Five Lessons from the Gosnell Abortion-Clinic Controversy

The hot conservative story of late last week, starting with a USA Today op-ed by Kristen Powers, was the failure of the mainstream media to cover the horrifying case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor accused of committing infanticide, and maiming and, in some cases, killing his patients (most of them poor women) in an unsanitary abortion clinic. Perhaps the story does deserve more coverage than it has received, but the lessons to be drawn from it are different from the conclusions conservatives are making. Here are five points currently being overlooked in the coverage of the controversy.


Feminists Were on It

Whether the mainstream national media has given adequate attention to the Gosnell case is a matter of judgment, although claims that it's been entirely ignored are incorrect. (Consider, for example, Sabrina Tavernise's lengthy New York Times story from 2011.) But it should be remembered who hasn't been ignoring the story: feminist writers. Many prominent feminists, for obvious reasons, reacted with horror to the charges against Gosnell. To the extent that the mainstream media has not been as attentive, there's a clear reason: Gosnell's victims were predominantly poor women of color. As Salon's Irin Carmon puts it, "How often do such places devote their energies to covering the massive health disparities and poor outcomes that are wrought by our current system? How often are the travails of the women whose vulnerabilities Gosnell exploited—the poor, immigrants and otherwise marginalized people—given wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage?" The lack of coverage by broadcast networks is simply part of a larger trend of ignoring the problem of massive inequality in the United States.


Pro-Choice Policies Are Not the Problem

Claims of media bias by conservatives dovetail with the suggestion that the Gosnell clinic is some sort of embarrassment for the pro-choice movement. But this is a non-sequitur. Let's start with this basic fact: Infanticide and medically unnecessary post-viability abortions were already illegal under Pennsylvania law. Pro-choicers do not, of course, oppose either policy. The problem here is not a lack of law on the books, but that the state devotes insufficient law-enforcement resources to protecting the interests of the disadvantaged. It's even more important to remember that Pennsylvania, to put it mildly, does not have liberal abortion laws. The Keystone State—which was the instigator of the 1992 case that substantially watered down the protections of Roe v. Wade—has long been a pioneer in passing extensive, arbitrary regulations of abortion that are among the nation's most onerous. Far from being a demonstration of the failure of pro-choice policies, the Gosnell case shows that opponents of reproductive freedom favor regulatory obstacles that endanger women's health.


Improving Access Prevents Unethical Providers

The belated conservative reaction to the Gosnell case is a classic example of the bait-and-switch at the heart of the increasing proliferation of abortion regulations. Anti-choicers talk a great deal about the relatively tiny number of medically unnecessary post-viability abortions—which Roe v. Wade explicitly allows to be banned and are already illegal—in order to pass regulations that apply at every stage of pregnancy. The most common of these regulations—prohibitions on public funding for abortion, waiting periods, parental-involvement laws, mandatory ultrasounds, and the targeted regulation of abortion providers—are not merely irrelevant, but counterproductive. All of these legal burdens make obtaining a safe first-trimester abortion more difficult. Although the Gosnell case will be used by opponents of reproductive freedom to advocate for more arbitrary regulations, to argue that a single doctor performing already illegal post-viability abortions means that we should make safe pre-viability abortions less accessible is self-refuting nonsense. As Carmon puts it, women kept going to Gosnell's clinic "because they felt they had no alternative." That alternative is clinics where even poor women can obtain safe first-trimester abortions in a timely manner, without having to navigate a blizzard of regulatory impediments with the sole purpose of inhibiting access to abortion.


Beware of Women's Safety Used as a Pretext

Some proposed regulations of abortion clinics, which are allegedly intended to make the procedure safer, superficially appear to have relevance to the Gosnell case. But at their heart, these regulations mimic other arbitrary abortion regulations: Their intent is to prevent all abortions, including those performed by clinics that are perfectly safe. There is no question that Gosnell's ongoing operation represented a massive regulatory failure on the part of the Pennsylvania government. But shutting down the Gosnell clinic hardly required laws specifically targeted to abortion clinics. Generally applicable laws regulating all medical procedures—the ones requiring licensed doctors to maintain ethically operated, sanitary facilities—could have been applied by the state in this case. Laws such as the one recently passed in Virginia, conversely, are designed not to prevent criminal outliers like Gosnell but to create massive burdens on all abortion providers, including the vast majority who are ethical. In states like Mississippi, TRAP laws have made it nearly impossible for abortion clinics to operate—a result that will force more women to turn to unsafe alternatives. In the end, the constant use of women's health as a pretext by people who just oppose legal abortion makes the application of health regulations that really are about protecting women's health more difficult.


