Topic: Decline of the West
In its advertisements the pro-choice movement likes to portray itself as the champion and defender of women’s rights—principally, the right of women to abort their unborn children at any time and for any reason. Only thus, we are told, by securing women’s control over their bodies, can female equality be assured.
Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, was handed down forty-four years ago, in 1973. It represents, as the saying goes, settled law. Yet abortion remains controversial. The anti-abortion or pro-life movement has not withered away but gained in strength and voice. And though a majority of Americans support abortion rights, many of them do so with qualifications and misgivings. It’s not hard to see—literally—why this is so. In 1973 we knew relatively little about what went on in a pregnant woman’s uterus. But with the passage of years advances in medical imaging technology revolutionized our understanding and it has become impossible for the pro-choice movement to go on describing the fetus as an “undifferentiated tissue mass.” The movement’s unease received expression recently: Atlantic magazine published an article, “The Politics of Ultrasound,” arguing in effect that the technology was being used in a deceptive manner to depict life where there is none. The article turned out to be an essay in junk science and was roundly debunked but its appearance was significant, showing that the pro-choice movement recognizes the power of the argument that abortion is the taking of a human life.
And the insecurity thus aroused has bred extremism: the pro-life movement’s adamantine resistance to any restrictions on abortion, including the barbaric practice that goes by the name of partial-birth abortion. On paper, indeed, the movement has failed to hold the line. Under Roe v. Wade the states retain the power to place reasonable restrictions on abortion and many have done so. In Pennsylvania, for example, abortions are permitted up to twenty-three weeks and six days; after that they’re prohibited except when the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother. But a law unenforced is a law emasculated and that, broadly speaking, is the approach now taken by the pro-choice movement.
Last year the US Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that tightened regulation of abortion clinics in the state. The pro-choice movement argued that that the law would force many clinics to close, effectively restricting access to abortion, and the high court agreed. The law’s most controversial provisions were that (1) doctors working in abortion clinics had to have local admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and (2) that abortion clinics must meet hospital standards.
One can only imagine what Kermit Gosnell, a former physician and abortionist now serving multiple life sentences for murder and a laundry list of other crimes, made of this Supreme Court decision.
Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, was raided by police on February 18, 2010. Philadelphia narcotics detectives had learned that the doctor was operating a pill mill under cover of his practice and indeed, he was found to be one of the largest providers of illegal prescription drugs in Pennsylvania. But in the course of their investigation other troubling information had come to light. Informants spoke to the detectives of the substandard, unsanitary, even filthy conditions obtaining at the Women’s Medical Society. They spoke of medications being administered to patients by wholly unqualified assistants. They spoke of botched abortions and of illegal late-term abortions. They spoke of one woman in particular, a recent immigrant from India barely conversant in English, who had died in the hospital after receiving an abortion from Dr. Gosnell. But even so, they were unprepared for the horrors they found.
In Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, the hideous crimes perpetrated by Kermit Gosnell are dragged under the spotlight. It’s a difficult, even upsetting, book to read. At one point I was moved to exclaim aloud—Oh, Jesus Christ!—at its account of a botched abortion that put one of Gosnell’s patients in the hospital. Investigating detectives found in his clinic the frozen bodies of more than forty aborted babies, all of whom had been born alive and killed by Gosnell, his preferred method being to snip the spinal cord just below the neck with a pair of scissors. And like many other serial killers this mad doctor kept trophies: the amputated feet of aborted babies, preserved in glass jars.
I’m sad to say—sad in the most literal meaning of the word—that the items mentioned above merely scratch the surface of Gosnell’s crimes. But Gosnell recounts another story too, one as horrible in its way as the account of his bloody deeds: the social, political and ideological environment that made them possible.
Many serial killers hide in plain sight, behind a façade of normality: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy. Kermit Gosnell was such a one as well, but he had the additional advantage of a safe space in which to operate, secured for him by pro-choice politicians, public health officials and bureaucrats: his clinic, the Women’s Medical Society. Some of these people knew that Gosnell’s facility was a shockingly filthy sinkhole, virtually a throwback to the seventeenth century. But they said nothing. Others knew that Gosnell was flouting state regulations—refusing, even, to respond to letters and inquiries from various regulating agencies. They did nothing. The pro-choice Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge (served 1995-2001), decreed a halt to abortion clinic regulation enforcement early in his term: a bouquet to the pro-choice movement and a boon to Kermit Gosnell. In 2009 Gosnell applied to the National Abortion Federation for certification of his clinic. A representative of the NAF visited, was appalled by the squalor she found and recommended to her superiors that certification should be denied. But neither the NAF representative nor her superiors said one single word about the Women’s Medical Society to state or local public health officials in Pennsylvania.
On and on goes this tale of official disinterest and dereliction of duty. Some politicians and bureaucrats feared the political clout of the pro-choice movement, others agreed with its absolutist position. Whatever the motivation—pusillanimity or fanaticism—the effect was the same. Kermit Gosnell was granted a free hand to perpetrate his butchery—literally for decades. And he knew it, too. Not even the 2010 drug raid fazed him; he figured that the whole thing would just blow over. But the dedication of a handful of police detectives and prosecutors eventually pierced the wall of indifference and willful ignorance that had hitherto protected him. Kermit Gosnell was indicted on multiple counts of first-degree murder, found guilty on five of them and sentenced to life in prison. He was also convinced on multiple additional counts, including the involuntary manslaughter of the Indian immigrant woman whose abortion he botched. Later he also pled guilty to federal drug charges.
One would have thought that such a trial with its sensationally lurid and horrifying details would bring reporters swarming to court—but no. Just like officialdom, the media preferred to look past Kermit Gosnell’s crimes. In the early stages of his trial the courtroom seats reserved for the media stood empty except for a few local reporters. Only when liberal pundit and columnist Kirsten Powers, who is pro-life, broke the story in a bombshell 2013 column for USA Today did the national media, somewhat shamefacedly, appear in court.
This tale of woe compels a conclusion: that the pro-choice movement, for all its talk of protecting women’s rights, etc. has lost its moral compass. The movement has become imprisoned by its own extremist ideology: that the right to abortion is absolute, trumping even the most fundamental questions of life and death. Now, when groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America appeal to the dark past of dangerous illegal abortions I think of the women, mostly poor and black, whom Kermit Gosnell maimed and killed. Who was looking out for them? And I reflect on the mockery that he made of the very term, pro-choice, with his practice of performing abortions on unwilling young girls, dragged to his clinic by their relatives.
Pro-choice activists will say that Gosnell was an aberration. But how could they possibly know this? Given the lax enforcement of laws and regulations relating to abortion, it’s very likely that similar abuses—unsanitary conditions, unqualified staff, antiquated equipment, slipshod treatment, illegal abortions—are quite widespread. Gosnell himself performed some abortions in a clinic in nearby Delaware whose conditions, if not medieval, were certainly substandard. After all, there’s a lot of money to be made in the abortion business, especially if you cut corners—which is easy to do when no one’s watching. And the Gosnell-friendly mission of the pro-choice movement is to ensure that the abortion mill grinds on, free of the most elementary supervision.
If you’re pro-choice I dare you to read Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer. Even if it doesn’t change your mind about abortion it will at least open your eyes to the truly evil character of the extremist pro-choice movement, which never, ever met an abortionist that it didn’t like.