On both sides of the abortion-rights divide, the sentiment is that Kermit Gosnell got what he deserved. After a five-week trial and 10 days of deliberation, a jury convicted the 72-year-old Philadelphia doctor on three counts of first-degree murder, a charge of involuntary manslaughter and more than 200 counts of violating Pennsylvania laws by performing late-term abortions, after the 24th week, and not waiting the required 24 hours after consultation to perform an abortion.
By all accounts, Gosnell operated a clinic that was every bit the nightmare that abortion-rights advocates regularly warn could result from the fierce campaign to roll back reproductive rights: Filthy and uninspected for 15 years, Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society was a “back-alley” operation that side-stepped safe and legal procedures and thrived on low-income women with limited access to better care. Witnesses testified about revolting practices (such as “snipping” the spines of babies born live after botched abortions) that are far from established medical procedures.
There is no question Gosnell’s rogue operation has become a flash point in the abortion battle. For abortion opponents, the doctor serves as representative of abortion providers, his unscrupulous practice all the reason needed to restrict ever more severely, if not eliminate, access to abortion services in federal and state laws. But clearly, this case illustrates the abuse of women exercising a right to a medically approved procedure. It illustrates also a continuing failure to promote, as a matter of public policy, contraceptive options that are safer than abortion.