Skip to main content

Gosnell case shows why abortion rights need protection

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
May 13, 2013 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: As new president of abortion rights group, I recoiled at Gosnell story
  • She says anti-abortion groups exploiting case to push policies that would harm women
  • She says Pennsylvania already trying to end abortion care with cooked up clinic regulations
  • Hogue: Making abortions inaccessible pushes women toward people like Gosnell

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

(CNN) -- I didn't want to start my new job as the president of a national pro-choice organization by taking a close look at the shocking case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. I couldn't avoid the ugly truth of Gosnell's actions, and like everyone else, I recoiled in horror when I learned what he had done. On Monday, Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.

As a nation, we can't afford to miss the critically important lessons of this case. And when I saw the anti-abortion movement twisting those lessons for their own political agenda, angling for policies that would put even more women in danger, I had to speak up.

Gosnell will be sentenced for the murder of three infants and homicide of a patient through lethal doses of painkillers. Let's be clear: Murder is illegal in all 50 states, and his sentencing should reflect the gravity of these crimes.

Gosnell also ignored the standards of care and safety recognized as best practices by medical professionals who provide abortion care. That he was allowed to operate for so long -- despite multiple complaints -- was a failure of the authorities to enforce the laws on the books.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

His willful neglect of the law and of the women who went to him for help is egregious and is exactly the kind of crime that the pro-choice movement has sought to end by bringing abortion care above ground since Roe v. Wade was adjudicated in 1973.

Why is this so important? Because anti-abortion activists would have the public believe the exact opposite.

They are exploiting the Gosnell case to boost their 40-year-old agenda to ban abortion altogether. These opportunists are shamelessly using the case of these victimized women to take even more control away from our ability to make private decisions about how, when, and with whom we have families.

In NARAL Pro-Choice America's annual evaluation of reproductive rights in the 50 states, Pennsylvania received an "F" because of the obstacles and roadblocks politicians have put in front of women seeking safe and legal abortion care. Pennsylvania, along with 32 other states and the District of Columbia, blocks abortion care for low-income women who receive their care from the state's Medicaid program.

Denying women this care until they can raise the money to pay out of pocket can force them to seek abortion later in their pregnancies and drive them into the clutches of back-alley providers such as Gosnell, who offer them substandard care.

More tellingly, Pennsylvania has also pushed Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws, which are on the front lines of efforts to end abortion care once and for all.

These TRAP laws, always proposed by anti-choice extremists, zero in on clinics that provide abortion and hit them with a series of expensive, medically unnecessary and nit-picking rules designed to push them out of business, while ignoring clinics that provide other medical services with much higher risks of complication. TRAP laws often come with ridiculous rules for such things as the height of the grass, the number of parking spaces and awning widths at abortion clinics.

Prosecutor was sobbing during verdict
Doctor's clinic called 'house of horrors'

NARAL Pro-Choice America members, along with most Americans, support the fair implementation of regulations among all medical providers that are carefully designed to keep patients safe. However, the motivation behind TRAP laws is clear: to shut down abortion clinics. And what's disturbing is, they're working.

Over the years, there has been a significant decline in the number of abortion providers in Pennsylvania and across this country.

In Mississippi, Alabama and South Dakota, runaway restrictions have driven out all but one provider in each state. When these clinics are driven out of business, it is the most economically vulnerable women who pay the price. These women are the ones who lose access to critical medical services such as cancer-screening, check-ups and even prenatal care also provided at these clinics. Let's remember Gosnell is also a symptom of how hard it is for low-income women to get quality health care, period.

TRAP laws are just the beginning for anti-choice extremists, who have made no secret that they will stop at nothing to ban abortion completely. Earlier this year, Arkansas became the first state to ban the procedure at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Not to be outdone, North Dakota enacted a six-week ban on abortion -- that's before most women even know they are pregnant. If TRAP laws are a back-door ban to abortion, these near-total bans are your anti-choice neighbors barging uninvited through your front door.

None of these efforts -- TRAP laws or outright bans -- will reduce the number of abortion procedures.

A Guttmacher Institute study found similar abortion rates in countries where abortion is illegal and where it is legal. But the study showed that when countries limit legal access, more women die.

That brings us back to Gosnell. His clinic operated in violation of basic health and safety standards; his practices were abhorrent. If we allow political extremists to exploit this case to impose more TRAP laws and abortion bans, the remaining safe and legal abortion providers could be forced to shut their doors.

No one cares more about the safety of women more than the members of the pro-choice movement. In fact, it was the stories -- daily stories -- of horrors women faced from unregulated, unsafe, unsanitary procedures that shocked a nation into action back in the days when abortion was illegal.

Women, regardless of their background, deserve access to high-quality health care. Women deserve the opportunity to determine if and when they want to have families. Women deserve the dignity of controlling their own lives and, without a doubt, women deserve a lot better than the likes of Kermit Gosnell.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT