Two abortion doctors have been charged with murder for performing illegal late-term abortions. The case highlights the need for safe, legal, accessible abortion — but many will probably take the opposite message from it.
According to the Cecil Whig, Dr. Steven Brigham and Dr. Nicola Riley came under suspicion when Riley brought a woman to a Maryland hospital for complications of a late-term abortion. Investigators concluded that this abortion violated Maryland law, which prohibits abortions after viability (unlike other states, it doesn't specify a time period after which the fetus is considered viable), and they charged Brigham and Riley with murder. Officials then investigated Brigham and Riley's clinic, and found 36 aborted fetuses in a freezer. Thirteen of them appeared to have reached viability — of these, one had abnormalities and seven others had actually been terminated in New Jersey via injection. Brigham now faces murder charges for the remaining five fetuses.
The case is grisly and disturbing, and I certainly don't envy the medical examiner who had to determine the fetuses' cause of death. Abortion after viability makes many people cringe, but as Irin Carmon recently pointed out on Salon, women who seek late-term abortions tend to be young and dealing with multiple life crises. In some cases, they aren't able to get the money for an abortion, or find a provider, until they're relatively far along. These women would benefit from safe, readily available abortion providers they could trust, so that they could terminate their pregnancies early when the risk of complications is smaller. They would also benefit if abortion providers could do their work in hospitals rather than stand-alone clinics, so if complications did arise they could be treated promptly. Instead, the stigma of abortion means many women actually think it's illegal, so they're willing to accept substandard care. None of this excuses those who operate unsafe clinics — but if women were able to access good care when they needed it, they'd be less likely to get late-term procedures at sketchy facilities. No doubt anti-abortion advocates will take the case against Brigham and Riley as an argument for further crackdowns on abortion rights — but it's really an argument for the opposite.