The Real Policy Solution To Prevent Future Kermit Gosnells

Kermit Gosnell (Credit: Fox News)

Monday’s news that illegal abortion provider Kermit Gosnell has been convicted of first-degree murder has already inspired a flurry of reactions, including several calls to tighten restrictions on legal abortion clinics across the country. Throughout Gosnell’s high-profile murder trial, anti-choice activists have consistently pushed the message that abortion still lacks proper regulations — despite the hundreds of state-level restrictions that continue to be piled onto this aspect of reproductive health care — in an attempt to portray all abortion procedures as inherently dangerous and barbaric.

And now, abortion opponents are continuing to suggest that Gosnell is not an outlier, criticizing the pro-choice community for failing to implement the policies to prevent other unscrupulous providers from repeating his crimes. “Despite the blood-soaked horror of Gosnell’s clinic, Democrats refuse to loosen their embrace of unrestricted, unregulated, taxpayer-funded abortion on demand,” Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) said on Monday, suggesting that Gosnell’s case reveals that Democrats “worship” abortion.

But in reality, there’s no such thing as taxpayer-funded abortion on demand. Under the Hyde Amendment, federal dollars are not allowed to fund abortion services. In an ironic twist, the lack of federal funding for abortion services is actually a big contributing factor to the issues at the heart of the Gosnell case. And addressing the public funding ban under Hyde is the real policy solution that could prevent other bad actors like Gosnell from preying on vulnerable women.

Blocking public funds from covering abortion makes for a nice talking point for the anti-choice lawmakers who like to decry the immorality of “taxpayer-funded abortion.” But in practice, the Hyde Amendment means that the low-income women on Medicaid are forced to cover the entire cost of abortion out-of-pocket because their health care plan won’t help cover it. That contributes to a vicious cycle of poverty. Low-income women are more likely to lack access to affordable contraceptive and family planning services, and therefore have higher rates of unintended pregnancies and abortions. They’re more likely to struggle to pay for an abortion. And they’re more likely to slip further into poverty if they’re unable to obtain the abortion they wanted to have.

That’s how the Hyde Amendment, as well as the subsequent state-level bans on public funding that have been modeled on the federal law, ensures that reproductive rights are deeply divided by race and class. Despite the fact that Roe v. Wade has been in place for 40 years, each woman’s access to abortion care is largely dependent on her privilege — and the underprivileged women in the U.S. are paying the biggest price.

At this point, it’s clear that Gosnell’s business strategy relied on taking advantage of economically disadvantaged women of color. The women who seek out late-term abortions are typically low-income to begin with, since the Hyde Amendment forces them to delay having an abortion until they can save up the money to pay out-of-pocket. But late-term procedures are extremely costly and increasingly rare, as more states move to ban the procedure. In Pennsylvania, where Gosnell practiced, abortion is criminalized after 24 weeks. That leaves desperate women with few options, and Gosnell exploited that dynamic. He offered discounted prices for his abortion services, persuading the women who perhaps otherwise couldn’t have afforded an abortion to resort to his illegal clinic.

So how can we prevent future Gosnells? We can provide low-income women with the financial resources they need to make their own decisions about when they’re ready to have a child. We can make sure that those women aren’t desperate enough to patronize an unsanitary facility because they have no options left. We can make sure that criminals can’t lure women to their “house of horrors” with cheap prices. We can repeal the Hyde Amendment and start to eliminate the class divides that pervade this country’s reproductive rights landscape.

In response to Gosnell, anti-choice lawmakers have pushed for increasing regulations on abortion clinics and tightening restrictions on late-term abortion procedures. But that policy approach is completely blind to the structural issues of class and race that have impacted women’s abortion access for decades. The best way to prevent Gosnell’s crimes isn’t to limit women’s access to abortion; it’s exactly the opposite. If low-income women had better access to affordable abortion services through their insurance plans, more of them would be able to choose incredibly safe abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy — a procedure that often involves simply taking a pill, which is far removed from the barbaric acts in Gosnell’s clinic.