30 April

After Dr. Kermit Gosnell the Abortion Debate has come Full Circle

We have blogged before about the story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell the Philadelphia-based abortionist arrested for murder but, although his trial is ongoing, and the case against him horrendous news networks paid less than scant attention to the proceedings until 72 congressmen and women wrote to 3 of the largest television channels decrying their lack of coverage. Similarly absent from the airwaves was news that in Florida a representative for the IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) asserted that the fate of an infant born alive after a failed abortion should be left up to the mother and her physician. In short, the IPPF supported infanticide if a mother chose it.

Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, before it was shut down has been described by the prosecution as a ‘charnel house’. It was filthy. Pieces of equipment (including an emergency defibrillator and blood pressure monitor) were either missing or not in working order. The clinic was cramped and didn’t meet even the most rudimentary health standards. In an effort to save money Dr. Gosnell ordered the re-use of disposable surgical instruments. These often went un-sterilised and contributed to the spread of venereal diseases. As a result of this wanton neglect at least one woman died and many others had to be taken to nearby hospitals as the result of failed abortion procedures. Former employees of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic have testified that ‘hundreds’ of babies were born alive in illegal, late-term abortion procedures. Scissors were inserted into these babies necks and their spinal chords cut to ‘ensure foetal demise’. In one instance an abortion took place so late in the pregnancy that Dr. Gosnell is alleged to have said the baby was ‘big enough to walk me to the bus stop’.

In addition to the gruesome details of this ‘house of horrors’ Gosnell was in the habit of practicing racial segregation giving his black and ethnic minority clients even worse care than his white clients. He also kept the severed feet of babies he had killed in a jar.

That this case does the pro-choice camp no favours is hard to deny. The pictures submitted in evidence are, like many pictures from abortions, some of the most distressing around. The description ‘house of horrors’ is apt and it is not at all surprising that generally (though by no means exclusively) pro-choice media networks have been reluctant to cover this story. For the pro-life camp, and more pointedly for voters the case presents a strong ‘common sense’ argument against abortion. Gosnell’s criminal negligence aside the horrors of late term abortions and infanticide are an argument in themselves that such practices should be illegal.

In spite of this the pro-choice lobby has chosen to spin this story in the opposite direction arguing that the women who submitted themselves to Gosnell’s ‘care’ were desperate. Not only would they break the law by consenting to a late-term abortion but would also endanger their health to such an extent that one woman died. Whether legal or not women will, the IPPF argues, continue to risk their lives at clinics such as Gosnells who are willing to perform these late-term abortions. Surely, the IPPF argues, the sensible thing to do is to relax the restrictions on late-term abortions and give women hygienic and safe care. While one does not wish to diminish the tremendous anxiety and stress that an unexpected pregnancy can bring we do seem to find ourselves back at the ‘back-street’ abortion clinic argument that raged decades ago. If women are going to risk their lives to get rid of their unborn children the ‘only’ thing the state can do is make sure these women have late-term abortions under qualified medical supervision. The logic is easy to follow and one can see why the IPPF should make such a case.

In the 1960s this argument was persuasive. Women’s health was at risk in what were illegal abortion clinics but they still went. Without sonograms and photographic evidence the public were none-the-wiser as to what an abortion actually involved and the humanity of an unborn child was, to some extent, an open question.

But to relax abortion laws still further in the USA would still leave us with a dead baby. When confronted with the humanity of a child born alive as a result of a ‘failed’ abortion the IPPF’s representative in Florida was lost for words.  Asked if she accepted that the ‘patient’ in an abortion clinic setting could include a child born alive as part of a ‘botched’ procedure her reply was simply ‘that’s a very good question. I really don’t know how to answer that’. When asked if she thought the life of a child born alive in this setting ought to be preserved she said that this should be left up to the mother and her physician. Subsequently the IPPF affirmed that they oppose infanticide though this still raises the question of why they opposed Florida’s born alive bill in the first place whose expressed purpose is to prohibit infanticide.

The media silence on both of these cases is highly regrettable and even suspect. While any debate on abortion is bound to be fraught with difficulties, not least the sensitivities on both sides, it is clear that the debate needs to be held afresh. However, getting the pro-choice lobby to agree to debate will not be easy. After Dr. Kermit Gosnell the abortion debate has come full circle, but the pro-choice lobby appears reluctant to face the facts.


Related Posts:

The Kermit Gosnell Case: Portrait of the Culture of Death


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