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Editorial: Doctor’s trial shows need for new abortion debate

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The death penalty trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has reignited the national debate about abortion, specifically late-term abortions.

Abortion is never totally out of the arena of public debate, but the gruesome allegations of necks being cut to kill babies who were born alive at Gosnell’s squalid inner city abortion clinic have shocked a nation where abortion has become an everyday event.

Gosnell, 72, is charged with killing four viable babies as well as a 41-year-old patient who died after allegedly receiving an overdose of drugs during an abortion. He faces 258 counts, including four first-degree murder charges for the babies’ deaths. Over his 30-year career, Gosnell is said to have performed thousands of abortions, and prosecutors say mostly poor and minority women paid nearly $3,000 each for the procedure.

It’s doubtful that cutting the back of the neck or snipping the spinal cord of a baby born alive is what the U.S. Supreme Court had in mind in its 1973 landmark Roe vs. Wade decision — that women have the right to an abortion until viability.

Viability is the crux of the issue before the Philadelphia jurors. According to the high court’s ruling in 1973, viability is the “interim point at which the fetus becomes … potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid” and it “is usually placed at about (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”

Terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester or even the second is likely what most people think of as an abortion. Less likely do they contemplate the realities of third-trimester procedures, or the horrors of illegally ending a newborn’s life.

The Gosnell case begs for a renewed conversation on third-term abortions and partial birth abortions.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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