Abortionist and convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell calls himself an “impractical man.” Speaking from his prison cell, where he sits for killing a patient and three born-alive babies, he told one of the documentary filmmakers of “3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy”: “Practical man changes to live within his society. Impractical man has the priority of changing society to meet his own needs. Therefore, progress can only be accomplished by an impractical man.”
When asked if he were an “impractical man,” Gosnell replied, “No question.”
“Impractical” is not the first word any sane person would use to describe Gosnell, whose blood-stained, filthy abortion clinic was described as a “house of horrors,” where babies’ remains were stored in milk jugs, orange juice cartons and cat food containers while women were treated by untrained staff using unsterilized equipment and flea-infested cats used the office as a sandbox.
But Kermit Gosnell, in the most unintended way, did achieve progress. His profound disregard for human life and complete lack of concern for his patients drew nationwide attention and caused numerous states to regulate the health and safety conditions of abortion clinics.
And those regulations are now about to be adjudicated by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case that’s being called the most important abortion-related decision in 25 years.
The Philadelphia grand jury that investigated and indicted Gosnell was unequivocal in its recommendation. Its 2011 report states: “If oversight agencies expect to prevent future Dr. Gosnells, they must find the fortitude to enact and enforce the necessary regulations. Rules must be more than words on paper. [A]bortion clinics should be explicitly regulated as ambulatory surgical facilities, so that they are inspected annually and held to the same standards as all other outpatient procedure centers.”
Texas was among the states that took the grand jury’s report to heart. In 2013, its legislators passed measures to protect the health and safety of women seeking abortions. Among the adopted provisions was one extending the state’s rules for ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) to all abortion clinics.
Naturally, the abortion industry, which believes it is entitled to special treatment, wailed when it was made to follow the same rules as other outpatient surgical facilities — although it is noteworthy that in Texas, clinics that abort babies after 15 weeks are already required to meet such standards. Nevertheless, many claim that the minimum standards for ASCs would cause abortion clinics to close.
But abortion clinics in Texas and across the country were already closing and continue to shut down — but not because of state regulations.
According to Bloomberg News, 162 abortion clinics nationwide have closed since 2011, while only 21 have opened. The Abortion Care Network reports that for every three abortion clinic closings in “red” states, there have been two in “blue” states. California, the only state to be given an “A+” rating for its abortion laws by NARAL Pro-Choice America, has seen 12 clinics shut down.
The fact is that abortion demand is down. Abortion rates have been declining for more than two decades, making it harder for abortion providers to find customers.
Then there’s Planned Parenthood. The abortion giant’s market share has increased from 10 percent of all abortions performed in 1993 to 32 percent in 2011. While other abortion businesses lost sales, Planned Parenthood built “mega clinics” that brought in even more women. Three of those mega clinics have been constructed in Texas, including two that have opened after Texas’ 2013 clinic regulation law was passed. When the Wal-Mart of the abortion industry opens, other businesses lose clients. Perhaps tellingly, Planned Parenthood is not a party to the Whole Woman’s Health lawsuit. It obviously can afford to comply with Texas’ ASC standards.
Another crucial factor in the abortion decline has been the dwindling number of doctors willing to perform abortions. In many cases, clinics now have to fly in “circuit riders” — abortionists from other states who swoop into a state, perform a couple of dozen abortions or more in a day, then take the money and run. Contributing to the decreasing number of abortionists are those now in jail or who have lost their licenses for unethical practices. Without abortionists, the abortion industry shrinks.
It’s no wonder abortion clinics don’t want to spend the money to meet safer fire codes, purchase proper sterilization equipment, or provide for wider hallways so that gurneys can fit through. But are the financial problems of abortion clinics valid reasons for asserting that the Constitution guarantees their survival? Must the state allow substandard care in order to make abortion available — or does it have a responsibility to protect people?
The Supreme Court will answer this question, probably before the end of the month. And Kermit Gosnell will either cheer for abortionists from his prison cell — or see that real progress for patient safety has actually been achieved.
• Father Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life.