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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/21/13

What the Gosnell Abortion Trial Really Shows Us

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The Philadelphia murder trial of late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has now made the national news. Gosnell is accused of murdering seven preterm infants who were born alive during attempted abortions, as well as a pregnant Nepalese woman who died from an overdose of a sedative delivered by Gosnell's untrained staff.

Some anti-choice activists are pointing to the Gosnell case to demonstrate why abortion should be outlawed. But doing so is naive - and downright invalid - for a number of reasons.

First of all, Gosnell does not represent the average abortion provider. Those deaths clearly resulted from medical malpractice. According to the grand jury report, "[t]he clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment - such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff - was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn't used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains."

Evidence showing aborted fetuses, bagged, in a freezer
Evidence showing aborted fetuses, bagged, in a freezer
(Image by Phila PD Evidence)
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Evidence showing aborted fetuses, bagged, in a freezer by Phila PD Evidence

But the clinic conditions are only the beginning. The story gets much worse.

The grand jury report describes several cases in which Gosnell butchered - but didn't kill - his patients. There's the case in which Gosnell tore a woman's cervix and colon while trying to extract the fetus. There's the 19-year-old girl who fell into shock from blood loss after Gosnell punctured her uterus, and who subsequently had to undergo a hysterectomy. There were, of course, untreated infections. In many of these cases, Gosnell simply ignored or dismissed the problems, so responsible treatment was delayed until the women finally were able to seek proper medical help elsewhere.

Furthermore, Gosnell performed illegal abortions after 30 weeks of gestation, while Pennsylvania law bans abortion after 24 weeks, when a fetus is considered viable outside the womb. Then, to cover it up, he killed the infants by severing their spinal cords.

The rabid anti-choice crowd fails to mention the fact that those things do not typically happen at Planned Parenthood or other reputable abortion facilities. They won't let the facts get in the way of their typically hysterical propaganda.

Sadly, if draconian right-wing legislation continues to erode women's ability to obtain abortions in some states, and/or if Planned Parenthood continues to face funding cuts due to right-wing stubbornness on the issue, then surely we will see more Gosnell-type practices spring up to fill the void.

Outlawing abortion doesn't stop it from happening. It just forces women to resort to Gosnell-type back-alley providers. And, in doing so, it puts women's lives at risk. There is nothing pro-life about that.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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