Commentary Magazine


Topic: infanticide

Gosnell Not as Unique as We Thought

Throughout the discussion about the crimes of Kermit Gosnell we were repeatedly assured that the atrocities that took place in his clinic were exceptional and should in no way be imputed to other providers of abortion services. This is a tenet of faith for those seeking to defend abortion rights since they seem to fear that any attention focused on late-term abortions impacts the discussion about the legality of the procedure under any circumstances. But if Gosnell is not quite the outlier that some have tried to argue that he is, then the nation may have to confront the fact that what went on in West Philadelphia isn’t the only place where infants were slaughtered as the result of botched abortions.

Thus, the news today that another such case may be about to surface in Texas may realize the worst fears of both sides in the abortion debate.

As the American Spectator notes (they cite a Houston Chronicle story that is difficult to find on its website), former employees of a Houston clinic are claiming that babies were routinely killed in the same fashion as the ones Gosnell was convicted of murdering: by snipping their spinal cords. Like the testimony in the Philadelphia case, reading this account is not for those with weak stomachs. The details of fully formed infants being mutilated in this manner are horrifying. While those implicated are entitled to a presumption of innocence and we should wait until police complete their investigation, these new hair-raising allegations should cause enforcement officials and health care inspectors, not to mention the rest of us, to wonder just how common such activities really are.

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Throughout the discussion about the crimes of Kermit Gosnell we were repeatedly assured that the atrocities that took place in his clinic were exceptional and should in no way be imputed to other providers of abortion services. This is a tenet of faith for those seeking to defend abortion rights since they seem to fear that any attention focused on late-term abortions impacts the discussion about the legality of the procedure under any circumstances. But if Gosnell is not quite the outlier that some have tried to argue that he is, then the nation may have to confront the fact that what went on in West Philadelphia isn’t the only place where infants were slaughtered as the result of botched abortions.

Thus, the news today that another such case may be about to surface in Texas may realize the worst fears of both sides in the abortion debate.

As the American Spectator notes (they cite a Houston Chronicle story that is difficult to find on its website), former employees of a Houston clinic are claiming that babies were routinely killed in the same fashion as the ones Gosnell was convicted of murdering: by snipping their spinal cords. Like the testimony in the Philadelphia case, reading this account is not for those with weak stomachs. The details of fully formed infants being mutilated in this manner are horrifying. While those implicated are entitled to a presumption of innocence and we should wait until police complete their investigation, these new hair-raising allegations should cause enforcement officials and health care inspectors, not to mention the rest of us, to wonder just how common such activities really are.

One needn’t support the pro-life side of the abortion debate to understand that Gosnell may have changed the nature of the national conversation at least as far as late-term abortions are concerned. Advances in medical science since Roe v. Wade was decided have made it more difficult to act as if a fetus in the sixth, seventh or eighth month is merely a clump of cells rather than a human being who can survive outside the womb. If clinics are performing late-term abortions, including in states like Pennsylvania where they have long been illegal, it is because the health care industry and regulators have largely turned a blind eye to the possibility that Gosnells exist.

If the Houston case proves to be another trip into the nightmare world of the Gosnell case, then it will be a signal that complacence about such abuses must end. As long as we can pretend that Gosnell was a singular monster rather than a product of a culture that considered such infants, whether inside the womb or out of it, as a problem that needed to be fixed by snipping their spines or tearing them to pieces, then we needn’t be haunted by the possibility that more such cases are lurking below the surface of our national consciousness.

We know that women that resort to butchers like Gosnell or others who behave in the same fashion because they are desperate. We also know the children who survive the ordeal of botched abortions have the odds stacked against them, both medically and in terms of what is most likely a life of deprivation. But that is no excuse for refusing to protect them. If we are a civilized society, the thought that there are more Gosnells out there—something that seems more likely than not in the wake of the news about the Houston case—should motivate all of us, no matter where we stand on Roe, to speak out and act to ensure such persons are prevented from killing any more infants.

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Waiting for the Gosnell Verdict

The wait for the verdict in the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell went on today as a jury continued to weigh the multitude of charges that the Philadelphia abortionist faces for butchering women and their babies. The case has gotten more attention in the mainstream media in recent weeks after conservative columnists lambasted it for ignoring a gruesome story that remains an embarrassment to the pro-choice side of the abortion debate. But it’s still unclear whether the country has even started to fully assimilate what these crimes mean about the state of health care for poor women in this country. Nor are many of us asking the big question that hangs over the Gosnell proceedings: how much of an aberration are the instances of infanticide that the testimony against the defendants revealed?

But there is one thing we know for sure. If Gosnell’s attorneys manage to convince a jury not to convict him, you can forget about any expectations that this case will lead to more scrutiny of clinics where late-term abortions are being conducted.

