Why the Gosnell case resonates

Jeanneane Maxon | Vice President for External Affairs, Americans United for Life

On Monday, I sat in the Philadelphia courtroom where abortionist Kermit Gosnell was being tried for murder. I was there as a representative of Americans United for Life (AUL), a pro-life group.

Gosnell is accused of snapping the spinal cords of four babies who survived botched abortions. He’s also on the hook for the 2009 overdose of a woman at his clinic.

Prosecutor Ed Cameron delivered a passionate closing argument. At one point Cameron turned to Gosnell and asked, “Are you human?”

In light of the facts revealed during the trial, it was a legitimate question. Gosnell responded with laughter.

The prosecution presented evidence of appalling conditions in the clinic (including the re-use of unsterilized instruments, blood on chairs and equipment, fetal body parts clogging the plumbing, and general filth). The defense responded by stating that the clinic was “not perfect” and was engaging in “urban healthcare.”

The defense didn’t try to dispute the allegation that Gosnell snipped the babies’ spinal cords. The evidence was too clear — there were photographs, babies’ bodies, and several incidents described in testimony. Gosnell’s attorney simply argued that the babies were already dead when the snipping occurred.

This raises an obvious question: Why would Gosnell and his staff snip the necks of dead babies? Gosnell’s attorney suggested they were trying to alleviate some sort of pain. But how can dead babies feel pain?

Ultimately, Gosnell’s fate hinges on one question: Did he kill these third-trimester, fully formed infants while they were still inside their mothers’ wombs, or did he wait until they were delivered hours or moments later? The court’s answer to that question will determine whether Gosnell is guilty of murder.

Illogical? Yes. Incomprehensible? Absolutely. But our nation’s laws are radically pro-abortion. Only North Korea, China, and Canada regulate late-term abortion as loosely as the United States.

And then there’s what happened to Karnamaya Mongar, the wife and mother of four who had survived 20 years in a refugee camp in Bhutan only to die, surrounded by filth, in Gosnell’s clinic from a drug overdose administered by Gosnell’s staff under his supervision. Karnamaya could not be revived by the clinic’s broken defibrillator.

According to the grand jury report, the emergency entrance was locked and chained, and the hallways were too narrow to fit a stretcher. Tragically, it took emergency personnel over 20 minutes to simply get Karnamaya out of the building.

Yet the abortion lobby continues to oppose common-sense clinic regulations that would protect women from these conditions. On Tuesday, one day after the closing arguments in the Gosnell case, “PBS NewsHour” featured a debate between AUL President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest and NARAL Pro-Choice America President IIyse Hogue. Ms. Hogue called regulating the width of clinic hallways an “arbitrary restriction” because, she said, the width of a clinic’s hallways has “no bearing on the medical care that a woman can get.”

But, as shown in the Gosnell case, it’s important to regulate the width of medical facilities’ hallways to guarantee that emergency workers with life-saving gear and equipment can easily access the people inside. Such regulations do not single out abortion clinics — though the abortion industry frequently chooses inadequate venues out of greed and a general unwillingness to conform to medical standards.

The Gosnell case resonates because of the questions it raises. Do we believe that those inside abortion clinics, the women and the babies, are worthy of the same dignity and care afforded to other human beings? Or do we reject that notion in favor of expediency and arbitrary decision-making about whether a person’s life is worthy of another day?

Of course, given the radicalism of the American abortion lobby, treating women and babies in abortion clinics with the respect they deserve won’t be easy. But there are a few steps states can take to get started.

Every state should enact AUL’s model Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act to ensure that women in abortion clinics receive the same basic standard of care required of any other outpatient surgical center. States should also enact AUL’s Women’s Health Defense Act, which prohibits late-term abortions based on increasing evidence that such abortions harm women’s health, as well as concerns about the pain felt by the children. All states should enact AUL’s Born Alive Infant Protection Act to create a specific affirmative duty for abortionists to provide medical care and treatment to infants born alive after botched abortions.

Surely the abortion industry should protect women, girls and infants born in its facilities. This should be an area of bipartisan agreement.

Critics of our largely unregulated abortion industry shouldn’t lose hope. In 2011 and 2012 alone, we saw the enactment of over 130 common-sense state-level abortion restrictions. The Gosnell trial is awakening even more Americans to the power of the abortion lobby and to the dangers faced by women and girls in abortion clinics.

The time for smart regulation and monitoring of the abortion industry is now. The need is great, because women deserve better than Gosnell. Refusing to act will endanger the unsuspecting and innocent. In the end, we must act in order to protect the humanity of us all.

Jeanneane Maxon, an attorney, is the vice president for external affairs at Americans United for Life.

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