Stigmatizing Abortion Hurts Women

Finally, the Gosnell case is an illustration of a deeper problem with abortion politics in the United States. A number of pundits—most notably Slate's William Saletan and The Daily Beast's Megan McArdle—have argued that even though it's best that abortion remain formally legal, pro-choicers should concede that abortion is an icky, immoral procedure that should be discouraged. But the stigmatization of abortion, as it functions in the United States, greatly harms women. In most other liberal democracies, the Gosnell clinic wouldn't be an issue because even poor women could obtain safe abortions in a public hospital. In the United States, even where abortion is legal the constant stigma attached to the procedure—up to and including acts of violence against abortion providers and clinics—contributes to a making safe abortions less accessible. The best way to prevent future Gosnells is to treat pre-viability abortions like the ordinary, safe medical procedures they in fact are, not to engage in sexist moralizing.

The Gosnell case certainly represents a failure by the state of Pennsylvania to protect women. Enacting more regulations that make safe, pre-viability abortions more scarce would be precisely the wrong lesson to take from it, and would mean more Gosnells, not fewer. Making abortion safe, legal, and accessible for all women is more important than ever.


All the while they are ignoring a case in which 'pro-life' policies DIRECTLY contributed to a death. The death of Savita Halappanavar. A study completed just last week concluded that the policies the anti-abortion crowd want to put into place here are the main contributor to Mrs. Halappanavar's death on October 28, 2012.

See more:

Please do not forget that this story is also about late pregnancies termination. Even as a pro-choice you cannot tolerate killing a breathing premature baby, in my view.
I remember an old professor of obstetric who said in a meeting a couple of years ago that no women surgeon were voluntering to enter the operating room when it was in order to perform a late abortion ( In France it might be legal in a few cases like when the mother's life is at stake;)
Spain had been a country were women went for very late abortion.
It is a difficult subject but not one you can morally safely ignore-as it seems to me you did.

NB: Of course one has to know that sometimes desperate mothers, after giving birth alone do kill their unwanted babies in the confusion and pain of labor and it is not ethical to refuse a very late abortion and do not support the women in need of a solution for not raising a child.

In my view, when the pregnancy is so advanced that the baby will have to be put to the world and killed savagely or the mother to risk a uterus perforation by cutting and killing the baby in her womb to prevent him/her to breath alone otherwise, it is not about pro-choice anymore and you have to support the woman and help her to get a baby and donate him or her for adoption.

(As much as I feel that making a woman pregnant for money by implanting a donated egg from another woman fecundated by your precious genetic material is a form of modern slavery, I think adoption has to be a solution sometimes.)

Surrogate pregnancy is not slavery provided the surrogate's rights are protected. Using surrogates from a third world country who lack the education and sophistication to understand their rights is arguably on the verge of slavery. But note that the surrogates mentioned in the Bible, such as Hagar, were LITERALLY slaves, and God does not seem to disapprove of the practice itself (although He favored Isaac, the miraculous son of Sarah, over Ishmael, the surrogate borne by Hagar). And those surrogate pregnancies were accomplished through what modern people consider adultery (but Biblically, it was not adultery if the HUSBAND cheated with a SINGLE woman, such as his slave or a prostitute).

Ideally, a surrogate does not do it for money, although she is entitled to support (in case she has to interrupt her career) and medical expenses. Some women have been serial surrogates because they enjoy pregnancy and want to help other women. Some have been relatives of the infertile women (even a few mothers or mothers-in-law). And of course we now do it "immaculately" (pun intended) without actual sexual contact, which would be offensive to those surrogate grandmothers!

If you watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 2000's, the writers used the "prenatal fetal transplant" to get around a casting dilemma. Nana Visitor, who played the Bajoran officer Kira Nerys, started a family offscreen with her co-star, later husband, Alexander Siddig, but her CHARACTER could not be allowed to become a mother onscreen and be saddled with a child. So they wrote a story arc in which, according to reports of offscreen news, Keiko O'Brien, pregnant with her and Miles' second child, was on a shuttlecraft traveling with Kira, and had a medical emergency, requiring the ship's doctor to save the (human) fetus by transplanting it into the Bajoran womb of Kira. Then they revealed Kira's pregnancy, which only takes five months for Bajorans, and later filmed the birth scene, followed by the O'Briens taking the baby home, and Kira resuming her military career. A later episode featured the O'Briens on vacation with their two children. Casting problem solved! Does any pro-life research institution want to develop that technology in real life? Any anti-abortion super-PAC want to fund it?

Pro-choicers don't oppose the illegality of post-viability late-term abortion? That's news to most pro-choicers.

It is news to actual pro-choice voters that anti-abortion voters would believe otherwise. Pro-choice voters look at post-viability late-term abortions as the equivalent of self-defense. If the fetus really IS viable, deliver it and treat it as a premature birth; abortion is NOT then legal. But a woman whose pregnancy has advanced that far probably WANTS a healthy baby! But some conditions make it medically necessary to abort before CUSTOMARY viability to save the woman's life or prevent serious health issues. In those cases, doctors may have to induce labor and HOPE to deliver a healthy baby, but not count on it. Even where it is legal to save the woman's life or health, only a VERY FEW women would want to be SURE the baby is dead at the end of the process, as in an early abortion, which they could have had.

This happens much more often in China, where it is "illegal" to have two children, and the government puts extreme financial and social pressure on women pregnant the second time to have an abortion. Some women try to fight the pressure as long as they can, then are forced to have the baby they WANTED aborted by the state. No one in America wants ANYONE to be FORCED to (a) have an abortion, (b) use contraception, or (c) marry someone of the same sex. Not even the "socialists" you may have heard about from Glenn and Rush!

I'm pro-choice. One of the reasons I'm pro-choice is because of the non-absolutist nature of the position. Within the pro-choice camp, there are a wide variety of positions. In the anti-abortion camp, there is only one: abortion should be illegal.

But because of the wide variety of positions, it is folly to presume as the author does--and as you do--that you can make a blanket, all-encompassing statement about what the pro-choice position is and not expect to be called out on it. I don't necessarily disagree with your self-defense analogies, as imprecise as they may be. But your anecdotal and subjective pro-choice position can hardly be counted as the official pro-choice position. The relative rarity of such an occurrence doesn't really tell us much about whether that occurrence should be (il)legal. There are people in the pro-choice camp who thing that post-viability non-medically necessary abortions should be legal. There are others who disagree. Your point about China and lame insults re: Rush/Glenn are completely off-topic.

In the section of the article "Beware of Women's Safety Used as a Pretext" you state "Their intent is to prevent all abortions, including those performed by clinics that are perfectly safe"

Perfectly safe for who? Someone dies in every abortion. It is clearly not safe for them.

America and the world need to wake up to the fact that most everything done by Gosnell would be deemed as constitutionally protected privacy if he had the discipline to keep the babies foot inside the birth canal while he butchered them.

Gosnell only exposes the barbaric nature of what Mr Lemieux and Abortion rights activist believe to be a fundamental human right.

Don't pretend to be outraged by what you fought so hard to create.

Pro-choice people do not LIKE abortion; we prefer to make it unnecessary by making birth control more easily available. Unfortunately, the anti-choice fanatics (not pro-life in the larger sense) are ALSO the anti-contraception fanatics, classically Roman Catholics, but recently many evangelicals as well. And since poor women have to get their birth control (AND prevention of life-threatening cancers) from the same places that ALSO perform or refer for abortions), those institutions are a double target.

But even with perfect contraception, there will still be the occasional need for abortion. Rapists (as well as older male relatives of young girls, who have Abraham/Solomon/Smith delusions of patriarchal grandeur) normally do not care to prevent conception. Girls with low self esteem and lack of education, who believe that by becoming mothers by ANY man available they will be cared for by the kind of males just mentioned, may intentionally conceive to "trap" the man into marriage, only to be abandoned, or worse yet, abused. Children with such severe biological defects as to be non-viable after full term are conceived (NATURE takes care of such defects in animals through predation). There are complications such as ectopic pregnancy, which will kill BOTH the woman and the fetus if not treated, and the only effective treatment is to remove the infected tube and/or ovary, necessarily killing (aborting) the embryo. There are medical problems which cannot be effectively treated in the woman without harming the fetus, but cannot be postponed until after birth without killing the woman. So even good, righteous women with responsible husbands who WANT a baby can be put into this position. This is what happened recently to the Indian woman in Ireland. Irish law forced the doctors to wait for the fetus to die naturally, which was inevitable, but by that time they could no longer save the woman.

I understand how anti-choice people admire the saintliness of the brave few who refuse to have an abortion in the face of these medical dilemmas, and still, miraculously, have a reasonably happy outcome, or who go on to show courage by caring for a severely disabled child. But is this extremely courageous behavior now to be the LEGALLY REQUIRED standard? And what about the brave abstainers who DO die while pregnant, taking their unborn babies with them and leaving their older children motherless?

