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Gosnell case shows why abortion rights need protection

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
May 13, 2013 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: As new president of abortion rights group, I recoiled at Gosnell story
  • She says anti-abortion groups exploiting case to push policies that would harm women
  • She says Pennsylvania already trying to end abortion care with cooked up clinic regulations
  • Hogue: Making abortions inaccessible pushes women toward people like Gosnell

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

(CNN) -- I didn't want to start my new job as the president of a national pro-choice organization by taking a close look at the shocking case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. I couldn't avoid the ugly truth of Gosnell's actions, and like everyone else, I recoiled in horror when I learned what he had done. On Monday, Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.

As a nation, we can't afford to miss the critically important lessons of this case. And when I saw the anti-abortion movement twisting those lessons for their own political agenda, angling for policies that would put even more women in danger, I had to speak up.

Gosnell will be sentenced for the murder of three infants and homicide of a patient through lethal doses of painkillers. Let's be clear: Murder is illegal in all 50 states, and his sentencing should reflect the gravity of these crimes.

Gosnell also ignored the standards of care and safety recognized as best practices by medical professionals who provide abortion care. That he was allowed to operate for so long -- despite multiple complaints -- was a failure of the authorities to enforce the laws on the books.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

His willful neglect of the law and of the women who went to him for help is egregious and is exactly the kind of crime that the pro-choice movement has sought to end by bringing abortion care above ground since Roe v. Wade was adjudicated in 1973.

Why is this so important? Because anti-abortion activists would have the public believe the exact opposite.

They are exploiting the Gosnell case to boost their 40-year-old agenda to ban abortion altogether. These opportunists are shamelessly using the case of these victimized women to take even more control away from our ability to make private decisions about how, when, and with whom we have families.

In NARAL Pro-Choice America's annual evaluation of reproductive rights in the 50 states, Pennsylvania received an "F" because of the obstacles and roadblocks politicians have put in front of women seeking safe and legal abortion care. Pennsylvania, along with 32 other states and the District of Columbia, blocks abortion care for low-income women who receive their care from the state's Medicaid program.

Denying women this care until they can raise the money to pay out of pocket can force them to seek abortion later in their pregnancies and drive them into the clutches of back-alley providers such as Gosnell, who offer them substandard care.

More tellingly, Pennsylvania has also pushed Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws, which are on the front lines of efforts to end abortion care once and for all.

These TRAP laws, always proposed by anti-choice extremists, zero in on clinics that provide abortion and hit them with a series of expensive, medically unnecessary and nit-picking rules designed to push them out of business, while ignoring clinics that provide other medical services with much higher risks of complication. TRAP laws often come with ridiculous rules for such things as the height of the grass, the number of parking spaces and awning widths at abortion clinics.

Prosecutor was sobbing during verdict
Doctor's clinic called 'house of horrors'

NARAL Pro-Choice America members, along with most Americans, support the fair implementation of regulations among all medical providers that are carefully designed to keep patients safe. However, the motivation behind TRAP laws is clear: to shut down abortion clinics. And what's disturbing is, they're working.

Over the years, there has been a significant decline in the number of abortion providers in Pennsylvania and across this country.

In Mississippi, Alabama and South Dakota, runaway restrictions have driven out all but one provider in each state. When these clinics are driven out of business, it is the most economically vulnerable women who pay the price. These women are the ones who lose access to critical medical services such as cancer-screening, check-ups and even prenatal care also provided at these clinics. Let's remember Gosnell is also a symptom of how hard it is for low-income women to get quality health care, period.

TRAP laws are just the beginning for anti-choice extremists, who have made no secret that they will stop at nothing to ban abortion completely. Earlier this year, Arkansas became the first state to ban the procedure at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Not to be outdone, North Dakota enacted a six-week ban on abortion -- that's before most women even know they are pregnant. If TRAP laws are a back-door ban to abortion, these near-total bans are your anti-choice neighbors barging uninvited through your front door.

None of these efforts -- TRAP laws or outright bans -- will reduce the number of abortion procedures.

A Guttmacher Institute study found similar abortion rates in countries where abortion is illegal and where it is legal. But the study showed that when countries limit legal access, more women die.

That brings us back to Gosnell. His clinic operated in violation of basic health and safety standards; his practices were abhorrent. If we allow political extremists to exploit this case to impose more TRAP laws and abortion bans, the remaining safe and legal abortion providers could be forced to shut their doors.

No one cares more about the safety of women more than the members of the pro-choice movement. In fact, it was the stories -- daily stories -- of horrors women faced from unregulated, unsafe, unsanitary procedures that shocked a nation into action back in the days when abortion was illegal.

Women, regardless of their background, deserve access to high-quality health care. Women deserve the opportunity to determine if and when they want to have families. Women deserve the dignity of controlling their own lives and, without a doubt, women deserve a lot better than the likes of Kermit Gosnell.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

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