Joseph Cotto, 7/7/2015 [Archive]

Finding a Balance on Legal Abortion

By Joseph Cotto

This has been a rough few years for abortion rights supporters. Since the Republicans took control of many state legislatures and gubernatorial posts in 2010, waves of laws designed to restrict pregnancy termination have come on the books.

No shortage of these were subject to lawsuits, one of which recently made its way to the Supreme Court. Texas was made to halt enforcement of a law that, in the words of Truthout's Katie Klabusich, "would have shuttered all but nine abortion clinics in Texas by requiring unnecessary, multimillion-dollar, hospital-like facility upgrades."

Shortly after, a Florida court froze new legislation mandating 24-hour waiting periods for abortion services.

It is ironic that all this happened shortly after the second anniversary of Philadelphia's Dr. Kermit Gosnell becoming a convict. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and unlawful abortion procedures, among a slew of other crimes.

Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker noted that "standard practices allegedly included snipping the spines of live newborns with rusty equipment, storing feces in cat-food containers and fetus feet in jars, and overdosing patients, particularly those who were poor women of color."

What few people have discussed, though, is how his inner-city clinic, ghoulishly dubbed the Women's Health Society, was able to get away with its wrongdoings for so long.

There is no proof that most American abortion clinics are anything like the one Gosnell ran for over thirty years. He is the aberration, not the rule. However, many socially rightist pundits ignored this. They wanted O.J. Simpson-like national media attention for Gosnell's trial, and this did not come to pass.

The hope was that Gosnell's marathon of terror would help sour public opinion about abortion rights. Several antiabortion activists anticipated his name would become associated with any and all pregnancy cessation procedures.

Needless to say, such a thing would decimate popular support for abortion rights. It would also be the product of a logical fallacy; just because Gosnell's clinic was a house of horrors doesn't mean that every other one is. From my perspective, the antiabortion crowd wanted to manipulate emotions through the news, much in the same way that left-wingers have for generations.

Two wrongs don't make a right.

The terrible story of Kermit Gosnell has many lessons, not the least of which pertains to basic human decency. Politics aside, one should ask if his clinic would have been allowed to skate for so long if more abortion services were offered in its area. The law of supply and demand comes into play here. Obviously, a great deal of people near the former clinic wanted abortion services.

Had more clinics established themselves, Gosnell would have had a strong incentive to offer top-quality care with no ifs, ands, or buts. What good does sub-par service or breaking laws do when competition is right around the corner? Should the market have forced Gosnell to follow the rules, it is hard to understand why he wouldn't have.

While anti-abortion activists assert that the best solution is criminalizing pregnancy termination, this would only lead society back to the days of dark alley abortions. In essence, "pro-life" politicians strive to create a scenario empowering the Gosnells of our country.

Like it or not, as long as there are unwanted pregnancies, there is going to be a clientele for abortion practices.

The most reasonable solution seems keeping abortion procedures legal under the condition that a viable fetus is not killed. Abortion clinics ought to face strict, though not discriminatory, regulations. Those performing abortions should also be held to a stringent code of ethics and standards. If this is done, then stories along the lines of Gosnell's can only become a thing of the past.

Isn't that what every sane voice should ask for?


Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

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