Kermit Gosnell Trial: Will It Affect Abortion Rights?

By Feldmann, Linda | The Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Kermit Gosnell Trial: Will It Affect Abortion Rights?


Feldmann, Linda, The Christian Science Monitor


As the murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell enters its fifth week, national media attention is ramping up. And that, in turn, raises the question of whether the sensational trial will affect the debate over abortion rights raging in some states.

Already, in recent weeks, several states have moved to impose new restrictions on abortion, such as a new rule in Virginia that requires abortion clinics to upgrade to hospital-style building codes. Opponents of abortion say they are meant to protect women. Abortion-rights advocates say the new rules are aimed at driving the clinics out of business.

In North Dakota and Arkansas, new laws ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, effectively banning the procedure altogether. The laws are being challenged in court, setting up potential Supreme Court challenges to the Roe v. Wade precedent that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

Enter the Gosnell trial. The allegations against the abortionist - who was not a gynecologist or obstetrician, according to a 2011 grand jury report - are gruesome. The doctor stands accused of delivering seven preterm infants alive and then murdering them. He is also charged with murdering a Nepalese woman who overdosed on sedatives while awaiting an abortion.

In the trial, former employees of the clinic have described a chaotic, filthy workplace with clients who were predominantly poor and minorities. Gosnell routinely performed abortions after 30 weeks of gestation, the grand jury report alleges. Pennsylvania law bans abortion after 24 weeks' gestational age, when a fetus is considered viable outside the womb.

Both sides in the abortion debate point to the Gosnell case as proof of their convictions. Antiabortion advocates say that new standards for abortion clinics are needed to prevent those like Gosnell's from operating. Groups favoring abortion rights say that Pennsylvania regulations were adequate, but not being followed.

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"Pennsylvania is not a third-world country," the grand jury report said. "There were several oversight agencies that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago."

Gosnell, in fact, was only caught "by accident," the report says, when police raided his offices to seize evidence that he was selling prescriptions illegally.

"Once law enforcement agents went in, they couldn't help noticing the disgusting conditions, the dazed patients, the discarded fetuses," the reports say. "That is why the complete regulatory collapse that occurred here is so inexcusable. It should have taken only one look."

In addition, Gosnell was reportedly offering his abortion services at cut rates, making his clinic a go-to destination for low- income women.

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Kermit Gosnell Trial: Will It Affect Abortion Rights?
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