The Real Message of the Kermit Gosnell Story

The conservative media is having a field day with the Kermit Gosnell trial. If you read their coverage, you would think that pro-choice activists and journalists want everyone to ignore the Gosnell clinic and forget what happened there, and that saying the name “Kermit Gosnell” is some sort of winning pro-life argument. But here’s what I don’t understand: Why do conservatives think that pro-choice activists or journalists should be afraid of covering the Kermit Gosnell story? Do conservatives seriously think that this grisly story is an argument against ensuring that every woman has access to safe and legal abortion? In what world does that even makes sense?

For those of you who don’t know, Kermit Gosnell ran an illegal and off the grid abortion clinic in Philadelphia, providing insanitary and dangerous abortions mostly to poor and minority women. Reports indicate that he performed (very illegal) late term abortion in which he delivered babies alive and then cut their spinal cords, and that he kept fetus parts as souvenirs. At least one of his patients died as a result of his gross negligence and incompetence. There were numerous reports against the clinic, including reports by local doctors who had referred their patients to Gosnell’s clinic, but the local health department fell down on its job and never investigated. The entire situation was a travesty, especially for the vulnerable women he preyed on.

But this isn’t a story of what happens when you legalize abortion, as claimed on Ladies against Feminism or asserted by It’s about race, and the fact that the victims were predominately black women without the resources to retaliate. It’s about a local health department more interested in playing politics than in protecting women’s health. And finally, it’s one more piece of evidence that, as Dianna Anderson so eloquently points out, “making abortion harder to get does not solve the problems facing a person who finds themselves pregnant when they do not want to or cannot afford to be.”

Abortion will exist whether it is legal or not. If it is banned, as pro-life activists would like to see—or even further restricted by TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) designed by pro-life activists to shut down abortion clinics—the result will be more Gosnells, not fewermore “houses of horror,” not fewer. Why? Because women who are unable to find access to legal abortions—whether because all of the clinics within easy driving distance have been shut down, or because they are minors and subject to draconian parental consent laws—may find themselves forced into seeking out illegal clinics like Gosnells.

Further, that the local health department failed to intervene is reflective of a general lack of care about women’s health—and especially for minority women’s health. Abortion clinics should be held to the same basic health and safety standards as other medical clinics (not more, not less), and the desire for abortion to be safe has long been a pro-choice rallying cry. It’s not just pro-life activists who are appalled by this case—I am appalled too. These women deserved more—they deserved access to safe and legal abortion, and the damage wreaked on the health of so many women in the Gosnell clinic was a travesty.

But what baffles me is that in its coverage of the trial, conservative media outlets would have you think that illegal and unsafe abortion is the result of Roe v. Wade, and that if we could only overturn Roe illegal and unsafe abortion would disappear. For me, all this case does is point out how important it is that we work to ensure that abortion is safe, legal, and accessible.

For some interesting recent coverage, read: 

We Need to Talk about Kermit Gosnell

The Real Kermit Gosnell Story?

There Is No Gosnell Coverup

The Real Gosnell Conspiracy

Race is the Elephant in the Room

Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story

14 Theories for Why Kermit Gosnell’s Case Didn’t Get More Media Attention

For coverage from when the story first broke last year, see: 

Kermit Gosnell and the Reality of Late Term Abortion

Philly Abortion Clinic Horror Highlights Need for More Access

Texas Violates Its Free Market Principles
Planned Parenthood's "Government Funding": The Same Kind Your Doctor Receives
Dress Codes and Preteen Girls: A Reader Asks
All-Options PRC: The New Pro-Choice Center on the Block
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.