This week, a Philadelphia jury began their deliberations on the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a doctor accused of killing babies and a patient while performing late term abortions at a clinic that mainly served low-income women. If found guilty, Gosnell will be charged with four counts of murder after delivering live babies and intentionally severing their spinal cords. Witnesses testified that one of the babies had been breathing before its neck was cut, one baby made a “whining sound,” and another baby had been wriggling its arms and legs. Witnesses also say that Gosnell, whose lawyers insist otherwise, did not always use the drug digoxin and if he did, it did not always work the way it should.
The news of Gosnell’s gruesome actions have brought the late-term abortion discussion back into the spotlight, with pro-life activists hoping to change the conversation in order to enact more laws banning abortions after twenty weeks gestation. Of course, pro-choice activists aren’t going down without a fight. Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated, “Gosnell ran a criminal enterprise, not a health care facility, and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
With some of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation in years occurring across the country, Gosnell’s actions will certainly become fodder for the pro-life movement to work even harder to restrict abortion for women.
Late term abortions are often a point of contention in the abortion discussion, and there is certainly a lot of propaganda surrounding the issue, propaganda which leads to laws like the new Arizona ban on abortions after twelve weeks gestation, or the recent North Dakota ban on abortions after 6 weeks gestation. Nine other states ban abortions after twenty weeks gestation, and current Pennsylvania law bans abortions after 24 weeks gestation. On top of his current charges, Gosnell also faces charges for performing abortions after the 24-week mark. State law in Pennsylvania also defines a live baby “as one that is fully expelled from the mother and showing signs of life such as breathing, heart beat or movement.”
What Gosnell did was undeniably murder, but that should not be a reason to discount the countless physicians who work professionally to ensure that late term abortions are performed safely and without any harm to the mother. While controversy surrounds the issue, late-term abortions account for just 1.4% of abortions in the United States, with three different ways of proceeding: Dilation and evacuation (which is used in cases of miscarriage, in which the fetus is evacuated to prevent infection), early labor induction (which artificially stimulates childbirth), and Intact dilation and extraction (a procedure often coined as “partial birth abortion,” results in dilation of cervix for extraction purposes).
Gosnell’s actions are deplorable, and not indicative of the work of other abortion-providers across the country. He is certainly an outlier in a field of decent, well-intentioned doctors working to provide safe and legal health care for women. What Gosnell did violates not just moral code, but also opens up the work of his colleagues to severe criticism (and possibly danger, with bans on abortion becoming more restrictive).
What both sides of the abortion debate need to remember, is not the legislative side of the debate, but the human side. Both sides need to keep in mind that decisions like the bans in Arizona and North Dakota are hurting women. Abortion bans do not stop abortion, they make it unsafe and harmful to women who are desperate, and we owe women a lot more than guilt, shame, and unsafe, and most often deadly, medical procedures.