When Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell was put on trial for murder, activists seized on the case as a symbol of all that is wrong with abortion in America, and used it to call for tighter restrictions and stepped-up oversight. But though Gosnell’s behavior was deplorable, macabre and unquestionably illegal, it was aberrational, not symbolic. He has now been convicted, and he will be punished. This does not weaken the case for safe, legal and accessible abortion.
Gosnell, a 72-year-old doctor who was neither an obstetrician nor a gynecologist (having failed to complete a residency in those specialties, according to a grand jury report), ran what has been described by authorities as a filthy, bloodstained, poorly equipped abortion clinic with the help of unqualified staff. Multiple complaints had been lodged at the Pennsylvania Department of Health against the clinic, which ministered mostly to poor women.
On Monday, Gosnell was convicted of first-degree murder for killing three babies in botched abortions; he cut their spinal cords after they were born alive. He also was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of a woman who died undergoing an abortion, and of nearly two dozen violations of the Pennsylvania law that bans abortion after the 24th week of gestation.
Gosnell’s behavior was barbaric, but it says nothing about the work done by qualified abortion providers who obey the law. This case is not evidence that the right to an abortion in Pennsylvania or anywhere else should be more narrowly restricted.
Gosnell had more in common with the back-alley abortionists of the past than with qualified abortion providers.
This is a case about a doctor who violated the law and will be punished.
Los Angeles Times