Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Prevent more Gosnells by increasing birth-control access

A guilty murder verdict doesn’t solve the problem of too many abortions by poor women.

( Signe Wilkinson / Daily News )
( Signe Wilkinson / Daily News )Read more

AFTER THE JURY decided the fate of Kermit "House of Horrors" Gosnell yesterday, my editor asked me, "So what do you think, now that Gosnell has been found guilty?"

He inquired as though my opinion mattered, which it's supposed to when you write an opinion column, right?

But the truth is, I feel almost too overwhelmed by the case to render an opinion about Gosnell beyond the most obvious one:

That he's a monster who became rich by preying on the poor and desperate, and that I wish him years of misery behind bars until a death sentence ends his waste of a life.

But so what? Sooner or later another predator will replace him, because the Gosnells of the world are expert at sniffing out and exploiting the most pitiable among us.

Few are more pitiable than a dirt-poor woman who finds herself pregnant when she hadn't planned to be. Yet we have long fought publicly funded programs that broaden access to birth control for all women.

There's the ongoing sniping about government funding of Planned Parenthood. Persistent opposition to condom distribution in schools, even in low-income communities where teen pregnancy is rampant. Criticism of the free birth-control provision in Obamacare.

There persists this notion that if you're poor and can't afford birth control and don't want to get pregnant, then you should just stop having sex already. It's not fair, the thinking goes, to expect the government to pay for your personal decision to be intimate with a partner.

As if having sex is the equivalent of drinking a cocktail. As if the fallout of an unplanned pregnancy is as pesky and temporary as a hangover after too many appletinis.

Those same opinionated people, though, seem just fine with the notion of tax exemptions for houses of worship, even though churchgoing is a matter of personal choice. And with all of us paying for wars that many of us protest. And with government-funded Medicare coverage of Viagra, when no one is forcing a man with erectile dysfunction to improve his performance in the bedroom.

So you see where I'm going with this.

Broadening access to birth control among low-income women reduces abortion rates. That was the conclusion last fall of researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Over a four-year period, researchers tracked 9,200 low-income women in the St. Louis area who were given their choice of FDA-approved birth-control methods at no cost.

Among teens, the birthrate plunged to one-fifth the national average for teens, and abortions dropped to less than half the regional and national rates.

So if we want fewer Gosnells, we can put them out of business tomorrow by helping low-income women find the birth-control method that works best for them and then giving it to them for free.

And if they somehow wind up having sex without protection, because accidents happen, we need to offer Plan B - the morning-after pill - as backup.

Two weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration lowered the age at which girls can buy the emergency contraception over-the-counter to 15 from 17. Yesterday, the Obama administration appealed the decision to sell the pills to girls of any age without a prescription, a move the FDA called "political."

So we have to see how this thing plays out, as the White House plays the safety card.

But here's a fact to consider:

No one has ever overdosed on Plan B. But that's not the case for Tylenol, which has been available over-the-counter for eons. Reports show that Tylenol overdose causes 458 deaths annually and is linked to more than half of all cases of liver failure.

Since Tylenol isn't linked to women's sexual behavior, though, we pretty much don't care about that.

In general, we have a problem with women having sex, and a bigger problem with poor women having sex. And until we get honest about that, and take steps to keep poor women from getting pregnant when they are not ready, we will have more Gosnells ready to help them out of their predicament.

We have to do better.

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly