Philly Doctor Case Shines Light On Access Issues

What Women Really Think
Jan. 19 2011 3:02 PM

Philly Doctor Case Shines Light On Access Issues

Disturbing news out of Philadelphia today: Abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell and some of his staff members have been charged with eight counts of murder for the death of a patient and the alleged killing of seven babies.  It was a little hard to find reliable information on Gosnell in the sea of anti-choice hysterics online, but it appears he was suspended for shady practices in February of last year, and these charges appear to be a follow-up from that first investigation.

Until more information is available, I would advise caution on jumping to conclusions about the charges of murder on the seven babies.  The accusation that the babies were delivered and then killed with scissors resemble a fairly routine accusation leveled by anti-choicers at doctors who perform late term abortions.  The anti-abortion, anti-contraception activist Jill Stanek rose to prominence accusing a hospital in Chicago of doing this; they were cleared of the charges.  She has since accused many people, including Barack Obama, of supporting infanticide as a form of birth control.  In other words, it's possible that Gosnell is guilty of the charges, but one should take the history of this particular claim into account before jumping to conclusions.

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What seems to not be in dispute is that Gosnell ran a crappy clinic, something that anti-choicers have been using as propaganda to advocate against legal abortion.  But it doesn't follow logically.  There are 1,800 abortion providers in the country , and the vast majority run clean, professional operations.  That there are a few shady characters in the bunch is unsurprising, and the pro-choice community exerts quite a bit of effort trying to improve the quality of abortion care, even under the remarkable constraints on provision.

That shady abortion providers get patients at all is something we can safely blame the anti-choice movement for. Most doctors in this country are pro-choice, and many would like to provide abortion, but as Slate 's Emily Bazelon demonstrated in the New York Times , the stigma of doing so makes it that much harder to do.  Good medical care costs money, but very few women seeking abortion can get coverage, in no small part because of anti-choice initiatives like the Hyde Amendment.  If you're seeking an abortion but can't afford it, going to a doctor who provides substandard care on the cheap is certainly going to be an attractive option.

These particular charges involve late-term abortion, and all I could think upon reading the news story was, "I wish these women could have gone to Dr. George Tiller," because he was renowned for the quality of care provided at his Kansas clinic.  But sadly, that wasn't even an option, even for those who could afford it, as Dr. Tiller's life was taken by an anti-choice extremist in 2009.  When vacuums are created, we shouldn't be surprised when they suck in a bunch of junk.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.