The Gosnell Case Strikes a Nerve

The trial of Kermit Gosnell -- the Philadelphia man accused of murdering a female patient and several babies who were "accidentally" born during abortion procedures -- has struck a nerve in a numbed America.

Gosnell's crimes were uncovered quite by accident during a 2010 FBI-DEA raid related to drug violations at Gosnell's abortion clinic. What the federal agents found was shocking: a beautician assisting on late-term abortions, blood-covered floors, reused disposable medical supplies, body parts stuffed in plastic bags. Whatever you wish to call those to whom Gosnell's macabre collection once belonged -- unviable tissue masses, fetuses, babies -- their remains weren't even accorded the respect a highway-cleanup worker gives road-kill. A grand jury report aptly called Gosnell's abortion mill a "house of horrors."

As The Washington Post reported, albeit belatedly, state regulators had ignored complaints about Gosnell, including 46 lawsuits filed against him, and made just five inspections -- which are supposed to be conducted annually -- since the clinic opened in 1979. The woman whose murder he is being tried for succumbed to lethal doses of pain killers and sedatives. The babies Gosnell is accused of murdering -- initial charges included seven newborns, but the judge threw out some of the cases -- were not so fortunate as to be sedated to death. To its credit, once the Post got around to covering the case, its reporting included eyewitness testimony -- too gruesome, too inhuman, too heartbreaking to include here -- describing how horribly these and other newborns died.

That brings us to the raw nerve exposed by the Gosnell case.

For those without strong views on abortion and even for many abortion supporters -- "reproductive-rights advocates," in media parlance -- the ghastly details of Gosnell's multi-million-dollar abortion enterprise are forcing them to consider two truths:

First, the Gosnell case amplifies the mixed messages floating around a mixed-up country. The case provides an unsettling, discomforting reminder that partial-birth and post-birth abortions like those performed by Gosnell cause pain to the baby, put the mother at risk and end a life -- just like the 1.2 million pre-birth abortions carried out in America each year. Indeed, if Gosnell's infant victims had succumbed to Gosnell's wares before they were born, the crimes Gosnell is being accused of would not be crimes in most cases or in some places. As Michael Geer of the Pennsylvania Family Institute observed, the difference is "a 15-minute or half-hour time frame and 10 inches of physical space." 

Second, this is where the slippery slope ends -- this kind of callousness and contempt for life conceived by Roe. How far we have fallen: elected officials rationalizing infanticide; senators quibbling over how much of a child can be born in order to defend partial-birth abortion; major media outlets either ignoring or downplaying a case of premeditated mass-murder; lawyers and advocacy groups trying to explain Gosnell's actions -- my grandfathers' America would have called murder -- on grounds that the women wanted and paid for abortions; a taxpayer-funded organization refusing to say whether a newborn "struggling for life" deserves emergency care, refusing even to notify authorities of what was happening at Gosnell's office. (As a Philadelphia newspaper reports, "women would sometimes come to Planned Parenthood for services after first visiting Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic, and would complain to staff about the conditions there.)

How did we get here? Step by step. Steadily, the clarity of when life begins was blurred by agenda-minded judges and shoulder-shrugging doctors; Roe's legal loopholes came to rationalize virtually anything, from after-the-fact birth control to partial-birth abortion to post-birth infanticide; and happy-sounding euphemism numbed the nation's conscience. Each step relied on the previous step for justification, and with each step America slid further down the slippery slope.

The Gosnell case also hits a deep nerve for those of us who wear the pro-life label. The case is a grim, dispiriting reminder that we are failing. The small victories are small indeed when compared to the culture and consequences spawned by Roe.

Sure, abortion is not available in 84 percent of U.S. counties. Sure, 71 percent of Americans say they support limits on abortion, and 52 percent say they want abortion illegal in most cases. Sure, GE made heads turn with pro-life language in a commercial for its 4D Ultrasound System. Sure, a Newsweek cover story argued that medicine is granting "unborn babies a unique form of personhood."

But Roe continues to scythe through America. People like Gosnell continue to make a living on death. The media continue to avert their gaze. Organizations like Planned Parenthood continue to rationalize and justify it all. And if the numbers tell us anything, the pro-life cause continues a noble but losing battle.

Our words, our actions, our essays, our votes, our time and talents and treasure, have simply not changed enough hearts and minds to make a difference. In fact, America just reelected the most open, ardent, unapologetic abortion supporter in the history of the presidency. (See his 100-percent rating from the abortion-advocacy group NARAL, his support for the partial-birth abortion procedure or his recent speech at Planned Parenthood, the first by a sitting president.)  His signature piece of legislation is a healthcare law that, along with its enabling HHS mandate, views pregnancy as some sort of illness that needs to be prevented -- and accordingly requires employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their health-insurance plans.

If the Gosnell case doesn't awaken a numbed America, one wonders what will.

