Commentary: What the Kermit Gosnell Abortion Case Means to Black Women

Don’t fall for the pro-life propaganda: We need better access to safe and affordable reproductive health care.

Imagine going into a women’s clinic to receive an abortion and, if you are Black, you were escorted to filthy exam rooms, while White women were sent to a nicer and cleaner area of the clinic. Imagine the tools the doctor is using haven’t been properly cleaned and are infested with STDs and in the doctor’s fridge there are 47 jars of fetuses.

Most gruesome, what if the doctor performing abortions used scissors to snip the spinal cords of fetuses — some of which were alive after surviving his botched abortion? Or even worse, you went into the clinic for what is supposed to be a safe and legal procedure and you died a day later.

No, this isn’t some horror film straight out of Jim Crow or the pre Roe vs. Wade era. This is the recent reality for too many women of color and low-income women who came into the Women’s Medical Society in Mantua, a West Philadelphia neighborhood. The center’s African-American owner, Kermit Gosnell, 72, is being charged with first-degree murder for allegedly killing seven babies and one female patient, Karnamaya Mongar. It’s believed that Gosnell performed illegal late-term abortions, delivered live babies and soon after murdered them.

Testimony states that Gosnell and his staff snipped the babies’ spinal cords with scissors, reported The grand jury report also claims that Gosnell was illegally delivering babies into the mother’s third trimester. The state of Pennsylvania only allows for abortions to be performed up to 24 weeks.

What’s equally disturbing is that there were rumors swirling in the community about the clinic’s wrongdoings. It’s even been reported that people did complain to Philadelphia’s Department of Health, yet nothing was really done.  

And now with the case underway, unfortunately and ironically on the heels of the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, mainstream media, liberals and women’s groups didn’t report on this case in the way that we should have. And that may have happened for a range of reasons, the most obvious being that for some, talking about this case goes against what pro-choice advocates have been fighting for.

But here’s what I know for sure: We can no longer afford to be silent. Not when African-American women and teens are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and have higher abortion rates than whites. Not when we need better access to birth control and safer sex options. Not when we are more vulnerable to STDs and HIV transmission and not when our bodies are not regarded with the same respect as those of white women.

But we must really speak out because the Gosnell murder trial serves as nothing more than a wet dream for the conservative right and the pro-life movement. They have used this trial and Gosnell’s alleged bad acts as a means to validate what they have been saying about reproductive health clinics from the very beginning.

Most women’s clinics in the U.S. are nothing like the Women’s Medical Society. Abortion is not the issue here: It’s Gosnell’s personal greed and utter disregard. Gosnell was charging abortions for less than what other clinics in the area were charging. Think about it: For low-income women, who cannot get Medicare to cover their abortions and who live in a state like Pennsylvania that limits women’s access to abortions, $350-$500 for an abortion may be too steep for their pockets. Therefore, by the time they may have saved the money for an abortion, they would be farther along in their pregnancy, perhaps past a trimester that legitimate clinics can legally perform the procedure. Enter Gosnell, who preyed on these women’s financial vulnerabilities.

And there is no denying that what Gosnell did to these women and babies was horrific. But do not sip on the pro-life movement’s Kool-Aid about how abortion is genocide and how all clinics are out to get us. If anything, this trial proves that Black women like you and me need better access to safe, legal and affordable abortions and contraceptives so that we never have to depend on docs like Gosnell for our care.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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