Kermit Gosnell Case Shifts Abortion Debate, But How Much?

The case has shifted the focus to late-term abortions.

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When Kermit Gosnell was convicted Tuesday in the deaths of three babies, it might have been a moment for anti-abortion and abortion rights groups to come together over something they both opposed: a doctor providing bad medical care to women.

[READ: Kermit Gosnell Guilty of 3 Murders, Could Face Death Penalty]

Instead, it was another moment of dissension. Anti-abortion groups warned that Gosnell was just one example of many doctors who carry out troubling late-term abortions across the country, while abortion rights groups said women went to Gosnell's "house of horrors" Philadelphia clinic because they didn't know what other options were available.

"I would hope that we could both rally behind the prosecution of someone who was providing subpar medical care to women," says Leah Chamberlain, administrator of the Philadelphia Women's Center, one of the first abortion clinics in the city. "[But] this situation seems to be drawing clear divisions between the two camps and there's a lot of yelling at each other rather than listening."

Gosnell seems to have driven a wedge in the debate, but his case also may have shifted the focus to one place: late-term abortions.

That's playing out on Capitol Hill, where in the months since Gosnell's case reached the national media, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., introduced a bill that would ban late-term abortions in Washington; Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced a resolution calling for Congressional hearings on late-term abortions; and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., sent a letter to all 50 state attorneys general and D.C. looking for answers about late-term abortion regulations and "born alive" statuses in the states.

Democratic senators objected to Lee's resolution, and responded with their own resolution to condemn all abusive and illegal practices in health care.

[PHOTOS: The 2013 Planned Parenthood Conference]

"Post-election, the Republican party's response was 'get away from those social issues because they are killing us.' They were our ally in name but not in action," says Marjorie Dannenfelser, who heads anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. "But now Republicans in the House and Senate are being very strong and stepping up to do what they should do."

Abortion rights groups, of course, are skeptical of such claims, and are quick to note that just 1.3 percent of all abortions are performed beyond 20 weeks. Jodi Jacobson, president and editor of the progressive website Reproductive Health Reality Check, argues that these are the same lawmakers who have always supported anti-abortion legislation. Both Franks and Goodlatte have 100 percent ratings with the anti-abortion National Right to Life, and Lee is also staunchly anti-abortion.

"This would be a watershed case if the entire Democratic caucus decided that Gosnell was a reason to change their pro-choice opinions. It's not watershed because the same old people are doing same old things," she said.

A better marker of how Gosnell shifted the debate may be found off Capitol Hill.

At the Philadelphia Women's Center, patients are asking different questions of the clinic than they once were: about how recently it has been inspected or about who their doctors are, according to director of center affairs and development Curtiss Hannum. Some are even bringing up Gosnell's name, she said.

[POLL: Gosnell Trial Hasn't Impacted Abortion Views]

David Altrogge, who wrote and directed a documentary in January on the Gosnell case called "3801 Lancaster," says that as he's shot the film he's watched people on both sides of the abortion debate wrestle with how they feel about it – especially if they've read any of the gruesome grand jury report on Gosnell, which said hundreds of babies were born alive at his clinic and then killed by "snipping," or if they've listened to court testimony, in which a former worker said she had witnessed a late-term baby swim in a toilet just before it died.

According to the Mike Huckabee Report, one "pro-choice" journalist even changed his mind on abortion after days spent covering the Gosnell trial.