05/15/2013 11:26 am ET Updated Jul 15, 2013

How Do We Prevent More Gosnells?


It was hard for me, as it was for most Americans, to hear coverage of the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the doctor convicted of killing a woman and three infants in a horrifically unsafe Philadelphia abortion clinic. Gosnell preyed on the low-income women whose search for affordable abortion care brought them to his doorstep. The story of the woman and infants who died at Gosnell's hands and those who were hurt is wrenching -- especially if you are a woman who could have been in their shoes.

Anti-choice activists are exploiting the Gosnell trial to push for laws that close abortion clinics and otherwise limit access to choice. But that is exactly the wrong reaction. The horrific conditions at Gosnell's clinic show just how important it is to have real reproductive choice -- for women in all parts of the country and of all incomes.

A look at the state of reproductive rights and abortion safety throughout the world shows why this is the case. The Guttmacher Institute notes, "Restrictive laws have much less impact on stopping women from ending an unwanted pregnancy than on forcing those who are determined to do so to seek out clandestine means. In countries with such restrictive laws, women who can pay can sometimes find a qualified provider willing to perform an abortion; however, the vast majority of women in poor countries are too poor to avail themselves of this underground network." Nearly 70,000 women each year die from underground, unsafe abortions.

What is true globally is true in the United States. Those put at risk by restrictive abortion laws are not affluent women who can access safe care. Those who we put in jeopardy are low-income women with limited options, like those who sought the help of Kermit Gosnell.

Anti-choice groups and their allies in Congress and state legislatures are using the Gosnell case to push for laws meant to close safe abortion clinics, like the one forced to shut down in Virginia after 40 years in operation. They are also seeking to impose new restrictive laws on the District of Columbia, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Women with means will still be able to access safe abortion care -- just as they did before Roe v. Wade. Who these new restrictions hurt are those who are already vulnerable.

A truly reasonable and compassionate reproductive rights policy trusts women to make choices out about their reproductive health and gives them the freedom to make those choices safely, no matter their means.