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Kermit Gosnell's Horror Show

Written by Katha Pollit, posted by RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article originally appeared in the February 14, 2011 edition of The Nationand can also be found on The Nation'sweb site.

Blood-spattered floors. Cat feces. Broken equipment. A 15-year-old giving anesthesia. Two women dead, countless more maimed and injured. Third-trimester fetuses delivered alive whose spines were then severed by the doctor. This was the Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia. This is what illegal abortion looks like.

That’s right. Illegal abortion. A great deal has been written about Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the shocking conditions and practices at his facility, which was closed last March after a drug raid, and is back in the news because a grand jury has indicted him and nine employees for murder in the deaths of one woman and seven infants. There have been many calls for further restrictions on abortion, much revulsion expressed at post-viability abortions, much blame cast on prochoicers for supposedly doing nothing to stop him. But it has not been pointed out often enough that what Dr. Gosnell was doing was illegal in Pennsylvania. It is not legal to perform abortions after twenty-four weeks. It is not legal to slit the necks of born-alive fetuses at any age, much less at thirty weeks or even more. It is not legal for untrained, unlicensed employees to perform medical procedures.

Now prochoicers are being blamed for this rogue operator. The grand jury report suggests that Tom Ridge, Republican governor from 1995 to 2001, discontinued inspections because prochoicers claimed they were too burdensome. The ones I talked to were skeptical. “We never lobbied against inspection,” Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project, which represents clinics in Pennsylvania, told me by phone. She pointed out that under Ridge’s Democratic predecessor, Bob Casey, who was famously opposed to legal abortion, Gosnell’s clinic was inspected three times, and each time serious problems were found. Nothing was done. Perhaps it’s relevant that Gosnell’s patients were poor, many of them immigrants—like 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar from Nepal, with whose murder Gosnell has been charged—who may not even have known that safe and legal abortion is available here. Read more