ways in which Gosnell’s clinic violated regulations. Due to the politics surrounding abortion, though, the Health Department decided to stop inspecting abortion providers altogether.

…the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased, even though, as Gosnell proved, that meant both women and babies would pay.

Even when physicians personally complained about Gosnell to the State Health Department, no action was taken against him.

Several different attorneys, representing women injured by Gosnell, contacted the department. A doctor from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia hand-delivered a complaint, advising the department that numerous patients he had referred for abortions came back from Gosnell with the same venereal disease. The medical examiner of Delaware County informed the department that Gosnell had performed an illegal abortion on a 14-year-old girl carrying a 30-week-old baby. And the department received official notice that a woman named Karnamaya Mongar had died at Gosnell’s hands. Yet not one of these alarm bells – not even Mrs. Mongar’s death – prompted the department to look at Gosnell or the Women’s Medical Society.

The Department of State, which oversees the licensing of physicians, had just as much reason to investigate Gosnell:

…in many ways State had more damning information than anyone else. Almost a decade ago, a former employee of Gosnell presented the Board of Medicine with a complaint that laid out the whole scope of his operation: the unclean, unsterile conditions; the unlicensed workers; the unsupervised sedation; the underage abortion patients; even the over-prescribing of pain pills with high resale value on the street.

Only because the FBI was investigating Gosnell for the illegal sale of narcotics was the lid blown off of Gosnell’s shop of horrors. Why? The grand jury report hazards a guess:

Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. 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.

So, Kermit Gosnell is on trial, along with several of his employees. What about officials at the Health and State Departments who neglected their duties even in the face of murder? Any charges there? Not yet.

“…some unidentified state officials involved with the case, but who have
not been charged with any crime, are billing taxpayers six figures and
counting for outside counsel and are no longer cooperating with

And the Republican-sponsored bills to make abortion in Pennsylvania inaccessible, will the laws Pennsylvania passed and plans to pass prevent the horrors of Gosnell? No, they will not. They will make them more ubiquitous. Women who want an abortion and can afford it will go to the safe, legal clinics and pay the prices that continue to rise as more TRAP laws are put in place. Low-income women, restricted from using Medicaid or other public funds (and soon restricted from using private insurance in Pennsylvania), women who are in desperate straits, will find more Gosnells. Pennsylvania lawmakers had the chance to stand for women, for safety, but instead they chose to take a self-righteous stand against abortion, by being outraged about a murderer, as if that took some extra moral fortitude that others don’t seem to have. The laws will lead to more deaths, not fewer.


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