As many of you know, Doctor Gosnell performed abortions in the Philadelphia area for many years. Then, in late 2011, he was indicted for, among other things, eight counts of murder. In addition, several of his staff people, including his wife and sister in law, were also charged with assisting in botched abortions, practicing medicine without a license or covering up the actions of those who did. One of them, Adrienne Moton, has already pleaded guilty to third-degree murder as well as conspiracy and other charges and is in jail. Other staff people have also pleaded guilty and have testified at the trial.
In all my years at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I never heard of Doctor Gosnell. And I surely don’t know if he is innocent or guilty of the charges. Of course, if you read the latest reports from the pro-life media, he is clearly guilty of running a “chamber of horrors” even though the defense has not even presented its case. While some of the testimony that has been presented so far appears rather damaging, I choose to actually let the judicial process play out because – dare I say it – I do believe that one is innocent until proven guilty. Unlike my pro-life friends, who eschew the protections in the Constitution, I’ll wait to see what the jury has to say.
But I will add that the testimony so far has been rather shocking and, if he is found guilty, they should lock him up and throw away the key.
This case has put the pro-choice groups in a quandary. First, there were some reports that a staff person with the National Abortion Federation actually examined his facility and recommended that he not be permitted into the organization. But after that, he continued to perform abortions. Then, Brenda Green, executive director of CHOICE, a nonprofit that connects the underinsured and uninsured with health services, said that she “tried to report complaints from clients, but the health department wouldn’t accept them from a third party. Instead, the patients had to fill out a daunting five-page form, available only in English, requiring them to reveal their identities upfront and be available to testify in Harrisburg.” He was like a cockroach who could not be stamped out.
Unfortunately, many women considering an abortion don’t even know how to check out the doctors. They often just decide who to go to based on the cost of the procedure and, like other medical services, if you are looking for the cheapest price, you may pay for it in more ways than one. NAF does have a section on their website which tells women what to look for when choosing a clinic but how many people even know about NAF? So, it does not surprise me that some women made their way to Doctor Gosnell.
But the tougher question is what do the pro-choice groups do if they know there is a “troublesome” doctor? It’s hard to make allegations if you do not have very specific information but the information has to come from the women and they don’t want to even admit they had an abortion. To be sure, one hears rumors but one has to be extremely careful lest one get sued for slander. Indeed, years ago I was quoted in the New York Times suggesting that women not go to a certain doctor with clinics up the east coast and within two days I had a “cease and desist” letter from his attorney threatening to sue our organization and me personally. I can tell you that a threat like that certainly makes you think about criticizing someone publicly.
The bottom line – and it’s a tough one – is that women have to learn to expect more and they need to speak up when they experience substandard care in an abortion facility (or any other medical facility). Then the authorities need to react quickly and with certainty. For years, we talked to numerous health authorities about that doctor on the east coast and while he lost his license in one state, he kept opening up clinics in other states. To be sure, the pro-lifers will say that clinics need more regulations and this may come as a surprise but many clinics are not adverse to discussing well-intentioned and useful regulations. But they will not cooperate when those regulations are designed solely to put a clinic out of business.
One final note about this case. If the allegations are true, Doctor Gosnell is an aberration amongst abortion providers. The vast, vast majority of women obtain abortions in comfortable and safe environments but, unfortunately, the media would rather focus on Doctor Gosnell than those who are merely offering safe abortion services to hundreds and thousands of women each year.