Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s House of Horrors

    Yesterday a court convicted Dr. Kermit Gosnell on three charges of murder stemming from botched abortions at this clinic in Philadelphia. The babies were born alive and then killed by snipping their spinal cords with scissors. Dr. Gosnell maintained that there were no live births at his clinic, but the jury found otherwise.
    By all accounts the clinic was a chamber of horrors with unsanitary conditions and an underqualified staff. The jury's verdict was welcomed by both sides in the contentious abortion debate.
    The case, we think, raises a pertinent question in that debate. A woman goes to Dr. Gosnell's clinic to obtain an abortion. If the procedure is successful, Dr. Gosnell has done nothing wrong. (Actually, in this particular case there were numerous other charges involving racketeering, drug trafficking, and other violations of Pennsylvania's abortion law, but for purposes of this discussion we will focus only on the abortion procedure itself.) But what if the abortion was not successful? What if the baby was born alive? The woman came to the clinic to have her pregnancy terminated. She did not expect to leave with newborn infant. What should the doctor do then?
    It appears that in some cases he made sure that the baby did not survive. He ordered his staff to cut the baby's spine with a pair of scissors, and the baby died. Hence the murder convictions.
    This raises a profoundly disturbing question about abortion itself. If the fetus is destroyed before birth, the procedure is perfectly legal. But if it is killed minutes after birth, then we are dealing with a case of murder. What makes the difference?
    If the logic advanced by the "pro-choice" movement is correct, the determining factor in an abortion is the woman's "reproductive freedom" – she should have the freedom to decide if and when she will get pregnant, and that freedom presumably includes the right to terminate a pregnancy if she so desires. She should not be made to bear the burden of motherhood if it would disrupt her life or interfere with her career. The women who came to Dr. Gosnell's clinic presumably came for precisely those reasons. Would that not mean that Dr. Gosnell had a responsibility to make sure that the babies did not survive?
    On the other hand, if taking the life of a newborn is murder, why is it any less so "in utero"? Is the dignity and worth of a human life dependent merely on its physical position relative to the womb?
    Dr. Gosnell reportedly saw himself as an advocate for women who were poor and desperate. His attorney, however, noted the difficulty of the case: "There's a lot of emotion. You have the baby factor, which is a big problem. The media have been overwhelmingly against him." (Associated Press). The "baby factor" was a "big problem" indeed.
    What makes a human life sacred at all? The traditional Judaeo-Christian position is that murder is forbidden because human beings bear a special resemblance to God – we were created in His "image." But what if there is no God? What if we are merely the result of a blind, impersonal, natural process? Would human life still be "sacred"? What would make it so?
    In all the sordid and squalid details of the Gosnell case one fact stands out: abortion involves the taking of a human life. If we permit abortion, we cheapen human life and degrade our own dignity and worth. Can a civilized society tolerate such a practice?

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