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Reactions to abortion murder verdict highlight chasm between advocacy groups

Published: Thursday, May 16 2013 7:50 p.m. MDT

In this March 8, 2010 photo, Dr. Kermit Gosnell is seen during an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News at his attorney's office in Philadelphia. Gosnell, an abortion doctor who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the Women's Medical Society, was charged Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011 with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Philadelphia Daily News, Yong Kim

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Kermit Gosnell agreed this week to accept life in prison, waiving an appeal to avoid the death penalty, after being convicted on three first-degree murder charges, one involuntary manslaughter, and a host of lesser convictions on unsafe and unhygienic practices.

For months the mainstream national media had conscientiously ignored the sensational case. One lonely local reporter tweeted a photo of the empty press section at the trial. It went viral.

But it took the combined efforts of Kirsten Powers at USA Today and Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic to finally force the case into the national spotlight.

As the disgraced abortion doctor settles into his new life behind bars, the larger implications of his trial are only now being sifted out.

Because Gosnell’s crimes were so multifaceted — involving both the murder of infants and gross indifference to the health of female patients — interpretations of the trial may be something of a Rorschach test.

Infanticide

Not surprisingly, pro-life activists see three first-degree murder charges.

"Babies are dying," said Carol Tobias of the National Right to Life Committee, "whether they are being snipped in the back of the neck like Gosnell, or being torn apart in a D&C abortion. It doesn't matter how clean the facility is.”

"What we need to learn from the Gosnell case is that late-term abortion is infanticide. Legal infanticide,” wrote Kirsten Powers last week. A pro-life liberal — a now-rare species that once roamed the land in sizeable numbers — Powers has focused repeatedly on the “geography” of late-term abortions, pointing to the logical difficulty of calling an action murder when it happens outside, given that moments earlier would have been legal inside the womb.

"That so many people in the media seem untroubled by the idea that 12 inches in one direction is a ‘private medical decision’ and 12 inches in the other direction causes people to react in horror, should be troubling."

Women’s health

Pro-choice advocates would naturally rather focus on hygiene and malpractice, including the manslaughter involving the woman who died at the clinic.

“The jury has punished Kermit Gosnell for his appalling crimes. This verdict will ensure that no woman is victimized by Kermit Gosnell ever again,” said Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood's Vice President for Communications in a statement, a sentiment echoed almost verbatim by Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in a press release, and by Vicki Saporta, President of the National Abortion Federation in an email.

Clearly, Planned Parenthood, NARAL and NAF are not interested in Powers’ 12-inch geography debate. The focus is women's health and the danger that new abortion regulations will drive poor women into substandard facilities.

“We must reject misguided laws that would limit women's options and force them to seek treatment from criminals like Kermit Gosnell,” Ferrero said.

Regulatory failure

Hogue argued in a CNN op-ed last week, “Gosnell also ignored the standards of care and safety recognized as best practices by medical professionals who provide abortion care. That he was allowed to operate for so long — despite multiple complaints — was a failure of the authorities to enforce the laws on the books.”

To her credit, Hogue does open her op-ed by referring to the victims in the three first-degree murder convictions as "infants," rather than the bloodless term "fetuses."

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