Alan W. Dowd writes on public policy issues.

The trial of Kermit Gosnell -- the Philadelphia man accused of murdering a female patient and several babies who were "accidentally" born during abortion procedures -- has struck a nerve in a numbed America.

Gosnell's crimes were uncovered quite by accident during a 2010 FBI-DEA raid related to drug violations at Gosnell's abortion clinic. What the federal agents found was shocking: a beautician assisting on late-term abortions, blood-covered floors, reused disposable medical supplies, body parts stuffed in plastic bags. Whatever you wish to call those to whom Gosnell's macabre collection once belonged -- unviable tissue masses, fetuses, babies -- their remains weren't even accorded the respect a highway-cleanup worker gives road-kill. A grand jury report aptly called Gosnell's abortion mill a "house of horrors."

As The Washington Post reported, albeit belatedly, state regulators had ignored complaints about Gosnell, including 46 lawsuits filed against him, and made just five inspections -- which are supposed to be conducted annually -- since the clinic opened in 1979. The woman whose murder he is being tried for succumbed to lethal doses of pain killers and sedatives. The babies Gosnell is accused of murdering -- initial charges included seven newborns, but the judge threw out some of the cases -- were not so fortunate as to be sedated to death. To its credit, once the Post got around to covering the case, its reporting included eyewitness testimony -- too gruesome, too inhuman, too heartbreaking to include here -- describing how horribly these and other newborns died.

That brings us to the raw nerve exposed by the Gosnell case.

For those without strong views on abortion and even for many abortion supporters -- "reproductive-rights advocates," in media parlance -- the ghastly details of Gosnell's multi-million-dollar abortion enterprise are forcing them to consider two truths:

First, the Gosnell case amplifies the mixed messages floating around a mixed-up country. The case provides an unsettling, discomforting reminder that partial-birth and post-birth abortions like those performed by Gosnell cause pain to the baby, put the mother at risk and end a life -- just like the 1.2 million pre-birth abortions carried out in America each year. Indeed, if Gosnell's infant victims had succumbed to Gosnell's wares before they were born, the crimes Gosnell is being accused of would not be crimes in most cases or in some places. As Michael Geer of the Pennsylvania Family Institute observed, the difference is "a 15-minute or half-hour time frame and 10 inches of physical space." 

Second, this is where the slippery slope ends -- this kind of callousness and contempt for life conceived by Roe. How far we have fallen: elected officials rationalizing infanticide; senators quibbling over how much of a child can be born in order to defend partial-birth abortion; major media outlets either ignoring or downplaying a case of premeditated mass-murder; lawyers and advocacy groups trying to explain Gosnell's actions -- my grandfathers' America would have called murder -- on grounds that the women wanted and paid for abortions; a taxpayer-funded organization refusing to say whether a newborn "struggling for life" deserves emergency care, refusing even to notify authorities of what was happening at Gosnell's office. (As a Philadelphia newspaper reports, "women would sometimes come to Planned Parenthood for services after first visiting Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic, and would complain to staff about the conditions there.)

How did we get here? Step by step. Steadily, the clarity of when life begins was blurred by agenda-minded judges and shoulder-shrugging doctors; Roe's legal loopholes came to rationalize virtually anything, from after-the-fact birth control to partial-birth abortion to post-birth infanticide; and happy-sounding euphemism numbed the nation's conscience. Each step relied on the previous step for justification, and with each step America slid further down the slippery slope.

The Gosnell case also hits a deep nerve for those of us who wear the pro-life label. The case is a grim, dispiriting reminder that we are failing. The small victories are small indeed when compared to the culture and consequences spawned by Roe.

Sure, abortion is not available in 84 percent of U.S. counties. Sure, 71 percent of Americans say they support limits on abortion, and 52 percent say they want abortion illegal in most cases. Sure, GE made heads turn with pro-life language in a commercial for its 4D Ultrasound System. Sure, a Newsweek cover story argued that medicine is granting "unborn babies a unique form of personhood."

But Roe continues to scythe through America. People like Gosnell continue to make a living on death. The media continue to avert their gaze. Organizations like Planned Parenthood continue to rationalize and justify it all. And if the numbers tell us anything, the pro-life cause continues a noble but losing battle.

Our words, our actions, our essays, our votes, our time and talents and treasure, have simply not changed enough hearts and minds to make a difference. In fact, America just reelected the most open, ardent, unapologetic abortion supporter in the history of the presidency. (See his 100-percent rating from the abortion-advocacy group NARAL, his support for the partial-birth abortion procedure or his recent speech at Planned Parenthood, the first by a sitting president.)  His signature piece of legislation is a healthcare law that, along with its enabling HHS mandate, views pregnancy as some sort of illness that needs to be prevented -- and accordingly requires employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their health-insurance plans.

If the Gosnell case doesn't awaken a numbed America, one wonders what will.

Alan W. Dowd writes on public policy issues.