Pharyngula

This is not a case about abortion

I have been receiving lots of triumphant mail from anti-choice people claiming vindication, that abortion is wrong, and demanding to know how I can possibly support abortion rights after hearing about the case of Dr Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell ran an abortion mill in Philadelphia, and was a hack who maimed and killed women while doing abortions on demand, for a substantial fee. He was unqualified, uncertified in obstetrics and gynecology, and his facility was unmonitored and relatively uninspected. He gave untrained, inexperienced staff critical jobs in the surgery — he allowed a 15 year old high school student to handle anesthesia. He killed a patient by overdosing her on drugs, and is also charged with killing 7 babies in late-term abortions.

Gosnell is precisely the kind of butcher the pro-choice movement opposes. No one endorses bad medicine and unrestricted, unregulated, cowboy surgery like Gosnell practiced — what he represents is the kind of back-alley deadly hackery that the anti-choice movement would have as the only possible recourse, if they had their way. If anything, the Gosnell case is an argument for legal abortion.

It is entirely appropriate that this monster be shut down and charged with serious crimes against women. This isn’t the first death for which he’s responsible; another woman died of a perforated uterus, others suffered from punctured internal organs, others were left sterile by his botched work. The most shocking news is that this guy has been chopping up poor women since 1979, and that the last time the state actually inspected his facilities was in 1993. Why have people looked the other way and allowed this to continue for 30 years?

He has also been charged with the murders of seven babies, and there I have to disagree. There has to be a difference in degree, or the mothers of those infants would also have to be charged as collaborators (they were all willing volunteers for this medical procedure, and they knew the result would be termination of their pregnancy). They haven’t, and they shouldn’t. Much noise is being made about the “horrific” killings, but late term abortions, even the ones done in clean, properly maintained facilities with well-trained personnel, are always necessarily bloody and unpleasant affairs, like most surgeries. The important word there is “necessary”. Late term abortions should be carried out when it is essential for the life and health of the woman, who is the most important participant in these circumstances, and opening the door to accusing doctors who perform necessary operations as murder is a dangerous precedent.

Gosnell committed many crimes. He posed as a qualified practitioner of his art, when he wasn’t. He did not maintain a medical facility in an appropriate manner. He had even less qualified people do life-threatening work. He lied to women about their pregnancies. He mutilated and killed women. He did harm. That should be what generates public outrage, not the fact that he did abortions.