Abortion House of Horrors: Why a Draw?

It's not so baffling that poor women saw convicted murderer Dr. Kermit Gosnell when you know the law.

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"Because of racial inequalities in income in the U.S.," said Stephanie Poggi, executive director of the Boston-based National Network of Abortion Funds, which advocates for abortion laws and provides funding for women, "poor women of color are more likely to be enrolled in Medicaid and therefore are disproportionately and severely harmed by restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion."

Poggi told The Root that every year, her fund receives requests for help from more than 110,000 women but is able to help only approximately 26,000. In Philadelphia, some women sought out Gosnell's services for late-second-trimester and illegal third-trimester abortions, which can cost up to $5,000. Pro-choice advocates say that less than 1.5 percent of women who are seeking to end pregnancies pursue late-term abortions, however.

Susan Schewel, executive director of the Women's Medical Fund of Philadelphia, an abortion provider, said that everyone in the area's reproductive-health care community was shocked by findings in Gosnell's clinic.

"We have excellent, high-quality health care for women seeking abortions in our area," she told The Root. "The clinics are now heavily regulated by the state to make sure they are providing safe care. The reason he was able to allegedly operate in that manner was because the state was not performing inspections at that time."

Schewel went on to explain that abortion practices in Pennsylvania face extra regulations because of extensive opposition to the procedure by lawmakers. By and large, she explained, legislators have never viewed an abortion as a medical procedure, and the state leads the nation with some of the most imposing restrictions on abortion.

"The Gosnell espisode strengthens our resolve to make sure that women can have comprehensive coverage for pregnancy-related care," Schewel said. "When women do not have that, they are vulnerable to substandard providers like Gosnell. What we know now about women throughout history and around the globe is, they will find a way not to have a child. Legal and accessible abortion makes it safe. Making it less accessible does not decrease the number of abortions; it just increases the dangers for women. It's access to contraception that decreases the need for abortion."

What Can Be Done to Prevent More Houses of Horror?

Jan. 22, 2013, marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion throughout the nation. The decision has had a dramatic impact on women's reproductive health but still ignites strong debate that often cuts along racial lines. Reproductive health played a major role in the presidential election, with African-American women coming under heavy criticism.

Black women obtained 40.2 percent of all pregnancy terminations in the United States in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest statistics available. That percentage is disproportionately higher than those of white and Hispanic women, even though blacks make up only 13 percent of the population.

And while agencies such as the Guttmacher Institute and Planned Parenthood attribute the higher abortion rate among blacks to a higher incidence of unintended pregnancies -- pointing to a need for better access to family planning education and resources -- pro-lifers argue that the rate is tied to access to the procedure. Some of those advocates include Alveda King, niece of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and activist Day Gardner, both of whom are members of the National Black Pro-Life Coalition.

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