The Nation's Pulse

Gosnell’s Chop Shop

This is what happens when you obfuscate the meaning of human life.

By 4.17.13

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Warning: This piece contains graphic descriptions and quotations.

The grand jury report on abortionist Kermit Gosnell is packed with so many noisome, stomach-churning details that a cold numbness will come over any reader who makes it past the fifth page. But this paragraph, describing what happened to many women seeking second-trimester abortions who were drugged into induced labor by Gosnell’s staff, still managed to strike me:

Very often, the patient delivered without Gosnell being present. [Staffer Latosha] Lewis testified that one or two babies fell out of patients each night. They dropped out on lounge chairs, on the floor, and often in the toilet. If the doctor was not there, it was not unusual for no one to tend to the mother or the baby. In fact, several of the clinic’s workers refused to deal with the expelled babies or the placenta. So, after delivering babies, women and girls would have to just sit and wait – sometimes on a toilet for hours – for Gosnell to arrive.

Wretched though that is, it was standard practice at Gosnell’s “Women’s Medical Society” clinic in Philadelphia, where ghoulish staffers regularly snipped newborn’s spines, stored body parts in jars, perforated women’s uteruses, and kept the furniture felicitously coated in blood. But note, in that paragraph, the use of the word “babies” -- babies were delivered; babies fell into the toilet. This despite the fact that these were second-trimester abortions, performed when the mother was between 15 and 24 weeks pregnant.

Then a few sentences later, there’s an abrupt about-face: “[Staffer James Johnson] described how he had to lift the toilet so that someone else -- he said it was too disgusting for him -- could get the fetuses out of the pipes.”

The distinction between a “fetus” and a “baby” isn’t a small one. In America today, under the mad abortion regime established by the Supreme Court, it’s morally acceptable to kill a “fetus” while a “baby” is a human person fully protected under the law. My intent here isn’t to impugn the grand jury, which did an admirable job wading through Gosnell’s sludge. But it’s notable how the report, along with much of the scant coverage in the mainstream press, ricochets back and forth between the two words.

This is how vacuous our thinking on abortion has become. We arbitrarily draw a line between when a human being is and isn’t life, one that differs from state to state and makes little biological sense. Then we quickly shut that line out of our minds and soothe ourselves with euphemisms like “choice” and “medical procedure” and “reproductive rights.” Before long, we forget that anything is dying at all. Forced out of our stupor with images of mangled babies and fetuses, we realize we can’t tell the difference.

This is why the media has mostly refused to cover Gosnell’s trial. Abortion survives not on some firm philosophical foundation, but on an obfuscation: the blurring of the definition of human life. The Gosnell case, with its pictures of very-human-looking dead babies and little five-toed feet in jars, threatens that obfuscation. It forces us to confront an uncomfortable reality: a fetus is a baby; perhaps less developed or barely developed at all, but a baby nonetheless.

Every pro-choice activist claims to be horrified by Gosnell’s crimes. It was a “horror show,” says Katha Pollitt, a series of “horrific acts,” according to Irin Carmon, before proceeding to blame Gosnell on pro-life policies.

Really? Consider the case of Baby Boy B. He was approximately 28 weeks into gestation when Gosnell expelled him from his mother and slit his neck. Many pro-choice activists believe that abortions at 28 weeks should be perfectly legal. Feminist voices as loud as Rachel Maddow and Pollitt herself defended George Tiller, who performed partial-birth abortions, in which a baby’s skull is punctured and its brain suctioned out. Ann Rose, who blogs at the pro-choice site RH Reality Check, calls abortions after 24 weeks “mercy abortions.”

By such logic, Baby Boy B is only a victim for two reasons. The first is a law in Pennsylvania that only allows abortion before 24 weeks, which many in the pro-choice crowd oppose anyway. The second is that he happened to be killed outside his mother’s body rather than inside it. His death is considered a murder only, as Kirsten Powers put it, “as a matter of geography.” Were he killed on the other side, pro-choicers wouldn't find anything horrific. This is the psychotic caprice of abortion.

The Supreme Court allowed for limits on abortion in Roe v. Wade. States can ban abortions in the period after a baby is determined to be “viable” -- meaning it can survive on its own outside of its mother. But there’s no consensus on how many weeks must transpire before a baby is viable. And some states have no viability or late-term restrictions at all. New Jersey is one such state; had Gosnell operated his clinic on the other side of the Delaware River, we might be watching an entirely different trial.

Pro-choice friends of mine often like to say that since we don’t agree on when life begins, abortion should be a personal decision, different for each of us. I have yet to hear a convincing scientific or moral argument that life doesn’t begin at conception, but let’s grant them the point. If we don’t know when life begins, shouldn’t we prohibit all abortion until we have a consensus? Shouldn’t we give human life the benefit of the doubt? And shouldn’t the idea of declaring any human life to be nonviable seem ethically insane in the first place?

We don’t, it doesn’t, and so we end up with the arbitrary, slipshod, inhumane moral patchwork that we have today, which we then shut out of our minds altogether. That’s what allowed Gosnell to operate his charnel house.

It’s also why numerous authorities, from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to the Department of State to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), never shut Gosnell down. The grand jury report seems in disbelief on this point: “[T]he complete regulatory collapse that occurred here is so inexcusable. It should have taken only one look.” But the agencies that were looking didn’t want to confront the grisly moral questions posed by abortion. Governor Tom Ridge’s pro-choice administration stopped inspecting abortion clinics on the see-no-evil excuse that inspections were “putting up a barrier to women.” Just another medical procedure! Nothing dead here! The NAF found several infractions of the law at Gosnell’s clinic, but decided not to contact police.

The question now isn’t whether the media will give the trial proper coverage; we’ve already failed at that, this magazine and writer included. It’s whether we’ll allow the details of Gosnell’s human chop shop and the shocking apathy of his regulators to finally jolt us into facing the moral abomination that is abortion, both legal and illegal.

If we do that, perhaps those hundreds of babies won’t have died in vain.

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About the Author

Matt Purple is an editor at Rare.us.