Negligence, Insensitivity, or Murder?

 
 

Kermit Gosnell was not sentenced to life imprisonment for sloppiness, for insensitivity, for bad keepsakes, for a backed up drain, for fleas, or even for making women suffer. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering three babies.

Print Friendly

Behold, from the organization’s own website, the full statement from Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, on the conviction of Kermit Gosnell. The emphases are mine:

Justice was served to Kermit Gosnell today and he will pay the price for the atrocities he committed. We hope that the lessons of the trial do not fade with the verdict. Anti-choice politicians, and their unrelenting efforts to deny women access to safe and legal abortion care, will only drive more women to back-alley butchers like Kermit Gosnell.

From the lack of funding available for low-income women to access abortion services, to the sharp decline of reputable providers in Pennsylvania, to the gross negligence of authorities to enforce the law after complaints were filed against Gosnell, each aspect of this case must be a teachable moment for lawmakers: until we reject the politicization of women’s medical care and leave these decisions where they belong—between a woman and her family and her doctor—women will never be safe. The horrifying story of Kermit Gosnell is a peek into the world before Roe v. Wade made legal a woman's right to make her own choices.

NARAL Pro-Choice America's annual Who Decides? publication has given Pennsylvania an ‘F’ grade precisely because it has passed medically unnecessary laws that restrict access to safe and legal abortion care. It is my sincere hope that the women in Gosnell's clinic did not suffer in vain and that Pennsylvania, and every state, will step up and join us in making the protection of women’s ability to get, safe, high quality, and legal abortion care a top priority.

Where to begin?

First, what atrocities can Hogue possibly be talking about? Kermit Gosnell was not convicted of committing atrocities, specifically. He was convicted of murdering three babies, and of manslaughter in the death of a woman he had overdosed with anesthesia. We need to shout this verdict from the rooftops. He was convicted of murdering three babies.

His defense lawyer says that Gosnell is not a murderer, and that the man really believes “that he never killed a live baby.” Thus does language crumble into incoherence with our morals. What kind of a baby is it possible to kill, if not a live baby? Let us suppose that Gosnell is right, and that the three babies, now outside the womb, were dead already, before he snipped their spines. That might keep him within the bounds of legality, but how on earth can it make a moral difference, indeed, so great a difference as to transform, for Hogue, what is a “right” to be defended, not merely into something dubious, but something downright atrocious?

What kind of moral magic is performed by a twelve-inch shift in location? Is what is right, if it is done on North Main Street in Bryn Mawr, suddenly wrong, and horribly so, if it is done on South Main Street? Cross the street: On one side, you are the marshal in the Abortion Rights Parade, and Hogue is granting you a gold medal; on the other side, you have committed atrocities, and Hogue says she is glad you will be spending your life in prison.

Well, it’s not a street we cross, but a back alley. That thoroughfare has figured in every conversation about abortion since I was a boy. My town didn’t have any back alley. I wonder whether certain cities needed to pave a back alley on the quiet, just so that abortions could be performed there. Let us shout this from the rooftops also. It is a lie, and the abortionists have known for decades that it is a lie, that most abortions before Roe were performed in some back alley, by greasy predators, with coat hangers and dirty forceps. Most were performed in doctors’ offices.

James Burtchaell, in his magisterial Rachel Weeping, documents the paths the arguments and the fabricated statistics took, over the course of a couple of decades. Those who advocated a liberalization of abortion law, in the 1950s, argued that the procedure was already safe, because it was performed by doctors who had access to antibiotics. The rhetoric changed when it became politically expedient for it to change.

Kermit Gosnell’s clinic was not in the attic of a condemned tenement. It was in a handsome brick building with gabled windows and Victorian trim, right out in the open, at the corner of two prominent streets, 38th and Lancaster. He was not alone there, either. The signs on the building advertise Dental Care, Family Planning, Family Practice, Gyn and Geriatrics, and Physical Therapy. So Gosnell worked right beside at least one dentist, dental hygienists, at least one family doctor, a gynecologist, a gerontologist, and a physical therapist.

But what moral difference does that make? Does it change the nature of what he did to the babies—for remember, he was not convicted of running a clinic on a bad street, but of murdering three babies?

