The Gosnell Case Demonstrates the Risks of Having Too Many Regulations

Earlier this week the trial of Kermit Gosnell came to an end in Philadelphia. The 72-year-old “doctor” is accused of murdering at least four infants by snipping their spinal cords with scissors, as well as running a “house of horrors” clinic where such barbaric practices were the norm.

It seems like much of the media coverage surrounding the trial has revolved around the supposed lack of media coverage. Widespread perception is that the mainstream media ignored the trial because of reporters’ pro-choice biases, even though right-wing media outlets didn’t give the case much initial attention either.

Regardless of the media politics involved, the Gosnell case is a disturbing one that has left many Americans, including myself, wondering how this could have happened in a First World country.

Predictably, conservatives have jumped on this case as a demonstration of the need for stricter abortion laws (the only way this case could have been better for the anti-choice right was if the abortions were being performed by President Obama himself, assisted by a staff of lesbian nurses).

However, Kermit Gosnell’s “house of horrors” did not exist because there weren’t enough abortion regulations, but because there were too many. Women went to Gosnell because the patchwork of abortion laws and regulations in this country prevented them from obtaining abortions elsewhere.

Many of Gosnell’s patients were poor or immigrant women who could not afford an abortion until it was too late to legally obtain one, so they went to Gosnell, who had a reputation for performing illegal late-term abortions.

Conservatives always want more and more regulation of abortion clinics and procedures, and most of these regulations have nothing to do with abortion safety at all–such as requirements that clinic corridors be a certain width. (Clearly, anti-choice conservatives are not concerned so much with the health and safety of pregnant women as they are with regulating abortion clinics out of existence.)

But as any fiscal conservative will point out, regulations increase operating costs, which are often passed onto the consumer. When abortion clinics have to deal with hundreds if not thousands of pages of regulations, providing abortions becomes more costly. Abortion providers must raise costs, and some women who otherwise might have been able to afford an abortion are no longer able to.

In a truly free market, Gosnell’s clinic never would have operated for as long as it did. Without onerous restrictions that limit the supply of abortions while increasing their costs, the procedure would be cheap and widely available. Most women who wanted abortions would be able to obtain them.

Is there any other industry in this country in which a business could treat its customers as poorly as Gosnell did and yet remain in business? If a cosmetic surgeon regularly butchered his patients, do you think he would be in business for very long? If a fertility clinic had blood, animal feces and urine all over its floors, do you think it would be in business for very long?

And for that matter, how long would a Wal-Mart or a McDonald’s stay open if conditions were even half as bad as Gosnell’s clinic is alleged to have been? People will tend to avoid spending money at places that make them nauseous (amusement parks being a notable exception). Gosnell’s clinic could stay in such filthy conditions because his patients didn’t have the option of going to another, cleaner clinic.

Conservatives say they believe in the free market and letting consumers vote with their money. So why aren’t they willing to let the market do its thing when it comes to abortion? Because sex is involved, and everyone knows conservatives hate sexually active unmarried women more than they like freedom of choice.

If the Gosnell case demonstrates anything, it’s that abortion is just like any other product or service: the more you regulate it, the more expensive and difficult to obtain it becomes, thereby creating a black market for it.

When women who seek abortions cannot legally obtain the procedure, they turn to people like Gosnell, who–if the allegations are true–is a butcher and a murderer. The fact that Gosnell was able to operate for so long only further demonstrates the need for a consumer-driven, free market approach to abortion.

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