Kermit Gosnell — the doctor who is on trial for killing a patient, four newborn babies, and performing numerous illegal abortions in a cesspool of a clinic in West Philadelphia—is many things. He is inept, according to many who work for him. He did monstrous things — according to eyewitnesses, he severed the spinal cords of liveborn babies because he did not know what he was doing in trying to end late-term pregnancies. He is a doctor indifferent to patient welfare as, according to witness after witness, he had inadequately trained staff use inappropriate assemblyline care for those who came to see him. And Kermit Gosnell is a pawn in the nation’s ongoing moral war over elective abortion. Those who oppose abortion see in him all that is wrong with allowing the choice to end pregnancy. Those who defend the right to choice see in him all that is wrong when efforts to restrict access to abortion and push the procedure out of the medical mainstream produce filthy third-world level facilities staffed by hacks and charlatans.
As both pro-choice and pro-life forces attempt to put Kermit Gosnell to use to argue the moral rectitude of their position, and the jury in his trial continues to deliberate, there is a danger that we will lose sight of what Kermit Gosnell really is — an anachronism.
Gosnell should certainly go to jail — and in all likelihood, he will. The hardened veteran police who raided his clinic were overwhelmed with emotion and anger at what they found there. But technology is making it less and less likely that the public face of abortion in the future will bear any resemblance to Kermit Gosnell and his backroom butchershop.
Gosnell was a stop of last resort for woman late in their pregnancies. They sought an abortion past the point of fetal viability — a choice illegal in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. For these women, Gosnell and his ilk are their only option.
But regardless of the outcome of Gosnell’s trial, the need for late trimester abortion is going to disappear. Even surgical abortion will be a thing of the past, as the abortion clinic slowly gives way to pharmaceutical abortion.
More and more women will be using cheap and readily available emergency contraception, not abortion. The FDA just announced that Plan B can be sold over-the-counter to buyers as young as 15. Other women will use mifepristone when they choose to end a pregnancy within the first seven weeks. They won’t be faced with the choice of a third trimester abortion because they will be able to easily access pharmaceutical options. The awful horror of Gosnell will disappear not as a result of legislation or protests or even trials but as a result of affordable pills that are easy to use.
A huge change is coming regarding abortion. By eliminating the “provider,” women will make the decision to take or not take pills that can prevent or end pregnancy. The future battle over abortion will be about the right to use a pill in the privacy of a woman’s home before pregnancy begins or early once it does — it will have very little to do with Kermit Gosnell, about whom the sooner we can forget, the better.