Although the trial against former abortionist Kermit Gosnell has concluded, the case has become a focal point for debates about the morality and legality of abortion in America.
Recently several states have enacted legislation that tightens restriction as to when a woman can have an abortion and a few states have moved to ban abortion altogether. Since 2010, 10 states have passed bans on abortions past 20 weeks. Within the last week, Congressman Trent Franks, R-Ariz., reintroduced the D.C. Pain Capable Unborn Protection Act, a bill that would outlaw abortion in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks. The bill was defeated when first introduced in 2012 but in the wake of the Gosnell case, Franks has amended the bill with the intention of having it instituted on the national level.
“I know when the subject is related in any way to abortion, the doors of reason and human compassion in our minds and hearts often close, and the humanity of the unborn can no longer be seen. But I pray we can at least come together to agree that we can and should draw the line at the point that these innocent babies can feel the excruciating pain of these brutal procedures,” Franks said in a press release. “The case of Kermit Gosnell shocked the sensibilities of millions of Americans. However, the crushing fact is that abortions on babies just like the ones killed by Gosnell have been happening hundreds of times per day, every single day, for the past 40 years. Indeed, let us not forget that, had Kermit Gosnell dismembered these babies before they had traveled down the birth canal only moments earlier, he would have, in many places nationwide, been performing an entirely legal procedure. If America truly understands that horrifying reality, hearts and laws will change. To this end, I have re-introduced the D.C. Pain Capable Unborn Protection Act, which will now be amended to broaden its coverage so that its provisions will apply nationwide.”
Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro Choice America said Franks is using the Gosnell case to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.
“He’s not content to deny the women of D.C. their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion so he’s extending his bill to prevent all of the women in America from exercising choices about how and when they have families,” Hogue said. “Franks is using this bill in a shameless effort to exploit the terrible tragedy in Pennsylvania where Kermit Gosnell was just convicted of murder for performing illegal abortions that resulted in killing of infants and women. The women of America deserve better. Gosnell was a criminal whose activities were made possible by the very kind of anti-choice policies Franks is advancing. By cutting funding, reducing access and imposing unnecessary restrictions on safe and legal abortion, anti-choice politicians have forced women — especially low-income women — into the waiting hands of unscrupulous operators like Kermit Gosnell.”
The Gosnell case closely followed the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. In the wake of the case several legislative proposals on the state levels have sought to change existing abortion restrictions. For example, GOP lawmakers have introduced the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” H.R. 3. Introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., it is one of two pieces of anti-abortion legislation that pro-choice advocates say could deny certain women their right to choose.
The Hyde Amendment prohibits government subsidization of abortion unless the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother or is the result of incest or rape. But under the proposed measure, rape victims who rely on Medicaid, or other federally subsidized abortion coverage, would have to prove that their pregnancy was the result of “forcible rape.” This means victims who weren’t raped “forcefully” enough, or were either complicit or incapacitated during the incident, would be denied federally funded abortion coverage.
In Pennsylvania the Republican controlled House of Representatives are debating House Bill 1077, known as the Women’s Right to Know Act. The bill calls for any woman wanting to have an abortion to have an ultrasound image of the fetus taken 24 hours before the procedure. The proposal would require the mother review the status of the unborn child, sign a written report to give to the provider and receive a sealed copy of the ultrasound image. State Rep. Kathy Rapp, who introduced the bill said women deserve the right to make a fully informed choice.
“Women deserve the right to view their complete medical records, and ultra sound technology exists and is already present in Pennsylvania abortion clinics,” Rapp said in a press release. “Without this legislation, a double standard will remain whereby women in perhaps their greatest time of need and indecision are not given complete information.”
Supporters of the bill believe if the mother sees an image of the fetus they might change their minds about having an abortion. Opponents say it is an intrusion into the mother’s health. The bill remains stalled in the House.
“This is exactly what we were afraid of — that pro-life advocates would see the Gosnell case, an isolated case, as indicative of a much greater problem and it isn’t,” said Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “I think Gosnell is a very isolated case. I’ve never heard of anything even remotely like this, it’s the worst I’ve ever heard of. Abortion is a safe and highly regulated procedure; however it’s still difficult to prevent a few doctors from crossing ethical lines. There are always going to be people who will break the laws.”
According to Steinberg abortion is already highly regulated in Pennsylvania. There is a 24-hour waiting period and other barriers to access. The latest a woman can choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy is 24 weeks.