Reflections on Gosnell: Important Lessons Learned

by Denise Burke

When someone dies, those who remain are provided with a poignant opportunity to take stock of the meaning of their lives; how much more so when considering a life lost to murder.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Kermit Gosnell’s convictions and life-sentence for murdering born-alive infants, killing patient Karnamaya Mongar, performing illegal late-term abortions, and violating Pennsylvania’s informed consent requirements more than 200 times. Several important lessons can be garnered from the multi-year investigation into Gosnell and his “house-of-horrors” abortion clinic, as well as from the substandard and often dangerous practices that have become common in the under-regulated and largely unaccountable abortion industry.  

The first important lesson is that Kermit Gosnell is not an aberration, as abortion advocates routinely and desperately claim. 

Over just the last five years, dozens of abortion providers in at least 29 states have faced investigations, criminal charges, administrative complaints, and civil lawsuits, or have been cited for violating state laws governing the provision of abortion. Just recently, the New York State Department of Health was exposed for its decade-long failure to inspect many of the state’s abortion clinics, a young woman died from a botched late-term abortion at a Cleveland, Ohio abortion clinic, and abortion facilities in Texas and elsewhere closed because they were unable or unwilling to comply with medically appropriate standards for patient care.

Abortion advocates’ staunch opposition to and attempted obstruction of common-sense abortion regulations such as health and safety standards for abortion clinics underscore the second lesson learned: Abortion providers are often more motivated by profits than protecting women. 

Notably, Gosnell reportedly pocketed $1.8 million annually, while exposing his patients to “deplorable and unsanitary” conditions at his seedy, run-down clinic.  Sadly, such recalcitrance has exposed untold numbers of women and girls to substandard abortion practices that carry with them an increased risk of death and serious complications.

In the immediate wake of revelations about Gosnell’s squalid and dangerous clinic, a number of state legislatures began debating enhanced health and safety standards for abortion providers including facility licensing, improved patient-care standards, and requirements that abortion providers maintain admitting privileges at local hospitals. 

Abortion advocates vociferously fought these efforts, audaciously claiming that abortion as currently being practiced is “safe,” that such patient-centered standards would be too costly, and that many abortion facilities would choose to close rather than to comply with the proposed requirements.  Inherent in these callous claims is the fact that the abortion industry prioritizes its financial bottom-line over the increased patient safety afforded by these requirements.

Clearly, abortion clinics should be required to meet medically appropriate health and safety standards.  While virtually every state regulates the provision of veterinary services, only 28 states currently regulate (to widely varying degrees) facilities performing abortions.  Further, only five states require that abortion clinics meet the same health and safety standards as facilities performing other invasive, outpatient surgeries.  The need for increased regulation is the third lesson learned from Gosnell; his dangerously substandard clinic is emblematic of the often-shoddy conditions of abortion clinics across the country.

If we are to better safeguard women and girls from abortion industry abuses, the gruesome details of the Gosnell’s operations cannot be forgotten. 

Law-enforcement raids on Gosnell’s clinic found appalling conditions, including blood on the floors and furniture; parts of aborted children stored in jars, milk jugs, and cat-food cans; post-operative recovery areas that consisted solely of recliners; padlocked emergency exits, and broken and inoperable emergency equipment.  Moreover, Gosnell typically did not arrive at the clinic until 6 p.m. each day and sanctioned the performance of gynecological exams and the administration of controlled substances and prescription medication by non-licensed clinic staff.

During the subsequent grand-jury investigation, prosecutors learned that Gosnell had been illegally performing late-term abortions, delivering viable babies, and killing them by cutting their spinal cords with scissors.  They also discovered that Pennsylvania health officials had ignored dozens of complaints against Gosnell, and that the clinic had not been inspected since 1993.  

These inexcusable failures on the part of state officials provide yet another important lesson learned from the Gosnell tragedy:  Abortion laws must be properly and consistently enforced.  As the Gosnell grand jury emphasized, to prevent future abortion tragedies, state officials “must find the fortitude to enact and enforce the necessary regulations. Rules must be more than words on paper.”

On the first anniversary of the conviction and sentencing of Kermit Gosnell, we must acknowledge the dangers and abuses inherent in “legal abortion” and must doggedly advance laws and regulations designed to ensure that women are better safeguarded from a predatory and unrepentant abortion industry.  This enhanced protection for women should be a principal legacy of the Kermit Gosnell tragedy.

— Denise M. Burke is vice president of legal affairs at Americans United for Life.


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