COMMENTARY | Abortion may be the most controversial topic in American society. It combines all the things that we are taught not to talk about -- politics, religion and doctors in one big messy argument. As a pro-choice activist, I know that even the lingo used by people like me and those who are against abortion is fraught with disagreement. I call them anti-choice; they call themselves pro-life.
This week's arrest of a Pennsylvania abortion provider, Kermit Gosnell, and subsequent charges for seven counts of murder of infants, contained in a 281-page brief that contains lurid descriptions of the unsanitary conditions of his Women's Medical Society and his unqualified staff is likely to make abortion that much more stigmatized.
Gosnell's alleged actions, and the national publicity that the charges against him have drawn, is likely to also make it much harder for pro-choice activists like myself, and the other members of the Abortion Gang -- the pro-choice collective blog that I am part of -- to get our message across.
I have often reflected that being pro-choice means trusting women to make decisions for themselves after providing the relevant facts in a nonjudgmental manner. We do not flash photos of abortion clinics, which look like nearly every other doctor's office, in an effort to talk women into having abortions, because we do not talk women into having abortions. Unfortunately, anti-choice proponents will likely have a field day extrapolating the description of Gosnell's "house of horrors" to mean that every other safe and clean abortion clinic is actually the same. They will gleefully imply that every abortion provider as jars of aborted fetuses lining the walls of their office as Gosnell did.
Charges include accusations that Gosnell allowed his wife, a cosmetologist, and nine other employees who had no medical training to perform abortions. I do not know if this is true. I do know that while there are disreputable doctor's offices in nearly every medical profession. The overwhelming majority of doctors performing abortions are just that -- qualified doctors. Unfortunately, as there are fewer medical schools offering training in providing abortions, access to safe abortions is often challenging. That women willingly underwent an abortion in Gosnell's clinic should underline the need for more abortion providers, not less.
The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office begins its charges by saying,
This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy - and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels - and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.
The D.A.'s charges go on to say, "the real business of the 'Women's Medical Society' was not health; it
was profit." Truthfully, most abortion clinics are not for-profit organizations that survive, barely, on a hodgepodge of private grants, payments for services, contributions by individuals and, occasionally, government funding. It is a point that is frustrating to get across the screams of the anti-choice rhetoric that claims that abortion providers are in it for the money. Gosnell's charges will only add to this din in the worst possible way.
Perhaps the most disturbing charge in the lengthy charges provided to the grand jury was that Gosnell is suspected of finding financial success by breaking a law that should not exist -- the one that requires parental notification of minors seeking abortions. He performed abortion on underage girls who would have sought abortion in a safe environment from a qualified physician if they did not need parental or judicial consent. Most condescending of all, the state requires women of all ages to wait 24 hours after first visiting a facility. The DA suspects Gosnell chose to bypass that requirement, and that he attracted women who did not want to wait. In these cases, the law is what drove these women to him.
If their charges are proved true, then it is a relief to everyone, regardless of their feelings on abortion, that he has been stopped. There is no excuse for killing newborns. That is not what being pro-choice is about. Unfortunately, this case will play into the polarizing lies told by the anti-choice movement about abortion. That all fetuses are viable (they are not), and that abortion is murder (it is not). It means that activists like me will have to redouble our efforts to combat these lies, as one alleged murderer's crimes seem to provide proof to the lies that the anti-choice proponents spew venomously.
- abortion clinics
- venereal disease