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Caitriona Palmer: Grisly Gosnell trial reawakens US abortion debate

THE baby lying in the clear glass pan was between 18 and 24 inches long and was, according to a former abortion clinic worker, "screeching" and "screaming" like a "little alien".

Born alive after a botched late-term abortion, this baby would soon die at the hands of an abortion technician – its spinal cord cut with a pair of scissors, a routine procedure in the Philadelphia clinic of Dr Kermit Gosnell known simply as "snipping".

On Monday, Gosnell (72) was found guilty of the first-degree murder of three infants and the involuntary manslaughter of a pregnant woman at his 'house of horrors' abortion clinic, a filthy, rundown facility with blood-stained furniture and equipment that prosecutors say reeked of cat urine.

Gosnell specialised in illegal late-term abortions, catering to desperate women well past 24 weeks of pregnancy who were unable get abortions elsewhere.

He preyed on minors too young to get parental permission to terminate their pregnancies, and on low-income women who were willing to accept Gosnell's filthy and life-threatening conditions because they couldn't afford anything else.

White women "with money" who sought Gosnell's help were sent upstairs to the "immaculate" abortion room. Poor, black or Latino pregnant women were sent downstairs to the "dingy" blood-stained basement, where a flea infested cat roamed freely and defecated on the stairs.

Foetal remains stored in cat food containers. Severed baby feet and hands floating in jars. Patients anesthetised and pumped full of drugs by an untrained staff member who was just 15 years old. The horrifying details that emerged during the Gosnell trial beggar belief that this could be America in 2013.

But even these macabre anecdotes have been lost in the hysteria of the ensuing debate where abortion activists on both sides of the divide have seized upon the Gosnell case as a means to justify their cause.

To the anti-abortion activists who chain themselves to the railings outside American abortion clinics, Gosnell is a gift from God: proof, in their eyes, that the horror committed in his backroom clinic is no different than the fate meted out to defenceless unborn foetuses in abortion clinics across the country every day.

"Some abortionists may have cleaner sheets than Gosnell, and better sterilised equipment and better trained accomplices, but what they do, what Gosnell did – kill babies and hurt women – is the same," said anti-abortion politician Rep Christopher H Smith.

Pro-choice activists say that Kermit Gosnell is what happens when you cut funding for Planned Parenthood services and government assistance for abortion procedures; ultimately forcing low-income women like Karnamaya Mongar to seek back alley abortions from butchers like Gosnell, a decision for the 41-year-old Nepalese refugee that ended in her death on Gosnell's operating table.

Banning abortion, as has been shown in Ireland, does not limit or curtail a woman's ability to end her pregnancy. It just limits her access to terminating her pregnancy in a medically safe way. And, as the tragic circumstances of the 'Women's Medical Society' clinic in West Philadelphia demonstrate, the resulting horror can be hard to bear.

But even for anti-abortion activists in Ireland who are gearing up for their own fraught battle in the coming months, the reality is that the Gosnell case is unlikely to shift the American public's deeply ingrained positions on abortion. A recent Gallup poll conducted during the height of the Gosnell trial showed that the amount of Americans who support legal abortion in certain cases has remained steady.

As much as ideologues on both sides of the divisive issue of abortion would like to cite the Gosnell case for their side, it may be that his case does not fit neatly into either side's propaganda.

He is simply a monster, whose stomach-churning crimes could have occurred in a society with or without legal abortions.

Jurors in Gosnell's trial heard in recent weeks how the doctor snipped the spinal cord of a living, breathing baby, aborted when the baby's 17-year-old mother was nearly 30 weeks pregnant – that's seven-and-a-half months. A graphic photo of the estimated six-pound 'Baby A' was shown as evidence in the trial: a bloodied but seemingly otherwise healthy baby boy, curled in the foetal position and stuffed incongruously in a bin.

The baby was, in Gosnell's jokey estimation to a staff member as he stood viewing the child's remains, "big enough to walk me home".

Irish Independent