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Gosnell Trial Highlights Debate Over Impact of Abortion Clinic Regulations

The trial of Philadelphia physician Kermit Gosnell, who is accused of killing a woman and infants born alive during abortion procedures, is escalating a debate over whether stricter regulations of abortion clinics makes unsafe facilities more or less likely to exist, NPR's "Shots" reports.

Abortion-rights opponents argue that Gosnell's clinic is not an outlier and should serve as an example of why more regulations are needed. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said, "It's such a horrific case, ... but it also helps illustrate our concern over how women are being treated in abortion clinics."

Abortion-rights advocates argue that Gosnell was a criminal preying on low-income women who had few options and that the burden of unnecessary regulations is forcing legitimate clinics to close. Carole Joffe, a sociology professor at the University of California-San Francisco, said claims that "all abortion providers are like Gosnell" are "absurd." In the case of Gosnell's clinic, existing laws were not being enforced, she said.

Joffe also noted that the government is barred from paying for most abortions for low-income women. "[T]his leaves them vulnerable to places like Dr. Gosnell's clinic" because by the time they get enough money for an abortion, they might need a more-costly second-trimester procedure or be beyond the legal limit, she said. She added that a new Pennsylvania law passed after the Gosnell clinic was exposed is responsible for closing several abortion clinics that were providing safe care (Rovner, "Shots," NPR, 4/24).

Trial Update

On Wednesday, Gosnell's defense team rested its case without calling any witnesses, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Closing arguments in the case are expected on Monday. The jury will then begin deliberating on a long list of charges, including first-degree murder charges for the deaths of the infants and a third-degree murder charge for the death of the patient (Slobodzian, Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/25). Convictions on the murder charges could result in the death penalty (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/24).