Thanks to the US media blackout, I had no idea who Dr Kermit Gosnell was until Friday. Now that I do, I hope the name becomes seared into the American national consciousness. It could transform the debate about abortion.
Gosnell was one of those "courageous foot soldiers of the prochoice movement" who ran an abortion clinic for poor women in Pennsylvania. A more accurate word for the institution, provided by Andrew McCarthy, is “abattoir”. It is alleged that conditions were unhygienic (investigators said it smelled of animal urine) and unqualified employees performed complex medical procedures. One woman died during an abortion from an overdose of anaesthesia. Terminations were performed after the state's 24-week limit (which is itself only supposed to be reached in extreme cases) and babies were pulled screaming from their mothers. They were dispatched using a crude snipping technique: the victim was flipped upside down and the spinal cord severed using a pair of scissors. Bodies were stored in jars. Said one employee, “It would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.” If Gosnell is found guilty, he himself will face execution.
The case has three big consequences. First, it reminds us that the abortion industry is indeed an industry – operating for profit, sometimes with cynical motives. Gosnell claims he was helping poor women, but he charged $3,000 for a procedure and enjoyed an annual income of $1.5 million. That he is accused to reusing medical supplies suggests that he upped his profit margin by reducing costs. Gosnell was a businessman, not a doctor.
Second, the claim that “hundreds” of babies survived the late-term abortion within the mother's body and had to be killed outside of it blows out of the water the insistence of Planned Parenthood that such survival rates are very rare. Evidently, those babies are made of tougher stuff than prochoice militants realise.
Finally, the Gosnell story has to reopen the discussion about the nature of late-term abortions. It is self-evident that state and local agencies did not do their job, reflecting a “hands-off” approach to the abortion industry by politicians and public employees that smacks of moral complacency. More profoundly, if the demon doctor is found guilty of seven counts of murder related to the children, the question has to be asked “why”? Beyond breaking the 24-week limit, the implication of a guilty verdict is that those were not just “parts of a woman’s body” but human lives that Kermit casually snipped away with a pair of scissors. That they only became human lives the moment they left the mother’s body is an absurd proposition: the issue here is clearly age and development of the fetus. Inside or outside their mother, a guilty verdict suggests that they had reached the point of becoming human beings with rights. To quote columnist Kirsten Powers:
Regardless of such quibbles, about whether Gosnell was killing the infants one second after they left the womb instead of partially inside or completely inside the womb — as in a routine late-term abortion — is merely a matter of geography. That one is murder and the other is a legal procedure is morally irreconcilable.
The conclusion that can be drawn is that because of the relative development of the fetus, a late-term abortion involves something closer to the taking of life than earlier terminations. Basic human empathy should tell you that. I want you to take a look at a photo published by The Atlantic of one of the girls delivered by Gosnell as part of a late-term abortion. Look at her hair, her fully formed face, arms, legs and toes. Imagine her crying. That is a child. A child with a right to life.
The Gosnell case isn’t just about one man’s guilt – it’s about the moral compass of an entire nation. Late-term abortion of this variety amounts to legalised infanticide. It must stop.