Abortion doctor’s trial unlikely to inspire new efforts for regulation

Congressional Republicans are unlikely to mount new efforts to regulate abortion clinics following the grisly murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, lawmakers said Monday. 

Gosnell is accused of killing a woman and seven infants while operating a squalid abortion clinic in Philadelphia. A criminal grand jury report compared his practice to a “baby charnel house” where Gosnell allegedly severed infants’ spines with scissors and kept fetal remains in jars and bags around the office. 

The trial is slowly gaining national attention, with GOP lawmakers criticizing the press as unwilling to cover an uncomfortable story about abortion. 

But several were unsure Monday about whether new bills would be offered in response to the Gosnell case, particularly bills to mandate national safety standards for abortion clinics. 

“I don’t know if we should necessarily regulate clinics at the federal level,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.). “States have their rules in place for their reasons.”

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Regulation of abortion clinics has traditionally fallen to states, while Congress tends to weigh in on larger questions — whether federal dollars should support abortion procedures, and occasionally, when those procedures may be performed. 

Just a handful of bills over the last decade have sought to control conditions at abortion clinics. 

One measure from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the Pregnant Women Health and Safety Act, would require abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges and mandate certain construction standards for abortion clinics. 

The legislation has been reintroduced each term since 2008, and currently has no co-sponsors. 

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) said Monday that measures like Vitter’s are not a priority for abortion-rights opponents in Washington. 

“I’m not sure the federal government has an apparatus to police these sorts of issues,” said NRLC spokesman Douglas Johnson. 

In Pennsylvania, where Gosnell practiced, state law prohibits abortion after 24 weeks of fetal development. 

According to a grand jury, regulators failed for decades to crack down on — or even inspect — the gruesome conditions at Women’s Medical Society. 

Some GOP lawmakers say Congress should consider new ways of collecting data about abortion procedures and who is receiving them. 

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) is planning to reintroduce a bill criminalizing abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy, saying it would keep attention on the Gosnell case. 

But Franks said Monday that new clinic regulations are not a major focus for his peers; instead, ending legal abortion is the emphasis.

“Sanitizing the clinic is not going to change the suffering and agony of what children go through,” Franks said. 

Gosnell faces eight counts of murder, seven for delivering and allegedly killing viable infants who survived botched abortions and one for a female patient who did not survive the procedure. He is also accused of violating Pennsylvania law by routinely performing late-term abortions. 

At a White House press briefing, spokesman Jay Carney called the case “unsettling,” but mostly sidestepped reporters’ questions. 

“The president’s position on choice is clear,” Carney said, invoking former President Clinton’s statement that abortions should be “safe, legal and rare.”

Abortion-rights supporters pointed to Gosnell as an “extreme outlier” among abortion providers. 

“Abortion is already highly regulated and one of the safest medical procedures in the United States today,” said National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta. “No level of restrictions would have stopped Gosnell. He is a bad actor, and the entire pro-choice community has unequivocally denounced his practices.”