By MAX REINHARDT
When conservatives talk about a “culture of life”, it usually revolves around the issue of abortion. This language endlessly chafes abortion rights supporters and people on the political left. To them abortion is not murder, it is simply a medical procedure. It’s a private decision between a woman and her doctor. Any attempt to restrict abortion endangers and degrades women.
Indeed, President Bill Clinton’s famous assertion that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” has been one of the most effective arguments for maintaining Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made on-demand access to abortion a constitutional right.
However, the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist, should cause even the most ardent abortion rights advocate to take pause.
Dr. Gosnell, who for decades provided late-term abortions, illegal under federal law, has been charged with the first-degree murder of seven infants and the third degree murder of one woman who died of a painkiller overdose that he allegedly administered.
The conditions of the clinic, according to the Philadelphia district attorney, were appalling, with blood stained sheets, expired drugs and unsterilized surgical instruments. A flea-ridden cat was found freely wandering about, its feces smeared on the staircase. One former employee even testified that African-American and Asian patients were forced to wait in squalid, segregated waiting rooms. The white patients were spared this indignity.
How was a medical facility permitted to operate under such abysmally poor conditions? Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania’s abortion rights supporting Republican governor from 1995 to 2001 came into office promising to ease the anti-abortion laws enacted by his anti-abortion Democratic predecessor. According to the grand jury, health regulators from the Ridge administration “concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased.”
This “house of horrors,” as the district attorney put it, was allowed to run free from state health inspections from 1993 until 2010 when the clinic was raided by federal agents.
Despite the outrageous state of his clinic, Dr. Gosnell’s preferred method of abortion is even more chilling.
To perform late-term abortions, he would induce labor, deliver the baby alive and sever the infant’s neck and spine with scissors in a practice he called “snipping.” The grand jury reported that “Over the years, there were hundreds of ‘snippings’.” His patients were referred to him by doctors across the East Coast. The woman allegedly murdered by Dr. Gosnell came from Virginia.
What should be taken away from the Dr. Gosnell case? It indisputably punctures a hole in the “safe, legal, and rare” argument. Even under Roe, back alley abortions are allowed to persist due to the cowardice of politicians and the incompetence of regulators.
The case also tacitly forces people who are supporters of abortion rights to confront the uncomfortable question of when life begins. Where is the line between abortion and infanticide?
A 2009 New York Magazine article highlighted an essay written by Lisa Harris, a Michigan abortionist who describes “performing an abortion on a woman who was 23 weeks along and then immediately running to deliver a premature baby … of 23 to 24 weeks. ‘I thought to myself how bizarre it was that I could have legally dismembered this fetus-now-newborn if it were inside its mother’s uterus…but that the same kind of violence against it now would be illegal, and unspeakable.’”
Dr. Gosnell apparently struggled with the same qualms as Dr. Harris. When he was read the charges, he asked “Is it possible you could explain the seven counts? I understand the one count because of the patient who died but not the others,” according to CBS News.
Anti-abortion supporters believe that life begins at conception and should be legally protected from the “womb to the tomb,” as the saying goes. However, advocates of abortion rights and abortionists do not seem to have the same clarity of life’s boundaries.
Max Reinhardt is Chairman of the UMW College Republicans.