The powerful story behind why a Democratic State Representative voted for bill regulating Pennsylvania Abortion Clinics

By Dave Andrusko

State Rep. Margo L. Davidson

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign into law this week a long, long, long overdue bill to require that abortion clinics meet the same safety standards as ambulatory surgical facilities. In anticipation, there’ve appeared a series of sympathetic profiles from Pennsylvania newspapers of the “plight” faced by state abortion clinics.

They fall into two categories: (1) allegations of end-of-the-world costs associated with “changes [that] will do nothing to improve patient health and safety, and paying for them could force the clinics to charge low-income women more for their services, clinic officials said”; and (2) broad suggestions they might be able to wiggle their way out of the requirements, for example, by being “grandfathered in” (meaning changes would only apply to new abortion clinics).

But a far more revealing story ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer under the loaded headline, “Legislator explains her backing of abortion crackdown.” (http://articles.philly.com/2011-12-16/news/30524783_1_clinic-bill-abortion-clinics-gosnell-clinic/2).

Once anyone reads why first-term State Rep. Margo L. Davidson voted in favor of Senate Bill 732, they will quickly grasp why the legislation was and is essential: her 22-year-old cousin had been a victim of Kermit Gosnell, the notorious West Philadelphia abortionist who will stand trial on eight counts of murder.

Amy Worden interviewed Davidson and writes that

“Semika Shaw was ‘just coming into her own as a young woman,’ Davidson said, when she died in 2002 from an infection caused by a botched abortion in Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic. …’I honor her memory by voting for this bill,’ Davidson told her colleagues [last] Wednesday after the controversial measure was approved. ‘So women will no longer walk into a licensed health-care facility and be butchered as she was.’”

Yes, exactly. The abortion lobby can complain about the requirements until the cows come home, but they won’t change the truth that this law represents a change in culture in Pennsylvania that would not have come about without this law.

It required something as horrific as what took place at Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society—detailed in a massive and crucially important Grand Jury report—to shake up a system that was far more concerned about protecting “choice” than doing its job. According to the Grand Jury report

“…[t]he Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions. Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety. Without regular inspections, providers like Gosnell continue to operate; unlawful and dangerous third-trimester abortions go undetected; and many women, especially poor women, suffer.”

I knew that Shaw’s death had led to a $900,000 insurance settlement. What I didn’t know but learned from Worden’s story is that this settlement “was central to the grand jury’s conclusion that state officials had failed to inspect the clinic for two decades and repeatedly ignored complaints of possible criminal activity there.”

Worden put that laissez faire policy in context and explained how Gosnell’s alleged atrocities changed everything.

“Little wonder the clinic wasn’t inspected in those days, Davidson reasoned. ‘The regulations regarding inspection were only policy,’ the legislator said. ‘It was not mandated by the law.’

“The grand jury report’s horrific account of babies delivered alive and killed with scissors, and mutilation of patients–all at a clinic not visited by state health inspectors for years– cracked open the long-dormant abortion debate in Pennsylvania. Corbett ordered firings in the state health department, and legislators crafted a bill that would place the clinics under many of the same regulations that govern hospitals.”

While Davidson described herself as having “pro-life leanings,” she also “said she did not want to overturn Roe v. Wade.” So why did she feel “compelled” to vote for Senate Bill 732?

Davidson told Worden it was because her cousin’s case

“exposed fatal flaws in the system–complaints ignored, leading to tragedies that could have been prevented–and because she cannot forget the cries of her young relatives as they stared at Semika’s body at her viewing. ’They were screaming and demanding she get up,’ Davidson said. ‘There was no way I could comfort them.’”

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