Philadelphia abortion provider Kermit Gosnell has just been indicted on eight counts of murder—and just one page of the grand jury report should reshape the abortion debate. The 281-page report describes severed baby feet in plastic containers, a clinic stained with cat urine and blood, unlicensed employees administering dangerous medications, and sedated women moaning under blood-stained sheets that were washed just once a week. (And I’m only on page 45.) The report alleges that Gosnell pierced women’s insides with instruments, left fetal remains inside of them, left them sterile, killed a 41-year-old pregnant immigrant, and routinely delivered live, breathing babies before severing their spinal cords with a pair of scissors.

And, at least until officials decided to act on the illegal drug business authorities say Gosnell was running on the side, no one did anything. The report describes decades of public inaction. The Pennsylvania Department of Health did not inspect the clinic after 1993 despite numerous complaints from women, a medical examiner, and a doctor who found that the patients he referred to Gosnell were all coming back with the same venereal disease. (Guess what? He didn’t wash his instruments, either.)

In all the talk of common ground on the abortion debate, basic regulation of abortion clinics seems like a great place to start. Denise Wilcox, a pro-life leader in Philadelphia, told me that pro-lifers have been trying for years to pass a law that would regulate abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical centers, a classification that would require them to have regular inspections and presumably would have prevented this horror from continuing for decades. But the legislation hasn’t passed.

This kind of legislation should not be a pro-life or pro-choice issue. If you believe with all your heart in a woman’s right to choose, you should also support a woman’s right to choose under circumstances that don’t involve an unlicensed employee handing you a menu where you can pick your own sedative. Or circumstances in which that sedative is administered by a 15-year-old who tends to mix up Demerol and diazepam. Or how about circumstances where a woman gives birth on a toilet and waits there for hours until the provider decides to show up? Pro-choicers argue that abortion should be legal so it is safe, but it needs to be inspected and regulated to be safe.

Proof that this doesn’t have to be a pro-life/pro-choice divide: a pro-choice legislator in Maryland has sponsored legislation that would regulate abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical centers. Proof that this still is a pro-life/pro-choice divide: NARAL calls laws like these Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers and fights them, saying they limit abortion access. Pro-choice advocates often say that the regulations require the clinics to do unnecessary things like provide ventilation or increase the width of their doorways. Yes, but they also require inspections like the kind that Pennsylvania officials failed to perform on their own, and that may be more important than the inconvenience of widening doors.

The grand jury report states, “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.”

That’s inexcusable.

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Alisa Harris

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