Recently, federal agents raided Dr. Kermit Gosnell's clinic in Pennslyvania and discovered one of my worst nightmares realized: an unsafe clinic, with unsanitary conditions, sketchy staff, and to top it all off, fetus parts in jars. The doctor has killed at least a couple women, injured more, and who knows how many women who went there and just had a bad experience. So why did women go there? It had a terrible reputation. The answer: Gosnell charged very low prices. Women who were going there couldn't afford the extra it cost to go to a safe clinic. So, essentially they had two choices - carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, or go to this super sketchy clinic that was affordable, and hope for the best. Not really very good choices, huh?
Since most of his patients were poor and uneducated, that meant most of his patients would not be filing lawsuits, sending in reports to authorities, going to the press, etc. Other pro-choice organizations had tried to intervene on behalf of patients to no avail as well:
More than a decade ago, CHOICE, a Philadelphia abortion referral service, contacted the state medical board about Gosnell because some of his patients had called CHOICE with appalling stories, said Brenda Green, the organization's executive director.
"We were told that we could not file a complaint. It had to be a patient. It could not be a third party," Green said.
Reproductive health activists and Gilbert Abramson, a lawyer who filed the 2008 case that was later dropped, said they urged Gosnell's patients to file complaints with the state. But when the women learned that they would have to provide medical records and other forms, plus attend a hearing in Harrisburg, they changed their minds.
So, you just had a terrible experience in a medical facility and want to file a complaint -- but in order to do so you must be willing to submit all your medical information including the abortion you just had, and be able to travel two hours to another city to go to a hearing. And people wonder why more reports weren't filed.
I am so glad that this clinic is closed and this doctor is not allowed to perform abortions anymore. But this brings up a sticky topic -- bad clinics. We have all heard stories about this place or that place. I have plenty of experience working with a clinic that drives me insane. (I should pause for a moment and clarify that when I say "bad" I mean that the quality of care isn't amazing -- clinics that have rude staffers, won't be flexible with low-income women, etc. Dr. Gosnell's clinic is definitely AWFUL and the vast vast vast majority of clinics are not even vaguely like that.) What can we do to make clinics that don't provide the best care possible better? And what can we do to make sure a clinic like Dr. Gosnell's never exists ever again?? Can we create some sort of regulatory commission? Since clearly, the health department dropped the ball on this one big time. How we can get this information to low income women?
Unfortunately, many anti-choicers hear stories like Dr. Gosnell's and think that is what abortion care is like and all clinics are like that and they just want to make money and blah blah blah. None of that is true. I think I can say I speak for all the Abortioneers when I say that we all want clinics with qualified, caring doctors, spotless floors, compassionate staff, etc.
I think the saddest part of all of this is best summed up by Susan Schewel, executive director of the Women's Medical Fund, which provides financial help to poor women seeking abortions:
"What happened inside that building is not the real story. The real story is why women sought care there at all," Schewel said. "This prohibition on Medicaid payment leaves desperate women vulnerable to substandard providers."