Much has been made also of the blood-spattered walls in the clinic, and the flea-bitten kitty who roamed the place. Police who visited Gosnell’s home found fleas in the basement, too, and plates of food on the floor, and clutter in the bedroom so messy that one could not see the bed. Well, there you go—a guy who keeps cats and doesn’t bother to bomb his basement with flea killer—what more can we say?

I do not make light of the unsanitary conditions in his clinic. Apparently complaints were made in the early 1990s, but Gosnell then enjoyed a sixteen-year reprieve, while the four terms of pro-abortion governors Tom Ridge (R) and Ed Rendell (D) were in full swing. Hogue’s own organization would defend to the death Gosnell’s “right” to run his clinic, and she herself gives the game away when she denounces, in the very same statement that professes dismay over Gosnell’s atrocities, the law that convicted him of the atrocities in the first place!

For Kermit Gosnell was not sentenced to life imprisonment for running a dirty clinic. He was not sentenced to life imprisonment for fleas. He was not sentenced to life imprisonment for clogging up the garbage disposal with the bodies of aborted babies. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

We must keep that fact foremost in mind. It is true that the sheer ugliness of the clinic lays bare the neglect of Pennsylvania officials, truckling to aggressive pro-abortion lobbies such as the one headed by Ilyse Hogue. We should not simply brush those matters aside. Gosnell kept the feet of aborted babies in a refrigerator. The gorge justly rises at the gruesomeness of it all. But Gosnell was not convicted of having bad taste in keepsakes. He was not convicted of whistling while he worked. He was not convicted of enjoying abortion. He was not convicted of being disreputable.

Suppose his walls were as white as lilies, and suppose he turned demurely away while the babies died. Suppose he did not snip their spines, but just left them in a comfortable room nearby till they ceased to breathe, as do many other late-term abortionists from Seattle crosswise down to Miami, all of them defended by Hogue. Suppose he had finer style. Suppose he did not only play Chopin while the police investigated his home (as he did), but while the women in his clinic were waiting to see him and his instruments of baby-death. What would be the moral difference?

We do not scruple to kill the children. Why then should it be not only wrong, but atrocious, to keep their feet as mementos? It is as if a policeman were to show up at the door of a wicked man, on information that he had beaten his son senseless.

“I did no such thing,” says the man indignantly. “I’m no beast. I shot him in the head.”

“Well, that’s all right, then,” says the officer.

Notice, finally, that Ilyse Hogue, crocodile-in-chief, cannot even squeeze out one tear for the babies that Gosnell murdered. No mention is made of them. Everything remains in grammatical suspension—Gosnell committed atrocities, but the atrocities are not named; just as a woman is to choose, but what she chooses is not named. Hogue dearly hopes that the women won’t have suffered in vain—but Gosnell was not given a life sentence for making a woman suffer. He was given a life sentence for making babies die.

Suppose, again, that he was clean as a whistle, and suppose that no woman ever came to know that hers was the baby that one minute was breathing, and the next, snip snap, was dead. Should we then say, “Well, that’s all right, then,” because the murder was done out of sight?

That’s what President Obama believes, and what Planned Parenthood and NARAL believe, because they most stridently opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, the federal law which the Pennsylvania law in question resembles. Had then-Senator Obama and Ilyse Hogue had their way, it would be quite legal for a Gosnell to do what he did, or for a Spic and Span Gosnell to do it in a manner less likely to offend the taste of the more sophisticated. They believe, after all, that choice trumps all.

Obama was but following the evil to its conclusion when he reasoned that a woman who enters an abortion clinic does not want to leave with a child, so that if the baby survives the abortion, it should not matter; and the allies of Hogue believe the same. That’s what abortion care is, after all, and with that phrase we see language itself crumbling into dust.

No, we must shout out the verdict in Pennsylvania. Kermit Gosnell was not sentenced to life imprisonment for sloppiness, for insensitivity, for bad keepsakes, for a backed-up drain, for fleas, or even for making women suffer. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering three babies. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for doing just what his perhaps slightly more presentable colleagues do every day, in every large city in the nation.

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata and Dante's The Divine Comedy.

Print Friendly

 

Related Reading


 

Web Briefings