Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s conviction for killing three babies born alive has been cited around the country by politicians pushing for more abortion restrictions, supposedly to prevent further such atrocities. But passing more unnecessarily stringent laws may actually put more women in jeopardy by closing clinics and limiting access to safe and legal abortions.
Lawmakers in several states have followed Pennsylvania’s lead by subjecting abortion procedures and clinics to further restrictions that are more likely to shut down responsible providers than to improve patient safety. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Gov. Christie has again cut state funding for Planned Parenthood and other family-planning clinics, which are often the only option for poor women.
Bad clinics that recklessly endanger women and their unborn children, like the “house of horrors” operated by Gosnell, should be closed immediately. Indeed, his Philadelphia clinic could have been shut down years earlier if existing regulations were enforced.
But stopping the next Gosnell is not the true motive behind the latest round of abortion restrictions. Rather, this is another assault on women’s reproductive health rights in the continuing battle over abortion.
Already this year, state lawmakers around the country have enacted 43 measures restricting abortion — the second-highest total on record, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research group that supports abortion rights. Bills debated by legislatures in North Carolina and Texas last week represent blatant attempts to shut down abortion clinics by imposing restrictions that would make it too costly for them to stay open. Antiabortion measures have also passed in Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arizona.
The Texas Senate passed a bill Friday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require clinics to meet more stringent staffing standards. All but five of the 42 abortion clinics in Texas will likely be forced to close as a result. Without access to a nearby clinic, poor women in particular could find themselves unable to obtain safe abortions. That could lead them to unsanitary, unscrupulous facilities — the kind Gosnell operated for decades as regulators looked the other way.
Since Pennsylvania imposed new clinic regulations a year ago, the number of abortion providers in the state has dropped from 22 to 17. And only 13 of those providers have been approved to perform surgical abortions.
In New Jersey, six clinics have been forced to close and others have reduced their hours since Christie cut funding in 2010 — supposedly due to a budget shortfall, rather than his desire to burnish his antiabortion credentials. The funding was shared by 58 clinics that once provided 136,000 uninsured people with basic health-care services, including mammograms, gynecological exams, and blood-pressure screening. Democratic lawmakers have made valiant but unsuccessful efforts to restore the funding every year since.
These attacks on reproductive health care not only undermine women’s access to vital services and their right to make difficult personal decisions free from government intrusion. They will also force more women to seek out the sort of unscrupulous abortion providers that proponents of stricter rules claim to abhor.
The Philadelphia Inquirer