The problem with Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist on trial for killing a mother and at least seven infants born alive after botched abortions, is that the government has too many anti-abortion regulations and not enough public funds for providing abortions to poor women. That’s according to the participants on a conference call hosted by RH Reality Check, a news and commentary website focused on “reproductive & sexual health and justice.”
The speakers on the call agreed that excessively stringent government regulations on abortion practices keep the practice “far away from professional medicine.” This results in, they argue, the kind of hellish, underground abortion clinics like Gosnell’s.
The call was conducted in conjunction with an op-ed at RH Reality Check by Slate writer Amanda Marcotte, both of which were billed as efforts to provide the media with “the facts” on the Gosnell case. (It’s an indication that Marcotte, however, may not be arguing in good faith when she asserts that, “[u]nable to muster actual compassion for Gosnell’s victims, anti-choicers got right to work seeking ways to exploit his crimes to further reduce access to safe, legal abortion—and to create more Gosnells in the future.”)
Marcotte writes that pro-choice Americans like herself “support holding abortion clinics…to a high safety standard” and that the movement has groups like the National Abortion Federation to certify those clinics. According to the grand jury report, an evaluator from NAF visited Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic after Gosnell applied for membership in 2009, which he did shortly after the death of the woman with whose murder he’s been charged.
“NAF unsurprisingly refused to certify Gosnell, even though he cleaned his clinic up and pretended to have medically trained staff in an effort to trick them,” Marcotte writes, correctly. But the grand jury report has more that Marcotte doesn’t mention.
“It was the worst abortion clinic [the evaluator] had ever inspected,” the report read. “Of course, she rejected Gosnell’s application. She just never told anyone in authority about all the horrible, dangerous things she had seen.”
When asked by THE WEEKLY STANDARD about the NAF employee’s failure to report, the participants on the call admitted this was a “massive failure of oversight” but described the question as “cherry picking” “one employee from one organization.” In fact, NAF describes itself as the “professional association of abortion providers in North America” and has member clinics in nearly every state in the U.S. Furthermore, as Warren Throckmorton reported, Gosnell’s clinic in Philadelphia wasn’t the only one at which he practiced; he also worked one day a week at an NAF-member clinic in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. Several times, Gosnell performed abortions in Philadelphia on women with whom he first met in Wilmington.
One of the call participants, Carol Joffe of the University of California San Francisco, claimed that there were “repeated calls” from people in Pennsylvania to the authorities about Gosnell, including “pro-choice” groups (though which groups did so was never mentioned).
“I think it’s blatantly incorrect to say that pro-choice groups wanted to keep this quiet,” said Joffe. “They didn’t.”
The real problem, she insisted, was that the appropriate regulatory agencies in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, particularly the state health department, failed to do something about Gosnell when alerted by whistleblowers. “It is extremely unfortunate that the department of health did not respond to the repeated calls to do an inspection,” said Joffe.
It is true, as the grand jury report shows, that multiple levels of the bureaucracy ignored warning signs about Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic. But it was not because, as Marcotte and the call participants claimed, state officials were avoiding the issue due to political pressure from pro-life elements of the political debate over abortion. The authorities had, for a time, inspected Gosnell’s operation and had noted numerous violations. But that changed under pro-choice Republican governor Tom Ridge. Here, the grand jury report elucidates: