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Philadelphia’s “House of Horrors” Abortion Clinic Underscores Need for Stringent Regulation

Wednesday’s arrest of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a West Philadelphia abortionist, for the murders of a pregnant woman and seven newborn infants and the blatant failure of Pennsylvania health officials to enforce the state’s existing abortion clinic regulations, underscore the need for more stringent regulation of abortion clinics and for more consistent and meaningful enforcement of these regulations by state officials.

On both February 18 and February 23, 2010, federal agents raided Gosnell’s abortion clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, and found “deplorable and unsanitary” conditions including blood on the floors; parts of aborted children stored in jars; post-operative recovery areas that consisted solely of recliners; padlocked emergency exits; and broken and inoperable emergency equipment.  During the course of the investigation, it was discovered that Gosnell typically did not arrive at the clinic until 6 pm each day and sanctioned the performance of gynecological exams and the administration of controlled substances and prescription medication by non-licensed staff at the clinic.

Following the raids, Gosnell’s license to practice medicine was immediately suspended and the clinic was closed down.  During a later grand jury investigation, prosecutors learned that state health officials had ignored dozens of complaints against Gosnell and that the clinic had not inspected since 1993.  They also learned that Gosnell had been illegally performing late-term abortions, delivering viable babies and killing them by cutting their spinal cords with scissors.

What could have possibly motivated such barbarity and abject disregard for the lives and health of untold numbers of women and their children?  Perhaps, simply, that Gosnell had made millions of dollars over 30 years performing abortions (including illegal, late-term abortions).

Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” was allowed to operate without meaningful oversight despite existing Pennsylvania laws requiring state health officials to inspect and approve any medical facility in which an abortion is provided (28 Pa. Code § 29.43(a)); and requiring all abortion facilities to meet state-mandated administrative, professional qualification, patient testing, and physical-plant requirements (28 Pa. Code § 29.33, .38).

Sadly, Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic is not an aberration.  Substandard and unsafe abortion clinics are currently operating across the nation.  All too often, America’s abortion clinics have become the “back alleys” that abortion advocates have long warned against.

So, what can be done to address substandard abortion care in this country?  First, state legislatures must enact meaningful and medically-appropriate regulations for abortion clinics.  AUL provides two options: (a) the “Abortion Patient’s Enhanced Safety Act” which requires abortion clinics to be licensed as and to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.  These exacting standards should be viewed as the “gold standard” of abortion care; and (b) the “Woman’s Health Protection Act” which codifies the abortion industry’s own internal standards – standards which have withstood multiple legal challenges over the last decade.

Second, state health officials must prioritize the inspection of abortion clinics to ensure that they are complying with applicable standards.  Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” is a clear warning as to what can result when state officials neglect their responsibilities.

Finally, this incident also exposes the chilling ramifications of the dangerous and self-serving politicization of abortion over the past four decades.  Radical abortion activists have purposely transformed abortion from a medical procedure requiring proper oversight and limits into a divisive political issue in which any meaningful or even medically-appropriate regulation of abortion is systematically attacked – in the media, in the legislature, and in the courts – as an affront to women’s autonomy and equal rights.

In seeking to avoid meaningful oversight, abortion activists crassly extol the view that mere access to abortion is all that is needed to ensure women’s health and inexplicably ignore the very real threats posed by all-too-common substandard abortion clinics and practices, as well as the risks inherent in the procedure itself. 

For the sake of women’s health and lives, this self-serving politicization must stop and meaningful regulations must be implemented and enforced nationwide.