Regulation-happy PA ignores murder factory

Regulation-happy PA ignores murder factory

Abby Wisse Schachter
Abby Wisse Schachter

There is a capital murder trial going on in Philadelphia. The man on trial for his life, Kermit Gosnell, is accused of butchering seven children after delivering them from their mothers’ wombs. He is also accused of having killed at least one adult woman who came to him seeking a late-term abortion. If convicted of killing the babies, Gosnell will face the death penalty.

In the two years since Gosnell was arrested and charged, all the way up to the trial, which continues this month, there has been little discussion in the local press or among the political class about how this happened and how to prevent such a mass murder from happening again. And most interesting to this lack of conversation about such a tragedy is the fact that in a state that is otherwise so regulation happy, demands for greater regulation of abortion providers haven’t followed the gruesome revelations of Gosnell’s Philadelphia murder factory.

We have heard from liberal politicians like State Representative Dan Frankel, who assured Pittsburghers that proposed legislation making safety regulations more stringent for abortion providers wasn’t necessary. Instead, Frankel tried to reassure his readers that the problem had been fixed. “Our Department of Health is moving in the right direction by now conducting regular on-site inspections of health centers where abortions are performed. Since the revelations about Mr. Gosnell’s operation surfaced, each clinic has been inspected and some have been inspected many times.” There was nothing about taking charge of uncovering who failed in their duties at the Department of Health. There was equally little about reviewing and updating what are obviously ineffective regulations. Frankel did provide vague promises of what Harrisburg “could” do to help prevent more baby murderers. “We could require the Health Department to inspect clinics annually. We could allow for a system of anonymous tips to the Health Department so that patients or staff could finger clinics violating the law.” You mean those aren’t the regulations now?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also ran an editorial responding to proposed legislation to make abortion providers safer. And again, the editors rejected the need for more legislation. The paper’s objection was that “the point of Act 122 was clearly to punish all providers of abortion for the sins of one renegade operation.” Nothing about what legislation should have been passed to update clearly useless regulations of abortion providers. The editors didn’t even bother to suggest that the regulatory system in Pennsylvania had failed in the case of the Gosnell murder factory.

What makes this line of argument so strange is that under almost every other circumstance, politicians like Frankel and liberal news outlets like the Post-Gazette just love regulations.

Liberal Pennsylvanians want more regulation for oil and gas extraction. They want more background checks and limits on guns and ammo sales. These same people want heavy regulation (not privatization) of the lottery. When it comes to liquor sales, these same opinion-makers and politicians oppose privatization because it would mean less regulation and state control of wine and spirits. If you look at the regulations for Pennsylvania-licensed day care you’ll see a model of highly expensive and dubiously necessary safety and hygiene rules like requiring that parents provide four sippy cups a day per child and that all uneaten food be thrown out because it may become “hazardous.”

So day care workers are barred from sending home uneaten oatmeal because (horrors!) it might not be fresh, but when women die of drug overdoses and babies born alive have their spines “snipped,” God forbid anyone should demand that there be more oversight, more rules, and more regulations for those in the business of providing abortions?  I fail to understand the logic. Unless, that is, you understand that in this state being pro-choice means defending every abortion, every time for any reason. In such a situation, you have to see Gosnell as an outlier and a freak, with no connection to the practice of abortion in the state of Pennsylvania.

The reality is that demanding greater regulation and complaining that “there ought to be a law” after a tragedy like the Philadelphia mass-murder factory is a hard impulse to fight. But just because it may be a logical impulse, which somehow seems absent in this case, doesn’t negate the fact that not all regulations are useful or practical and that terrible things are going to happen that even government can’t fix.

(Abby W. Schachter is a Pittsburgh-based political columnist. Follow her on Twitter@abbyschachter and at her new blog captainmommycom.)