With three first-degree murder verdicts against Kermit Gosnell, we can call him a baby-killer without the political freight that that term usually carries in the fight over abortion rights. There was no ambiguity in his actions, no debate over when a fetus becomes viable when he performed his illegal late-term abortions of some babies who were born alive.

No one would defend his actions as legal, or protected by Roe v. Wade.

The verdict may bring to a close the gruesome and horrifying details of Gosnell’s butchery practice.

Lost in the details of the original grand-jury report, and in the eight-week trial, though, is the one thing we should not forget about this case: the women who went to the clinic. Most were low-income, and clearly desperate.

And while we don’t know the individual details about those women’s lives, we can make some assumptions: Women become that desperate because of their lack of options. And we’re not talking about the option of a safe abortion. We’re talking about the option of not getting pregnant to begin with, or deciding how to best plan or prevent a pregnancy. We’re also talking about the option of seeing a doctor regularly so that a pregnancy and its outcome can be monitored.

If you are unemployed or low-income, the odds are stacked against you for having access to basic health care, let alone contraception.

The ongoing erosion of health care for the poor and unemployed, including family planning and contraception, is not unconnected to the sordid details of what went on in Gosnell’s clinic.

For example, the move to defund Planned Parenthood, a key source for contraceptive health care, failed in Congress, but states have continued to undercut the organization. Six states moved to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011; in most cases, the courts blocked the action. In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe introduced legislation last year that would defund Planned Parenthood and family-planning services.

Pennsylvania House Health Committee chairman Matt Baker wants to require insurers to offer plans that don’t cover birth control, and opt out of federal coverage for birth control.

Since Republican Gov. Thomas Corbett took office, thousands of Pennsylvanians have lost health coverage. The state dropped 130,000 people from the Medicaid rolls. And Corbett has refused to accept a federally funded expansion of Medicaid.

What does this have to do with desperate pregnant women? The Guttmacher Institute calls Medicaid “the financial cornerstone of the U.S. family-planning effort,” covering 15 percent of women of reproductive age and 38 percent of poor women in that age group.

No Medicaid means no contraception. No contraception means more unplanned pregnancies and more opportunities for a clinic like Gosnell’s.

Gosnell’s crimes happened against the backdrop of unwarranted political intrusion into women’s reproductive health, which will continue to create too many desperate women with no options.

Editorial by the Philadelphia Daily News

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