Many of us have watched with revulsion as the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell plays out in the national news.
For women who recall life in the United States pre-Roe, it’s like a throwback — untrained staff performing illegal abortion procedures in a filthy facility, with blood-stained blankets and unsterilized instruments.
For those who are too young to know those days, the case provides a window onto the horror show that our mothers and grandmothers lived, taking their lives in their hands just to access healthcare.
It should never be this way.
There is one key factor that allowed Gosnell to operate in Philadelphia for so long, and that is poverty. Gosnell regularly undercut the prices of clean and safe abortion providers, and some women felt that they were left with no other option. For some women, it may have been the difference between having and not having food, shelter and heat for their families.
At the Women’s Emergency Network (WEN), we see this level of desperation among our clients. Recently, Emily (not her real name) wrote asking for financial assistance to terminate her pregnancy, sharing that she had considered prostitution and suicide until she realized that she had another option.
Financial assistance provided by WEN supporters was that other option. It meant that Emily went to a high-quality clinic with properly trained and supportive staff to get the legal healthcare she needed. And because of this support, women like her report to us that they are able to finish school, leave an abusive partner, secure work, resolve a health problem, overcome trauma or take care of a family that already depends on them. These are actions that change the course of people’s lives.
It would be a mistake to use the actions of one rogue doctor to frame the debate over abortion, just as it would be to suggest that anyone who is anti-choice wants to follow in the footsteps of Scott Roeder, the man convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller.
This is a sad and horrific story about poverty and one person’s actions to use it to his financial advantage outside the bounds of the law.
Michelle Garcia, executive director, Women’s Emergency Network, Miami