The truth about the Kermit Gosnell trial

Closing arguments are expected next week in the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the late-term Philadelphia abortionist. As the trial nears conclusion media coverage of the gruesome testimony in the case has intensified.

A coordinated effort by pro-life bloggers and citizens on Twitter managed to break through a mass media cone of silence, and now commentators across the political and pro-life/pro-choice spectrum are offering their perspectives.

Some of those perspectives are startling. So, too, are some of the omissions about the entire chain of events – 40 years long and counting – that Gosnell represents.

Among the startling responses is the claim that anti-abortion policies produced Gosnell’s depredations.


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In a piece for Slate magazine’s “MoneyBox” blog, Matthew Yglesias declares his sympathy with the view that Gosnell is the logical residue of a legal and business culture in which there are few late-term abortion providers: “Making it difficult to establish an above-board competitive marketplace with multiple legal providers of late-term abortion facilities ensures that the demand for the procedure will be pushed into low-quality channels.”  (A rare example, by the way, of a liberal commentator embracing a robust health care marketplace and linking quality to it.)

Apart from its cold calculus, this perspective on Gosnell overlooks the more basic reason why there isn’t a thriving marketplace of doctors willing to kill babies nearly or fully capable of living outside the womb:  The practice itself is in no way one of the arts of medicine.

Few are drawn to it because few people with rarefied medical skills see the fulfillment of their years of training in wrenching apart a baby limb from limb.

For mothers and babies alike, the stories emerging from the Gosnell trial are dark, bloody and remorseful, a repudiation of what health and happiness should be.

Put more simply, what Gosnell was doing was objectively wrong and obviously hurtful.

Moreover, lawlessness – and not a set of pro-life laws – is what gave birth to Gosnell’s crimes, and that spirit of lawlessness, of no limits and no scruples, dates back to the period before Roe. v. Wade.

Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner has laid out in detail how Gosnell vaulted into public view in 1972 through his involvement in another gruesome episode, the “Mother’s Day Massacre.”

In full view of public television cameras, Gosnell brought 15 poor Chicago women to Philadelphia to undergo second-trimester abortions induced by inserting a mass of razor-sharp plastic coils into their wombs.

The so-called “super coil” method was the invention of Harvey Karman, an ex-con with a diploma-mill Ph.D., who was a darling of International Planned Parenthood.

That Gosnell was able to participate in a highly publicized event that left nine of its 15 “subjects” with major medical complications and suffer no penalty was a harbinger of the path he would take over four decades.

Legal abortion resembles the back alley because the two overlapped to an overwhelming degree.

In the early days of legal abortion, Mary Calderone, at the time national medical director of Planned Parenthood, reported an estimate that 90 percent of illegal abortionists pre-Roe were, in fact, physicians.  Then-Planned Parenthood president Alan Guttmacher’s estimate was 80 percent.

The miracles of modern perinatology, the ability to save the lives of babies born as early as 24 weeks’ gestation, the marvels of fetal surgery that have inspired specialties at children’s hospitals across the country, including Philadelphia’s pioneering unit – these are the spires and sinews of medical progress.

The Gosnell trial is a stark reminder of another fact.  The women who entered the infernal portal of 3801 Lancaster Ave suffered from an array of debilities, chief among them the absence of hope.

In a sex-saturated society availed of an arsenal of pregnancy-preventing and –destroying drugs, devices and, yes, abortion clinics, they turned to a facility that should have shocked and repelled them from the moment they saw its battered and blood-stained environs.

Some would argue that their neighborhoods lack enough family planning centers; more importantly, they lack enough families. There is a relationship poverty that runs deeper than any other kind.  Low expectations can be a hard form of bigotry.

Despite this, in the neighborhood of Kermit Gosnell there were advanced hospitals, Catholic pregnancy and adoption services, and two pregnancy care centers: clean, well-lit places where they and their children would have been valued and cared for.

Do we need more such centers, more highlighting of their work, more funding? Yes, and we need more obstetricians as well, and reform of a tort law system that is driving out quality physicians by the hundreds and leaving in place some whose victims are too impoverished and too ashamed to sue them.

Incredibly, part of the agenda of NARAL is to drive pregnancy care centers out of business or block their advertising.  They label them “fake clinics.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to pursue its over-the-top “preventive services mandate,” fully aware that one of its primary effects may be to close religious hospitals that care for millions of America’s poor and hundreds of thousands of expectant mothers.

Building multiple late-term abortion clinics in search of a bazaar of absolute choice is the last thing our nation’s poor neighborhoods need.

We would do well instead to seek a new birth of compassion, reinvestment of time and energy in the Hippocratic ideal of “doing no harm,” and the affirmation of the equal value of every human life.