“The medical practice by which [Kermit Gosnell] carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.” So begins the graphic and stomach-turning January 2011 grand jury report into the notorious activities of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, currently on trial for murder, and on the Women’s Medical Society, the “house of horrors” abortion clinic, where he is alleged to have killed infants who survived attempted abortions by “snipping” their spinal cords with scissors.
Kermit Gosnell is not an aberration. During the past three years, at least 15 states have launched investigations into abortion clinics and individual abortion providers for substandard care — care that in some cases has resulted in women’s deaths.
For more than a decade, Americans United for Life has led the nationwide effort to combat the reality of “back-alley” abortions, advocating for meaningful and comprehensive regulation and oversight of abortion clinics. Legislators across the country have responded to Americans United for Life’s call to protect women from substandard abortion clinics and providers. Over just the past three years, eight states have enacted new comprehensive abortion clinic regulations or made significant improvements to existing regulations.
Prominent in Americans United for Life’s efforts is the “Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act,” model legislation mandating that abortion clinics meet the same health and safety standards as facilities performing other outpatient surgeries. On April 9, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed legislation that was inspired by the model.
That same week, the Virginia Board of Health approved final regulations for abortion clinics which, under a 2011 law, are now considered a subset of “hospitals” and are required to meet rigorous and protective standards for patient care. Americans United for Life testified twice in support of these much-needed regulations.
The debate over Virginia’s abortion clinic standards is illustrative of the ongoing battle to force Big Abortion to put women’s health and safety above their profit margins and their calculated and self-interested promotion of unrestricted and unregulated abortion on demand.
Virginia officials and pro-life advocates argued that abortion clinics in the state should, among other requirements, be licensed by the state health department, inspected on a regular basis, have operable emergency equipment, and maintain sanitary and safe facilities. Advocates of Big Abortion — the self-appointed “guardians” of women’s health — cynically countered that if required to abide by these medically appropriate standards, abortion clinics would be coerced into spending significant amounts of money to come into compliance and might even be forced to close their doors.
In seeking to advance their own financial and political interests, Virginia abortion advocates blatantly ignored evidence of substandard conditions in Virginia abortion clinics, refusing to even acknowledge, and failing to contradict, evidence presented to the commonwealth’s board of health. Instead, after hearing testimony about recurring health and safety violations at some Virginia abortion clinics and the failure of a number of these clinics to fulfill “plans of correction” for previously documented violations, a representative from NARAL Virginia wrongly and stubbornly insisted that there was no demonstrated public health need supporting the regulations.
Contrary to NARAL’s claim, documentation obtained by the Family Foundation of Virginia from the Virginia Board of Health confirm that the continued health and safety violations at Virginia’s abortion clinics are widespread.
“These reports from more recent, follow-up inspections of abortion centers continue to show dozens and dozens of deficiencies, some worse than before,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia. “Not cleaned up. Not fixed. Ongoing. Even after submitting plans to correct these deficiencies, they have not done so. The abortion industry continues to claim that it is safe, but these inspection reports are indisputable evidence that nothing could be further from the truth.”
Sadly, Big Abortion continues to equate women’s health and safety with mere access to abortion. Access to sanitary and appropriately regulated and inspected abortion facilities is simply not part of their political and self-interested calculus.
The “right” to abortion, as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court, does not give rise to a corollary “right” for abortion providers like Kermit Gosnell to turn profits or to practice without meaningful oversight and regulation. Quite simply, Big Abortion does not — contrary to its apparent beliefs — have a constitutional right to maim and kill women in unlicensed, substandard and dangerous clinics.
Denise M. Burke is vice president of legal affairs at Americans United for Life.