The illegal late term abortions performed in this clinic of last resort probably started out with the women attempting to get a legal abortion somewhere ELSE very early in pregnancy, which was delayed by impossible paperwork requirements imposed on the women, or by lack of facilities, caused by laws that harass ethical abortion providers. And for many women the pregnancy itself would not have occurred if ethical women's health clinics had not been regulated out of existence.

I cannot accept as a universal principle the idea of total personhood protection from the moment of fertilization, and it seems that a faith proclaiming the body to be a house in which the soul lives would recognize that a house under construction is not yet occupied. Roe v Wade posits, for LEGAL purposes, a continuum of stages before totally human consciousness is achieved; an analogy would be the progression from a vegetative group of cells to a sub-mammalian animal (which we routinely kill with pesticides), to a sub-primate mammal (which we kill for meat, to control pest populations, or to end its suffering when terminally ill, but with as little cruelty as possible), then a human (who has a human level brain but not yet the ability to be ASSURED of living outside the womb). At the earliest stages, the court held that the woman's privacy is most important, but in the later stages the law, and medical ethics, may intervene, and may prohibit the abortion altogether, or allow it only for the direst medical reasons. To all but a few women, abortion in even the early stages would not be considered except when all the alternatives are worse. And in cases of rape or incest, most states still consider the rapist or molester a FATHER. That means, after his prison term, he can legally have a relationship with the child, so that the mother is constantly reminded of his brutality. And if the child is a girl, he may even be able to father ANOTHER child when she reaches puberty. But enough about religious cults...

I realize I cannot convince someone that a single cell, or a small clump of cells, that MAY be able to become a baby, is not ALREADY a person, but if these fanatics have any compassion for the actual living women (and underage GIRLS) they would help them avoid the pregnancy and not put the terrible burden of poverty, abuse, and desperation on those women and their already living children. Perhaps new technology would help, such as a safe "fetal transplant" from the unwilling mother to an infertile woman who wants a baby and has a competent uterus (sometimes it may be necessary to freeze the removed fetus until an adoptive mother can be found, especially for ectopic pregnancies). Perhaps a special waiver of work requirements and welfare limits for women who are legally denied an abortion (not only helping them but their older children, if any). And perhaps an automatic denial of a parental relationship, but liability for child support (to be paid via the state), for convicted rapists.

But I doubt it will happen, because the evidence so far seems to show that the REAL aim of outlawing all abortions AND outlawing contraception AND providing little or no assistance AND allowing rapists to claim to be "fathers" is not to PROTECT the fetus, at least not AFTER birth, but to shame and punish the women who had these babies. It is all about causing pain to women rather than raising healthy children for most of these fanatics.

In spite of the Gosnell reax (or the lack thereof) the MMS is not a secularist cabal and attempts to argue otherwise are culture war tropes veiled as media criticism: Diane Winston on Religion Dispatches:

Why so clinical?

" Infanticide ... [was] already illegal under Pennsylvania law."

As it is against the laws of the other 49 states. And Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam etc. It is not distinguished from matricide, fratricide, or any other homicide.

What this case does to me - a voter not in favor generally of restricting access to abortion as a tragic expedient, our populace evidently lacking the discipline and responsibility to birth and raise children responsibly - is cause me to examine my attitude towards the lives affected. By starkly seeing not rapidly multiplying cells or an amorphous blob growing inside someone (not dissimilar to a malignant growth that is medically necessary to remove) but instead the familiar form of a human infant, we are forced to confront what exactly an abortion is.

As a male, I've never been in a position to make the personal decision to have an abortion. While I have four children so I'm clearly fertile, for whatever reason during my misspent youth I never impregnated a partner. I have paid for one, for a niece who had already reproduced irresponsibly twice (my sister raises them). I have dated two adult women, both well over 30, who tearfully confessed to me their abortions as a wrenching and traumatic decision that they regret. Both were childless (one has since married and bore children, the other I don't think so) and both expressed fear that they may never get another chance to have a child.

Mr. Lemieux's protestations that a) this issue has not been ignored and/or b) nobody cares about poor nonwhite women ring false. Consider the Jody Arias trial, which gets more coverage in a single day than has the extent of the Gosnell trial. Consider the Trayvon Martin story, which suggests that the public is rather MORE outraged when a perceived injustice occurs to a presumably young, helpless person of color (both of which describe the seven dead infants). Go all the way back to 1979 when the nation was outraged over disappearances of young, helpless nonwhite boys in Atlanta.

When this case gets the same coverage as Jody Arias, a trial which has zero potential to affect us as a society, I will be satisfied that the mainstream media is not willfully ignoring it.

