The trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor charged with murdering infants born alive during abortions, is finally getting more and more media attention. In response, some pro-choice advocates are painting the Gosnell story as an argument for fewer restrictions.
You might recognize this as the “safe, legal and rare” formulation of Bill Clinton. The updated version, however, drops the “rare” part: In an op-ed published by several news outlets in March, Kate Michelman, a part president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and a co-author concluded by saying abortion “should be a completely safe and common medical procedure” (italics added).
Either way, there’s no good reason to believe safety was compromised by the law in Gosnell’s case.
Gosnell’s clinic was not some kind of underground, back-alley deal. It was regulated and monitored — or was supposed to have been; that’s a whole other element of the story — by the state of Pennsylvania.
Certain procedures Gosnell allegedly performed, notably abortions for women more than 24 weeks pregnant, were illegal. But he also performed legal ones. This was a clinic that existed right out in the open for three decades, starting six years after the Roe v. Wade decision.
But more important is the broader implication: that if third-trimester abortions had only been legal, the women who wound up at Gosnell’s clinic may have been treated more safely and humanely elsewhere.
Let me first stipulate that the way women allegedly were treated at Gosnell’s clinic was disgusting and tragic. Undeniably so. The grand jury report in Gosnell’s case describes his medical practice as “a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels — and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.”
That is truly awful, and the kind of treatment no person should be subjected to.
But pro-choice people are kidding themselves if they believe details of the way the mothers were treated are the only details from the Gosnell trial that matter in this debate. Consider these bits of testimony:
- “I can’t describe it. It sounded like a little alien,” one of Gosnell’s employees, Sherry West, said of the screams coming from a baby she estimated to be 18 to 24 inches (i.e., the size of a child carried to full term) when it was delivered and then killed.
- “It jumped, the arm,” another employee, Lynda Williams, said of a baby whose neck she “snipped” after it was delivered into a toilet. Williams testified that Gosnell told her not to worry about the “involuntary response” from an “already dead” child. But why would an “already dead” child have to have its neck “snipped”?
- The post-birth abortion procedure was “literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body,” said Stephen Massof, who previously pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the deaths of two infants at Gosnell’s clinic.
- “I see this big baby boy laying there … He had that color of a baby. I didn’t feel as though he had a chance,” testified Adrienne Moton, who both worked for Gosnell and had two abortions at his clinic. Moton estimated she’d “snipped” the necks of some 10 infants.
- “They looked just like regular babies,” said Ashley Baldwin, who began working at Gosnell’s clinic at the age of 15 and testified she witnessed five or more babies move, breathe or “screech” between their births and deaths. One of them was so large, she said, that Gosnell joked, “this baby is going to walk me home.”
The point is this: All of those children had the ability to move, breathe, scream, screech and twitch before being removed from the womb. They did not become human in the birth canal, and they were not transformed from some stone-like existence to life via the birth-inducing drugs given to their mothers so that they might be pushed out.
The notion that these killings would have been OK, if only they had taken place within the womb at a shiny, clean clinic, is barbaric.