Dr. Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial in Pennsylvania on murder charges (among others) because of practices at his abortion clinic. In January 2011, Gosnell charged with eight counts of murder resulting from gross medical malpractice in treatment of patients at his clinics. The eight victims of his alleged murders were seven infants said to have been killed after being born alive during attempted abortions, and one adult patient who was administered an overdose of painkillers during an abortion.
Medical malpractice is the action of medical providers that intentionally or negligently injure or kill a person in that medical professional’s care. From all accounts I have found and read, Dr. Gosnell is at the very least guilty of egregious and frequent medical malpractice.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell is a real-life horror story.
The mistreatment and maltreatment reported by patients and even his own staff is hair-raising. Patients who change their minds about having an abortion, even if their feet are already in the stirrups, must be respected and treated with dignity. Unless the procedure has already progressed beyond a point of no return, it should stop immediately. This is true of any elective procedure, whether it is wart removal, plastic surgery, abortion, or hip replacement.
When I hear of patients infected with STDs because a doctor used unsterilized instruments on them, I am appalled.
When I hear that of bags containing at least 47 aborted fetuses were stuffed into a refrigerator, my stomach lurches. What the hell was the point of that?
My anger rages when I hear a 15 year old girl who changed her mind on the table was physically restrained and the abortion performed anyway. That is abuse. Assault. Battery.
When I think of a live baby’s spine snipped with a pair of scissors, my fury explodes.
Dr. Gosnell has been accused of all of these things. If they are true, he should never be allowed to practice medicine again. Ever. And he should go to jail.
I am not appalled that he was performing abortions. Women need a safe place to have abortions. But Gosnell’s clinic was not safe. Not for them, and not for the babies apparently born there after botched abortions. According to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, “The grand jury went to the scene wearing Hazmat suits.” The scene was littered with animal feces and stray cats had apparently had their run of the clinic.
Why Kermit Gosnell had Patients
Over the past 24 hours hours, the anti-choice media has been bewailing the fact that the case has not gotten much media coverage. I have seen it in my news feed daily over the last month, so until I investigated further, I didn’t understand why they claimed there was no coverage. Seems that the pro-choice media has covered it thoroughly – because Gosnell’s clinic is a harbinger of what will come if abortion is made illegal everywhere. The anti-abortion crowd has not covered it, because of the focus the case trains on illegal and unsafe abortions, which they know will happen with hyper-regulation and limited abortion access through safe, mainstream healthcare channels. Unfortunately, in today’s anti-choice climate, places like Gosnell’s clinic will become more common, not less. When abortions become illegal, vultures like him will be able to prey on more women.
The anti-choice advocates do not want this story covered, because this story will become more commonplace the harder abortions are to come by.
Women determined to abort the fetuses they are carrying will do so, one way or another. They should be able to do it in a safe, sterile environment that will prevent their own death or incapacity. This was where Dr. Gosnell failed. The women who sought treatment from him got rid of their unwanted pregnancies, but apparently often did so at the cost of their own health and safety.
Why should only the rich be entitled to safe health services? Why should abortion be readily available to wealthy patients, but not to poor ones? In one respect, Dr. Gosnell did indeed provide a necessary and desirable service. His method of purveying it, though, was devastating to his patients.
Gosnell is a symptom of a broken health care system. He is the poster child for why abortion services need to be safe, sterile, and sensibly regulated – not over-regulated so that only wealthy women can afford them.
Late Term Abortions for the Poor
When abortion is too expensive for a woman to be able to afford early in her pregnancy – when it takes her too much time to come up with the expense of resolving the problem of an unwanted pregnancy, she is forced to wait to abort the pregnancy. The longer she has to wait, the closer to viability or even to term she must have that abortion. By making abortion difficult to come by and expensive, we ensure that poor women must wait longer than wealthy ones to have abortions. We create the problem that a viper like Gosnell can take advantage of.
Elective late term abortions are not unheard of, even if they are rare. Late term abortions happen because women are either denied earlier access or because of medical reasons affecting wither the mother or the fetus. If a woman has to wait beyond the point of viability, but is still determined to end her pregnancy, she will still do so. And as long as it remains difficult and illegal for her to do so, she will accomplish her goal illegally. Outlawing late term abortions will not stop them. They are rare even without the legal restrictions. Women who are able to end unwanted pregnancies as soon as they can. They don’t wait for the opportunity to kill a baby.
If his patients had had the chance to go to a clean and safe clinic, Kermit Gosnell would not have had a practice. As someone I spoke with said recently, Gosnell’s clinic was “the template for underground and illegal abortion [mills]. As abortion rights get more restrictive, as people seek to find ways to make them even harder to come by, people looking to make money off this human suffering will find a fertile grounds on which to thrive.”
When a “Baby” is not a Baby
A pregnant woman talks about her baby in the present tense, but she has no offspring yet. We refer to saving the lives of babies when we talk about prenatal health care. The anti-choice crowd talks about saving babies’ lives when they talk about not aborting pregnancies. So when is a baby a baby, and when is it not?
A fetus is the unborn or unhatched offspring of non-marsupial mammals – any non-marsupial mammal, including a human, a goat, a bear, or a platypus. (Marsupials do not have a fetal stage. They go from embryo to joey instead of from embryo to fetus.) A fetus is dependent on its mother for oxygenation, which is essential to life.