When you read the pennsylvania MISC.NO.0009901-2008 County investigating grand Jury you understand that what that disgusting clinic was about was late term abortions honest pro-choice doctors would never perform unless the life of the mother were at stake!

Breathing premature babies were killed with a pair of scissor by cuting the spine by the MD in charge or his assistants. He called it "fetal termination", cutting self -breathable babies apart inside the womb and hurting the women made the monster kill at least woman and another one had to be separated from a large part of her intestine that MD perforated after perforating her uterus.

You also read that tha man had some richer white suburbian clients -those he took a little more care of- like being present when they were put into a state of stupor.

This case is not about pro-choice from a physician point of view, it is about late term abortions in squallid conditions.

Thinking dem,
///If the fetus really IS viable, deliver it and treat it as a premature birth; abortion is NOT then legal. But a woman whose pregnancy has advanced that far probably WANTS a healthy baby!///

Obviously, those women- including a few white richer suburbans women wanted a late terminaison and forcing a baby to be born premature is exposing him to many health hazards and a very difficult and painful start in life in an intensive care unit - not to mention the horrendous medical costs...

Please, think harder like offering those women a two or three months vacation time in a sunny state until they deliver safely a baby not in need of any internsive care (and later costly special education may be) but only of loving adoptive parents. Instead of paying surrogate mothers as the law allow in some USA states, those who want a baby to adopt might pay for those "vacations" !

Scott Lemieux hits the nail on the head when he disparages the stigma that has become associated with abortion. Why should the killing of one's own children be uniquely stigmatized in a world that also condones, nay practically encourages, convenience disposal of the disabled and elderly? We have worked so hard to get beyond our parochial attachment to the notion of some special value of human life -- now that we have finally "grown up" and realized that we are all just another fungible commodity, let's not get hung up on petty sentimentalities. A woman has the right to kill her own child. Can we please move on?

The TRIAL of Kermit Gosnell does not argue for or against abortion. The TRIAL is what has not been covered adequately by anyone, not even the conservative news outlets, both print and broadcast. That feminists have covered it, fine. Hard core feminists will never be satisfied until taxpayers fund ALL abortions on demand, including late term (partial birth) abortions. The ONLY newspaper to cover the Gosnell case regularly and constantly, from arrest to trial, has been the Philadelphia Inquirer, its reporter Joseph Slobodzian, local TV news, and one online site,, and its reporter, J.D. Mullane.

If anyone reads the Grand Jury report, it is devoid of politics because it is concerned with crimes, not ideology. The report states the Grand Jury is composed of "diverse" views on abortion. When seen in this light, it became apparent that Kermit Gosnell, his clinic, and his employees were a danger to not only the patients but to society in general. The report exposes, in great detail, the failure of "the system" of PA regulatory agencies to inspect any clinics and to close clinics that violated laws. These laws are meant to assure "safe procedures" by certified practitioners and a level of maintenance of equipment.

The only morality here should a simple, decent morality, not a convoluted treatise to further any agenda. The prevention of abortion is choice - don't have risky sex, or have it and face the consequences, if any. The couple might get lucky, and no consequences need be faced. Being responsible and accountable brings freedom and self-respect. The Pill is cheaper now than ever and accessible through Planned Parenthood, and certainly cheaper, financially, emotionally, and physically, than abortion.

This article makes the common error of assuming that Roe v. Wade's trimester system is in effect. To the contrary, Roe's companion case Doe v. Bolton almost immediately gutted those permitted restrictions and imposed the Western world's most wide-open, permissive abortion regime. ANY connection to a woman's purported "health" would serve to "justify" an abortion, enabling a routine rubber-stamp by an abortionist.

Furthermore, the claim that "pro choicers" oppose medically unnecessary post-viability abortions is quite simply false. The partial birth abortion ban contained a medical exception (requiring that it be a REAL, physical medical concern rather than be a mere loophole big enough to drive a truck through) and was bitterly, fanatically opposed by the abortion industry, ALL the "pro choice" groups and their congressional and judicial allies.

@carney : In France late abortion is a criminal offense unless the woman 's life is really at serious risks unless the pregnancy is being terminated and she agrees to get an abortion - a French woman and an army officer pilot , for example, famously died a few weeks only after giving birth, from a cancer that might have been treatable and even cured had she consented to an abortion procedure which would have happen just by taking the cancer therapy.

If late abortion not necessary to preserve the life of the mother (when she accepts it) were legal in France -and other European Union countries- late abortion clinics would not have made lots of money by performing late abortions in Spain for a long time!

This is a fact.

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