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Gosnell Verdict Hailed by Both Sides of Abortion Debate, Heightens Regulation Fight

Gosnell Verdict Hailed by Both Sides of Abortion Debate, Heightens Regulation Fight

May 14, 2013 — Convictions in the murder trial of illegal abortion provider Kermit Gosnell drew praise from both sides of the abortion-rights debate, but opposing groups took different lessons from the case for the fight over abortion clinic regulations, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Monday's Verdicts

A Philadelphia jury on Monday found Gosnell guilty on three out of four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of infants born alive after illegal abortion procedures. He also was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient and was convicted of hundreds of additional charges, including 21 out of 24 counts of performing abortions past the state's gestational limit and 211 out of 277 counts of violating the state's 24-hour waiting period before abortions.

The sentencing phase of the trial will begin on May 21, when Gosnell's defense team will argue for life in prison and the prosecution will seek the death penalty (Dean, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/14).

Case Highlights Fights Over Regulation, Enforcement and Late Abortions

While groups supporting and opposing abortion rights both commended the guilty verdicts, they "quickly returned to their messaging wars" in the battle over legislative efforts to more strictly regulate abortion clinics, Politico reports.

Abortion-rights opponents contend that Gosnell's clinic was not an outlier and that stricter regulation of all clinics is needed to prevent similar cases (Smith, Politico, 5/13).

Abortion-rights supporters counter that state lawmakers are using medically unnecessary requirements -- such as wider hallways and larger closets -- to drive legitimate clinics out of business, with the goal of ending abortion access.

"What's going on with these laws is really about the agenda of having abortion eventually made illegal again," said Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup. She added, "And if that were to happen, unfortunately you'd have a lot more Gosnells out there" (Hurdle/Gabriel, New York Times, 5/13).

The case also has raised questions about enforcement of existing laws. Abortion-rights opponents claim the case is indicative of widespread safety problems among abortion providers. "Exploitation of women and complete disregard for their health and well-being are problems endemic to the entire abortion industry," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

However, Eric Ferrero -- vice president for communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America -- noted, "There were regulations on the books" in Pennsylvania, adding, "Pennsylvania officials should have enforced those regulations better. But when you're talking about someone who's a criminal, you're talking about someone who's going to break laws" (Politico, 5/13).

The trial also has given new fuel to the fight over abortions later in pregnancy -- a battle that escalated in recent years as more states have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion-rights supporters point out that abortion bans before fetal viability -- generally 24 weeks -- violate the tenets of Roe v. Wade. Fewer than 1.3% of abortions occur past 20 weeks, according to CDC.

Dannenfelser and other abortion-rights opponents predicted that the Gosnell case will increase support for 20-week bans, which are based on the disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point in development (New York Times, 5/13).

Gosnell Trial Not Affecting Public Opinion on Abortion, Gallup Poll Finds

In realted news, public opinion on abortion has not changed much during the Gosnell trial, according to a Gallup poll released Friday, U.S. News & World Report reports.

The survey included 1,535 adults and was conducted between May 2 and May 7.

The poll found that only 25% of respondents have "very closely" or "somewhat closely" followed the Gosnell case in the news, while 54% said they paid no attention to the trial.

The poll also found a shrinking divide on abortion stances, with 48% of respondents identifying as "pro-life" and 45% as "pro-choice" -- compared with a 2012 poll that found an all-time low of 41% who said they were "pro-choice."

Those labels also varied among respondents, with 26% saying abortion should be legal, 20% saying abortion should be banned outright and 52% saying abortion should be legal in certain instances. Individuals ages 18 to 34 were most likely to want abortion to be banned in all cases (Nelson, U.S. News & World Report, 5/10).