After Gosnell, Maryland should reconsider late-term abortion

Marta Mossburg says Philadelphia case is a window into the horrors of a nightmarish procedure

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To those who support "choice" at all costs: Read the grand jury report on Kermit Gosnell.

He is the Philadelphia abortion doctor awaiting a verdict in his trial, where he is accused of murdering four babies allegedly born alive and killing 41-year-old refugee Karnamaya Mongar. The charges represent only a fraction of the horrors that went on at the Women's Medical Society clinic, according to the report, where hundreds of children died by "snipping" — his term for sticking scissors into the back of a baby's neck and cutting its spinal cord — and where women were routinely butchered in late-term abortions by untrained medical staff and doped up according to how much they could pay.

Here are some lowlights from the report:

•"A nineteen-year-old girl was held for several hours after Gosnell punctured her uterus. As a result of the delay, she fell into shock from blood loss, and had to undergo a hysterectomy."

•"The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. … Medical equipment — such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff — was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn't used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut."

•"Among the relatively few cases that could be specifically documented, one was Baby Boy A. His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant — seven and a half months — when labor was induced. An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds. He was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could 'walk me to the bus stop.'"

•"After 1993, the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. … With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be 'putting a barrier up to women' seeking abortions."

Abortion supporters argue Dr. Gosnell, whose trial is garnering national media coverage, is a fringe outlier. In Maryland alone, there is much evidence to prove that assertion false. What about Steven Chase Brigham, for example? He was charged with murder for the deaths of viable babies at an abortion clinic he operated illegally in Elkton. Or what about the death of 29-year-old Jennifer McKenna-Morbelli in February after undergoing an abortion at 33 weeks at a Germantown clinic? In March, Maryland officials suspended abortions at three clinics, including one in Baltimore where a patient had a heart attack and later died. According to a report in this paper, "The physician who performed the abortion at Associates in OB/GYN Care LLC on North Calvert Street wasn't certified in CPR and a defibrillator at the facility did not work."

According to Jeffrey Meister, director of administration and legislation at Maryland Right to Life, at least seven clinics in Maryland advertise that they perform abortions at 20 weeks or later — when many of the "fetuses" would be called babies if found on the other side of the birth canal.

This paper editorialized that Dr. Gosnell's actions show how "abortion needs to be safe, accessible and rare."

But if by safe the paper in part means legal, Dr. Gosnell's clinic was legal. And in Maryland, there is no way to know if abortion is rare, because since 2006 the state stopped collecting voluntary abortion data from clinics because so few of them provided it. The state is only one of four in the nation not to collect such data. What we do know is not good. A report from the Guttmacher Institute says Maryland's abortion rate is one of the highest in the nation, according to 2008 data it privately collected. Would Gov. Martin O'Malley not relish the findings of AbortionStat? He demands statistics on everything else.

If anything, the state encourages abortion. Its parental notification law for minors, for example, is all but toothless, as a doctor can override the requirement for almost any reason.

My view that life starts at conception is not mainstream in this state. But how is it mainstream to kill children who feel pain and could survive outside the womb? Is there no middle ground in this debate, or is a woman's right to choose so sacred that a baby is only human if its mother and doctor decide for her? Right now that is the case in Maryland, where abortion is virtually available on demand throughout a pregnancy.

In a state where the governor just signed a law ending the death penalty, based in part on an appeal to the dignity of human life, isn't it worth discussing the difference between infanticide and abortion?

Marta H. Mossburg is a Baltimore-area writer whose work appears regularly in The Sun. Her email is marta@martamossburg.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

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