The recent conviction and sentencing of Kermit Gosnell, along with the national attention it ultimately commanded, marks an important chapter in the contentious debate about abortion. Many in the pro-life camp were initially outraged about the media’s conspicuous decision to ignore the whole story. But the sad truth is that the silence reveals greater logical consistency than the outrage.
Gosnell’s clinic existed to perform the perfectly lawful service of killing human babies inside their mothers’ wombs. While that act will always be horrific in the minds of some, to many others it is–though perhaps sad and unfortunate–a necessary reality in a world of “reproductive rights.”
If we are honest about it, we must admit that the lawful acts we knew Gosnell to be doing and passively accepted (the same acts that will end the lives of over 3,000 babies in the U.S. today) are only marginally distinct from the unlawful acts that have forever branded Gosnell so deviant as to be practically sub-human.
How arbitrary we are, as a society, in our moral judgments! One physician performs an intentional act that ends the life of a tiny human being, and an army of elite, educated, activists will dedicate their lives to applauding and defending his ability to legally do so. Another physician performs the same act on a tiny human being who has emerged from the woman’s womb, and he is roundly deplored as the brutal criminal of the year.
How is it that a matter of spatial inches or relative anatomical positioning could ever be the dividing line between an act that is celebrated as the facilitation of civil rights–the empowerment of women–and an act that is condemned as heinous murder? How is it that if an angry boyfriend kills an unborn child he can be prosecuted for homicide, but if the mother kills the same child, it is a private, protected “choice”?
This is the absurdity of legalized abortion. Where do we go from here?
As a modest starting point, we might seek means of investigating claims that Gosnell’s practices were an aberration from the allegedly clean, safe, and dignified business of abortion. Under present circumstances, it is difficult to do so systematically.
In a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post, reporters cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to demonstrate the alleged safety of abortion. According to CDC numbers, 10 women died from abortions in 2010, compared with 793 deaths from bicycle accidents.
The comparison is misleading and irresponsible because, in the case of CDC abortion statistics, the numbers that tell the real story are the numbers that aren’t there. Even states that require abortion reporting do not require reporting to the CDC. The Alan Guttmacher Institute has estimated that the voluntarily reported information excludes data on as many as 45-50% of annual abortions.
Awareness of this “missing data” problem seems to be growing. For instance, a 2011 Chicago Tribune story by Megan Twohey flagged the disparity between the number of Illinois abortion providers that reported required data to state officials (26) and the number of providers actually in business (37). The article also suggested that the state’s data failed to account for as many as 17,000 abortions annually.
Rather than burying deadly realities in spurious statistics, let’s have the intellectual honesty to admit that abortion politics have paved the way for a new kind of “back alley.” Let’s take what we have learned from the Gosnell tragedy and insist, at the very least, upon meaningful oversight of businesses built upon human demolition.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s be “enlightened” enough to admit that we are hypocrites when we accept legalized abortion as a paragon of civil rights but we cringe in horror at the mention of snipped baby spinal cords. We have strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel.
Yes, our judiciary has hijacked our ability to maintain morally consistent, life-honoring laws. But we, the people, must never rest in our efforts to reassert our authority and restore our collective integrity.