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Monday, May 13, 2013

Ethicist: Abortion Trial Underscores Need For Contraception

This Feb. 23, 2010, file photo shows the Women's Medical Society in Philadelphia. Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the Women's Medical Society, was charged Wednesday Jan. 19, 2011, with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, according to prosecutors. (Matt Rourke/AP)

This Feb. 23, 2010, file photo shows the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia, where abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Update 3:20pm: The jury has found Dr. Kermit Gosnell guilty of killing three babies born alive. Gosnell was acquitted in the fourth baby’s death. He was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of a patient.

A Philadelphia jury has reached a verdict in the murder trial of a longtime abortion doctor.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is accused of killing a patient and four babies allegedly born alive and then killed with scissors.

In addition to the five murder charges, Gosnell also faces more than 200 charges of violating abortion law in his Philadelphia clinic, which one investigator said was as filthy as a “bad gas station restroom.”

This undated photo shows Dr. Kermit Gosnell. (Philadelphia District Attorney's Office via AP)

This undated photo shows Dr. Kermit Gosnell. (Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office via AP)

Prosecutors say Gosnell performed illegal, third-term abortions and failed to counsel women 24 hours in advance.

Gosnell’s lawyer argues that the babies were killed in the womb with an abortion drug, and he says the patient died of complications.

The case is horrifying and has been seized on by both sides in the abortion debate.

“Each side is trying in their way to spin the Gosnell case toward their favor,” medical ethicist Art Caplan told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “I find some of this use of Gosnell and his horrific Philadelphia clinic unacceptable, just in terms of the politics of abortion … the goal, I think, of public policy should be to make abortion unnecessary by making contraception widely available [and] by having emergency contraception widely available.”

Caplan calls emergency contraception — the so-called morning after pill — “morally superior” to abortion, because it prevents pregnancy rather than terminating it. And he argues that while many are opposed to it, the RU46 abortion pill — a chemical abortion — is a safer and better option than late-term surgical abortions.

“You have to think about what the alternative is – it’s unwanted pregnancies in the third trimester,” Caplan said. “Looking at these hacks like Dr. Gosnell, to me the ethics points in a clear direction: make these things available to all.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.


  • Art Caplan, head of the division of bioethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. He tweets @ArthurCaplan.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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