The jury remained out for an eighth consecutive day in the sensational murder trial of an inner-city Philadelphia abortionist, but the impact of the case already is being felt far beyond the courtroom.
As jurors weighed the fate of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a group of top lawmakers on Capitol Hill announced a drive to investigate the quality and oversight of clinics and facilities that provide abortion in every state in the union. A letter mailed Thursday to public health officials and states attorneys general is seeking information on the regulation and monitoring of abortion clinics.
Separately, black religious leaders have announced plans to come to Capitol Hill next week to demand congressional hearings on illegal, late-term abortions in poor and minority communities. The overwhelming number of patients at Dr. Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society were minorities.
Pro-choice advocates say the practices in Dr. Gosnell’s clinic were not representative of the industry as a whole, but abortion opponents clearly have been galvanized as revelations of the Philadelphia clinic — and the apparent lack of oversight by state health officials.
The Gosnell trial “raises troubling questions about the practices of abortion clinics, and whether state departments of health are aware, or even conducting appropriate monitoring of these facilities,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, wrote in a letter signed by five Republican colleagues.
Prosecutors charge that Dr. Gosnell, who is black, performed his late-term abortions in a filthy “house of horrors,” with most of his clients low-income minority women. He is charged with the first-degree murders of four newborns and third-degree murder of a female patient, as well as scores of other violations related to his clinic and abortion practices.
Dr. Gosnell’s defense has vigorously denied the charges, arguing that none of the babies was alive when he and others snipped their spinal cords. The defense attorneys did not call Dr. Gosnell, 72, to the stand or bring any witnesses during the trial.
The jury in the trial, which began deliberations more than a week ago, adjourned again Thursday without announcing a verdict.
Whatever the verdict, pro-choice groups warned, lawmakers should not make broad generalizations about the industry.
“All of us are appalled by the substandard, illegal practices,” said Vicki Saporta, chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, which represents hundreds of U.S. abortion clinics and refused to accept the Gosnell clinic as a member. “But to make the leap to say that’s indicative of the state of abortion care throughout the U.S. is absolutely false.”
But pro-life groups hailed the congressional move, saying lax oversight of abortion providers has long been a major problem.
“Kermit Gosnell is the tip of the iceberg,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. There has been “multi-state breakdown of oversight in the abortion industry, as well as the barbarism of abortions performed on children capable of feeling pain and surviving outside the womb.”
Lila Rose, whose Live Action organization has released four “undercover” videos of pregnant women talking candidly with abortion providers, also applauded the oversight letters. Live Action videos show that “gruesome” abortion practices, including leaving babies to die after failed abortions, “are just another day at the office for many abortion center doctors and employees,” Ms. Rose said.
The Guttmacher Institute estimated in 2008 that there were about 1,800 abortion providers in the United States.
In the letter from the Republican House members, public health officials in the states and the District are asked to detail by May 22 their licensing regulations; inspections; handling of complaints; license suspensions and revocations; disciplinary actions; and legal protections for infants, including born-alive infants. Documented data are requested from 2008 to 2013.