Virginia: the Latest State to Exploit Philadelphia’s Gosnell Abortion Tragedy
While Kermit Gosnell — if convicted, one of the nation’s only known serial baby-murderers — sits in a cell awaiting trial in March, his name has been everywhere. Ever since the grand jury presentment detailing his alleged crimes of infant murder, illegal late-term abortions, drug trafficking and associated offenses was published in January of 2011, anti-choice legislators and activists nationwide have used his name to grease the passage of new abortion-clinic regulations.
Here in Pennsylvania, already one of the most anti-choice states in the country, the (primarily white male) legislature used the Gosnell case to pass some of the strictest abortion clinic regulations in the country. Though, at first blush, such action would make sense to anyone who doesn’t carefully follow abortion policy, it was, in short, a ruse. See, Gosnell’s clinic was operating illegally. The immense failure that enabled Gosnell’s years of alleged crimes to happen was not a failure of law; it was a failure of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia departments of health to enforce existing law. So the new guidelines Pennsylvania passed last year, mandating expensive architectural upgrades to clinics, do not actually increase anyone’s medical safety, but their passage does make abortion more difficult for poor and working women to access — which is why no medical associations supported the new regulations.
But no matter: rhetoric trumped reason, and anti-choice legislators made progress in their goal of shutting down, and in the meanwhile slowing down, abortion clinics in Pennsylvania.
Before Pennsylvania’s new law, the state had 20 freestanding abortion clinics. After the law was passed, five clinics stopped offering surgical abortions altogether, and now only offer “medical” abortions (i.e., abortion via pill). One Pittsburgh-area clinic shut down entirely. The remaining 14 embarked on navigating a byzantine process whereby they negotiated requirements and waivers with the Pennsylvania Board of Health.
Over and over, West Philadelphia’s tragedy has been exploited to shut down clinics.
The latest instance was last week in Virginia. While here in Pennsylvania the bill’s champions pretended they were interested in women’s safety, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell went off script and announced that the safety standards were pro-life initiatives.
The president of Virginia Society for Human Life, Olivia Gans Turner … cites an infamous Philadelphia clinic run by Kermit Gosnell, which state officials called a “house of horrors.” Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder after at least one woman and seven infants died in his office.
“Are they all quite as bad as Gosnell? Perhaps not,” Turner says. “But if one woman dies in a facility that could otherwise have been regulated and cared for in a way that would have provided some measure of protection … who is going to stand for justice for those women, if it isn’t the states and their responsibility under their Board of Health?”
Inspections conducted in the wake of the Gosnell grand jury presentment prove that Gosnell was not in any way a typical family doctor or abortion provider. Had Gosnell’s clinic been inspected under existing regulations, its operation would have been stopped decades ago.
Pennsylvania Rep. Michelle Brownlee is tired of seeing the tragedy that unfolded in her district exploited to restrict access to abortion. “I can pretty much say what I said on the floor of the House in Pennsylvania,” says Rep. Brownlee. “Kermit Gosnell was an [alleged] sociopathic murderer. This issue should have nothing whatsoever to do with abortion control or regulations. This is murder, pure and simple. And pro-life proponents have used this to enforce stricter regulations to stop a woman’s right of choice.”
PW will be exploring this topic more as the Gosnell trial approaches. Meanwhile, a piece that I wrote on the Gosnell case and its impact on abortion clinic regulation across the country will be published in a new anthology from Cherry Bomb Books that will be published on January 22 — the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe V. Wade decision. Other contributors include Katha Pollitt of The Nation, Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones and Elissa Bassist of the Rumpus. (Stay tuned for details on a Philly book release event.)