Philadelphia Abortion Horror Case Has Hard Lessons

A jury will now decide the fate of abortionist Kermit Gosnell following eight weeks of grisly testimony about his “house of horrors” clinic in West Philadelphia.

Prosecutors brought 54 witnesses to the stand to prove their case against Gosnell, who faces four counts of first-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder, and 24 counts of performing abortions beyond Pennsylvania’s legal limit.

If convicted of any of the first-degree murder counts, Gosnell could face the death penalty. Yet the defense rested without calling a single witness, including Gosnell himself.

I haven’t been following this case closely. But if even a fraction of what the prosecution is alleging is true, it’s a serious challenge to the pro-choice movement, which at its most extreme has promoted abortion without restrictions. (The pro-life movement has even more extreme adherents who have assassinated doctors performing legal abortions.)

I won’t go into the gory details about this filthy, unsanitary clinic with its lack of regard for human life at any stage; you can read about them in this comprehensive but deeply troubling piece by Conor Freidersdorf in The Atlantic.

But I was most struck by the negligence of regulators and others who did nothing to stop the atrocities in which late-term fetuses—or early-term babies—had their spines snipped and at least two desperate mothers died following procedures.

The grand jury report laid out how the Pennsylvania Department of Health failed to inspect Gosnell’s clinic a single time after 1993, despite numerous complaints, as it “decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all.” The Pennsylvania Department of State, which licenses medical doctors, did nothing. Nor did Philadelphia’s health department.

Undated handout photo of accused abortion butcher Kermit Gosnell.  (AP Photo/Philadelphia Police Department via Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, File)

Undated handout photo of accused abortion butcher Kermit Gosnell. (AP Photo/Philadelphia Police Department via Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, File)

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia and rated #15 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, also “could find not a single case in which it complied with its legal duty to alert authorities to the danger.” And the National Abortion Federation, which monitors clinics for compliance with medical standards, rejected Gosnell’s application to join, but didn’t alert anyone to the shocking conditions in his clinic.

With barely concealed fury, the grand jury report concluded:

We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.

So, what conclusions do I draw from this?

  1. Pro-choice activists must help ensure that legal abortions are performed safely and with the highest medical standards for everyone. Their allegation that Gosnell’s clinic was an “outlier” is unproven, and they need to devote more resources to policing their own.
  2. Pro-life groups, who I think have the stronger argument here, should work to improve the alternatives pregnant women have when they make these decisions. That means enhancing adoption resources and doing more to support single mothers, especially teens, who decide to keep and raise a child.
  3. We need to increase the availability of birth control and education in how to use it to prevent girls from getting into this problem in the first place.
  4. Finally, we all need to re-think our positions on abortion. I’m generally pro-choice, but for some time have been disturbed by late-term and partial-birth abortions, admittedly a small percentage of procedures. I now feel that both should be illegal, except where the mother’s life is in danger.

I strongly believe that women should have the right to make decisions about their reproductive health. But at some point a living child has rights, too, which the state must protect. Right now, I think 24 weeks is a reasonable place for that to begin. If the science on this evolves, I’ll change my mind, too.


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