When the grand jury’s report concerning Dr. Kermit Gosnell was made public in 2011, District Attorney Seth Williams emphatically stated that the case wasn’t about the legal and moral ramifications of abortion.
Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore echoed those remarks during her opening arguments this week at the start of Gosnell’s trial, saying that the case wasn’t about abortion but about murder. Gosnell has been charged with seven counts of first degree murder for allegedly killing seven viable fetuses and third degree murder in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, a patient of his.
But the issue of abortion - if and when it should be legal - remains a passionately contested medical procedure since the United States Supreme Court ruled on its legality on January 22, 1973 in the case of Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice advocates are adamant about what they term as a woman’s right to choose either to terminate a pregnancy or bring a new human being into the world. Pro-life advocates are equally passionate in arguing the perspective that abortion is, essentially, murder. The case against Gosnell comes at a time when states across the nation are looking at new measures to restrict abortion and the moral and ethical issues peripheral to the procedure are also being increasingly debated.
This week, legislators in Kansas approved a bill preventing abortion providers from claiming tax breaks or assisting with public school sex education classes. Under the proposal, the state would be prevented form subsidizing abortions and the bill contains language regarding when life begins and that the rights of unborn children should be protected. The Republican controlled Kansas House of Representatives approved the measure by a vote of 92-31. In North Dakota, lawmakers passed legislation banning abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and in Arkansas a law was passed restricting abortions after the 12th week.
In Pennsylvania the Republican controlled House of Representatives are debating House Bill 1077, known as the Women’s Right to know Act. The bill calls for any woman wanting to have an abortion to have an ultrasound image of the fetus taken 24-hours before the procedure. The proposal would require the mother review the status of the unborn child, sign a written report to give to the provider and receive a sealed copy of the ultrasound image. State Rep. Kathy Rapp, who introduced the bill said women deserve the right to make a fully informed choice.
“Women deserve the right to view their complete medical records, and ultra sound technology exists and is already present in Pennsylvania abortion clinics,” Rapp said in a press release. “Without this legislation, a double standard will remain whereby women in perhaps their greatest time of need and indecision are not given complete information.”
Supporters of the bill believe if the mother sees an image of the fetus they might change their minds about having an abortion. Opponents say it is an intrusion into the mother’s health. The bill has been stalled in the House since 2012.
Rev. Dr. Clenard H. Childress Jr., founder of the Pro-life website Blackgenocide.org said that the Gosnell case has raised the moral and ethical questions surrounding legalized abortion.
“If nothing else, this case will bring greater discussion about abortion among African Americans. This case is not just the babies Gosnell is accused of murdering but the numerous women he victimized who will never be known,” Childress said. “Gosnell operated with impunity, he feared no one coming through his doors and that indicates someone was paid off – plain and simple. This isn’t just a political issue; this is a crime against humanity. Gosnell is not just a rare case; I believe it is the tip of a very large iceberg. Abortion would not be legal if it weren’t lucrative and 78 percent of abortion clinics are in poor Black neighborhoods – what does that tell you? Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood once said, ‘more children from the fit, less from the unfit.’ That’s the ideology at work here. I know of Black women who have had multiple abortions because they’ve been taught to use it as a means of contraception.”
The trial of Gosnell is expected to last about six weeks, with several former associates waiting to testify against him. Allegedly, Gosnell ran an unsanitary abortion clinic, performing illegal late term procedures under filthy conditions that prosecutors say would have appalled doctors in even the worst third world nation refugee camps. According to the lengthy Grand Jury report, Gosnell would induce labor in his patients and, after they gave birth, killed viable babies by a process he called “snipping,” where he or one of his assistants cut open the back of the neck of the newly born baby and severed the spinal cord with scissors.
As a result of the investigation, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law a measure that significantly toughened standards for Pennsylvania’s 24 abortion clinics.
The new law requires abortion facilities to be regulated according to the same safety standards as ambulatory or outpatient surgical facilities. It also requires the Department of Health to perform at least one unannounced inspection of each abortion facility annually, modify the definition of “abortion facility.”
“Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here [at the Women’s Medical Society]. But no one put a stop to it,” said District Attorney R. Seth Williams. “For us as a criminal grand jury, however, the case is not about the controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants. We find common ground in exposing what happened here, and in recommending measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”