Viability, or the ability of the fetus to live outside the womb, is the measure the Supreme Court uses to determine the point at which the states may restrict abortions. Prior to viability the fetus cannot survive without its natural life support system: a woman. The point of viability is not a clear, bright line for every developing fetus. Some fetuses delivered earlier may live, while some delivered later may not. Medical advances have made it more likely that younger, smaller fetuses can live if their families choose to exercise those so-called heroic measures.
Until living tissue can oxygenate itself, it is dependent upon its mother and is not a baby. It is living tissue, but it lives a parasitic existence. As long as it lives a parasitic existence, its host may either accept it or reject it. We take steps to reject other parasitic lives dependent upon us, whether the parasite is a hookworm or a paramecium. The difference between these parasites and a fetus is that the fetus is a developmental stage of our own species, made with its host’s own DNA. We are more reluctant to reject our own species than we are to reject another. Once a fetus is born it becomes a baby that any other human can care for. After the umbilical cord is cut and the baby draws its first independent breath, it can be given to a wet nurse, it can be held by any other person or set aside in a crib away from other people completely. It is still dependent, but not for each moment of life. Its sustenance can come from anyone, not only from its mother.
Furthermore, after a fetus is born alive – that is, after it becomes a baby at the magic moment of birth – certain rules go into effect. Those rules allow us to remove terminally ill, dying, doomed, and comatose from the medical interventions keeping them alive. There is no legal requirement that heroic measures be taken for anyone, regardless of how long they have been breathing.
Why should there be a legal requirement that life support systems must stay in place simply because of the short length of time since conception? And why should anyone be legally compelled to provide life support for another person at the expense of her own body?
Someone pointed out McFall v. Shimp in a discussion today. In that case, McFall needed a bone marrow transplant and Shimp was the only suitable donor found. When Shimp refused to donate bone marrow, McFall sued. The court famously found that while Shimp’s refusal was morally indefensible, the court had no authority to order him to submit to personal, physical harm and bodily intrusion in order to save McFall’s life, and would not do so. Personal ethics are one thing. Demanding that another person put himself in harm’s way is yet another.
A pregnant woman unwilling to sustain the developing life within her own body is analogous. Every pregnancy has adverse health effects on every woman, Increased heart rate, edema, sepsis, increased blood pressure, hormonal surges…the list of physical systems challenged and even compromised by pregnancy is long and frightening. Then there’s death. Every woman fears death as a result of pregnancy. A woman may be under a moral obligation to provide healthy conditions for the tissue in her womb that has the potential to develop into a human being; however, she is under no legal compulsion to do so.
That is why women who use drugs and alcohol during their pregnancies are not incarcerated.
A fetus becomes a baby when it is born – when the umbilical cord is cut and it takes its first breath of air. At that moment, it is no longer dependent upon another creature’s continued life in order for it to exist. If a pregnant woman dies, the nonviable fetus inside her also dies, as does a viable fetus not immediately removed surgically.
Too often the terms “fetus” and “baby” are used interchangeably. I’m guilty of this, too. It’s the colloquial vernacular. These are not interchangeable terms, though. One means a creature that has not yet been born; the other means a creature that has been born.
A fetus does not become a baby until it is separated from its mother and living on its own, even if “living on its own” means that some degree of medical intervention is necessary. No one condones severing the spinal cord of an already-born baby who otherwise is healthy and able to survive. If the news reports of the testimony at Kermit Gosnell’s trial is accurate, he may have killed at least seven healthy babies – not fetuses.
There is a difference.
Valuing Human Life and Dignity
Valuing human life and dignity takes many forms. Personally, I value the life in existence more than the potential life. I certainly value the dignity of an existing person capable of feeling indignity more than that of a theoretical one.
The inherent point about abortion is that a woman who is determined to end her pregnancy will do so, no matter how much it costs, no matter what lengths she has to go to, and no matter if it may kill her.
I have witnessed abortion. The life, health, and future of my friend having that abortion while I held her hand was more important than the potential life that was then unable to live outside her womb. To this day, nearly 32 years later, she does not regret her choice, and I do not regret making sure she was able to have that abortion safely. I called home from college and asked my dad for the money. My friend could not ask her parents, but I knew my father would help me without hesitation and he did. I don’t know if he believed me when I said it was for a friend, but it did not make any difference to him. A young woman’s future was on the line.
I have also seen ultrasounds. I’ve seen different stages of healthy fetal development, and I have seen severely malformed fetuses in ultrasound after 20 weeks. One such fetus was also aborted. Less than a year later, performing that abortion would have made a felon out of the very humane and humanitarian doctor who performed it.
The fetal human being suffers no more and considerably less than the animals we humans routinely slaughter to eat, and does so with significantly less fear and trauma. It suffers less than a living human being whose artificial life support must be withdrawn because of health care directives. It suffers for a shorter period of time, too, and its death in safe, sterile surroundings does not compromise anyone else’s life or quality of life.
Abortion opponents want us to believe that abortions will stop if they are made illegal. They won’t. More people will suffer at the hands of butchers like Kermit Gosnel is reputed to be.
Butchers like Kermit Gosnell are the reason Roe v. Wade became necessary.
Butchers like Kermit Gosnell are the reason pro-choice proponents despair of ever-restrictive abortion laws.