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.
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.
"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.
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.
But a Gallup poll this month suggested these anecdotal changes might be just that – anecdotal. The survey found that the case hadn't significantly altered public opinion, with 48 percent of respondents calling themselves "pro-life" and 45 percent of saying they were "pro-choice" – close to the same numbers as 2012. Only 25 percent of Americans told Gallup they had paid close attention to the case, while more than half said they had paid no attention at all.
And Hannum at the Philadelphia Women's Center says that while patients in that clinic are asking different questions than they previously had, that's not happening nationwide. "The primary question continued to be where they could get an abortion," she says.
Dannenfelser is staunch in her belief that the Gosnell case changed things – at least outside the clinic. "In the conversation about what actually happened, it's a recoil. When there's a recoil there is a moment," she says. At a recent screening of "3801 Lancaster" on Capitol Hill, a number of Hill staffers visibly recoiled at graphic scenes or covered their eyes.
Abortion rights groups contend that the recoil is because Gosnell was a monster, a criminal, an outlier – not a doctor Americans see as representative of nationwide abortion care.
But as the two sides continue to debate what Gosnell meant, it's possible the effects of his case on the rest of the country haven't yet been seen. "The verdict was just returned," says Ilyse Hogue, who runs abortion rights group NARAL. "If we're talking about long-term, sustained opinions on abortion, well, this just takes a long time."