Abortion rights defenders are right to say that the charge that Gosnell’s crimes, which include the murder of infants born alive after botched abortions, should not be imputed to anyone else in what is a large sector of the health care industry. But the problem in Philadelphia is that due to a politically-motivated decision by a pro-choice Republican governor a decade ago, inspections of such clinics were shelved lest they be interpreted as an attempt to make abortions less available. But if a jury is persuaded that the Gosnell prosecution is about race or an attempt to roll back Roe v. Wade, the impulse in the media as well as among a political class that largely wishes to avoid entanglement in this issue will be to forget about it, allowing any other Gosnells out there to go on killing babies and mistreating their patients with impunity.

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The wait for the verdict in the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell went on today as a jury continued to weigh the multitude of charges that the Philadelphia abortionist faces for butchering women and their babies. The case has gotten more attention in the mainstream media in recent weeks after conservative columnists lambasted it for ignoring a gruesome story that remains an embarrassment to the pro-choice side of the abortion debate. But it’s still unclear whether the country has even started to fully assimilate what these crimes mean about the state of health care for poor women in this country. Nor are many of us asking the big question that hangs over the Gosnell proceedings: how much of an aberration are the instances of infanticide that the testimony against the defendants revealed?

But there is one thing we know for sure. If Gosnell’s attorneys manage to convince a jury not to convict him, you can forget about any expectations that this case will lead to more scrutiny of clinics where late-term abortions are being conducted.

Abortion rights defenders are right to say that the charge that Gosnell’s crimes, which include the murder of infants born alive after botched abortions, should not be imputed to anyone else in what is a large sector of the health care industry. But the problem in Philadelphia is that due to a politically-motivated decision by a pro-choice Republican governor a decade ago, inspections of such clinics were shelved lest they be interpreted as an attempt to make abortions less available. But if a jury is persuaded that the Gosnell prosecution is about race or an attempt to roll back Roe v. Wade, the impulse in the media as well as among a political class that largely wishes to avoid entanglement in this issue will be to forget about it, allowing any other Gosnells out there to go on killing babies and mistreating their patients with impunity.

Even if, as even most objective observers insist, what happened at one clinic in West Philadelphia is unimaginable at Planned Parenthood clinics, this trial ought to cause Americans to begin thinking about whether a politically-motivated lack of concern has created an opening for other Gosnells. One of the most powerful arguments for legalized abortion was always the certainty that whether or not they were allowed under the law, such procedures would continue to be performed. But what we have learned from the Gosnell case is that the horrors of back-alley abortions didn’t end when the Supreme Court ruled on Roe.

Even more troubling is the talk we’ve heard recently from Planned Parenthood in which it was made clear that a) some in the group think giving medical care to infants born alive after abortions was optional and b) the horror stories emanating from the Gosnell office were not considered sufficiently shocking by local Planned Parenthood officials to report them to the authorities. If such reactions are possible, then it is far from unreasonable to conclude that a culture of indifference to human life, even when it has emerged from womb, may be operating on the margins of our health care system.

Let us pray that that whatever it is that happens to Kermit Gosnell, the gut-wrenching facts of this case are sufficiently publicized to cause enough Americans to do some soul-searching about what this trial says about the state of ethics and respect for human dignity in our country today.

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Contraception vs. Infanticide

Last night’s debate was not among the best we’ve seen, but there was one particularly memorable moment. It came to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich.

When the candidates were asked (from a pre-selected e-mail) about their views on contraception, Gingrich responded by saying, “I want to make two quick points, John [King]. The first is: There is a legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion activities which any religion opposes. That’s legitimate. But I just want to point out — not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.”

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Last night’s debate was not among the best we’ve seen, but there was one particularly memorable moment. It came to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich.

When the candidates were asked (from a pre-selected e-mail) about their views on contraception, Gingrich responded by saying, “I want to make two quick points, John [King]. The first is: There is a legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion activities which any religion opposes. That’s legitimate. But I just want to point out — not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.”

What Gingrich is referring to is that Barack Obama, as an Illinois state senator, opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. (For more, see this October 16, 2008 article, “Obama and Infanticide,” by Robert P. George and Yuval Levin.) The evidence clearly points to the fact that Obama, in the name of abortion rights, would not support laws against infanticide. It is a stand that remains even today both sickening and almost impossible to comprehend. And yet the entire universe of political reporters showed an amazing lack of curiosity (and certainly not an ounce of consternation or outrage) on this topic.

It’s so hard to imagine why.

The simple-minded among us might assume that many journalists, leaning very much to the left on social issues, are more offended when candidates express personal objections to contraception than when candidates oppose laws against infanticide. Those of us who are unsophisticated on these matters might even come to the conclusion that for reasons of ideology, many members of the press hyper-focus on contraception and completely ignore infanticide, an act one might think qualifies as morally problematic.

 

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