Herald-Leader Editorial

Protect women from Gosnells; Keep abortion safe and legal

May 16, 2013 

If you want the Kermit Gosnells of the world to multiply and prosper, outlaw abortion.

Or keep putting up so many barriers that women must subject themselves to the kind of criminal butchery that earned the rogue doctor of Philadelphia three life sentences.

What went on in Gosnell's Women's Medical Society is beyond the pale, far outside the limits of the law, mainstream medicine or human decency.

The National Abortion Federation usually works with would-be members to correct deficiencies, but Gosnell was rejected, deemed beyond redemption.

That these abuses were allowed to go on for so long speaks volumes about the value our society places on the lives of poor, minority and disenfranchised women.

"As far back as 1972," said a grand jury, Gosnell "was notorious for his mistreatment of the women who came to him for treatment."

Yet it was not until the FBI investigated Gosnell in 2010 for running a prescription pill mill that authorities closed his illegal late-term abortion business, in which babies were delivered and killed.

Why women would wait so late to terminate a pregnancy is one of many troubling questions raised by Gosnell's ability to make a fortune in a filthy clinic, filled with broken equipment, reeking of cat urine and staffed by people with no or inadequate training.

Research shows that almost 60 percent of women who experience a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

There's been no federal funding for abortion since 1976, three years after the Supreme Court struck down state abortion bans.

Kentucky is not one of the 12 states where Medicaid pays for abortions. Nor are insurers required to cover the procedure here, meaning Kentucky women must come up with the full cost. Abortions are available only in Lexington and Louisville.

Gosnell allowed minors to avoid Pennsylvania's parental consent law. Kentucky also requires parental consent unless a judge authorizes a minor's abortion.

Making abortion costlier and less accessible is the goal of bills introduced every year in Kentucky's legislature; the current favorite: requiring a vaginal ultrasound.

The Nepalese refugee for whom Gosnell was convicted of manslaughter had arrived only recently in this country, could not speak English and was more than 24 weeks pregnant by the time she reached the butcher. She had been turned down for an abortion in Virginia.

Forty years after the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, the horrors of back-alley abortions have receded into distant memory for too many Americans.

Legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, producing six deaths for every 1 million women who have had abortions over the last 25 years, compared with 155 pregnancy-related deaths for every 1 million women who gave birth in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

We should all support providing women with the knowledge and birth control to prevent the need for abortions. But women have always sought to end unwanted pregnancies, no matter the risk.

We should dismantle the kinds of barriers that drive them to criminals like Gosnell, not put up new ones.

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