The recent release of the movie “Gosnell” is reminding American of the heartbreak we experienced after hearing about Baby A, Baby C and Baby D. The man convicted of their murder brought the public’s attention to the reality of abortion like no one else in history. In February 2010, the FBI raided Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia late-term abortion facility after a tip that it operated as an illegal prescription mill. That raid discovered what law enforcement called a “house of horrors”—the worst conditions of any medical facility in America.
To say that the facility had unsanitary conditions was to put it mildly. The FBI found blood stains on beds, non-sterilized instruments in use, and the results of two flea-infested, free-roaming cats that used the stairs as their litter box. In Gosnell’s basement they found freezers that were “full of discarded fetuses.” Inside Gosnell’s refrigerator they discovered baby feet in jars. On the ground were stacks of bags, jugs, and bottles filled with fetal remains.
A few days after the raid, Gosnell lost his medical license and was charged with (among other things) killing babies born alive by snipping their spinal cords with scissors. The gruesome details of what went on within the walls of his clinic, revealed in the grand jury report through the evidence and testimony of staff members and women who’d had an abortion there, made America’s stomach turn.
One segment of the grand jury document reports that Adrienne Moton had worked for Gosnell. She wept as she described the death of Baby A, aborted by Gosnell at 29 weeks (seven months). Ms. Moton was so upset that she took a cellphone photograph of the baby, which was shown in court. She testified that when Gosnell saw Baby A, he joked that the baby was “big enough to walk me to the bus stop.”
Testimonies and other evidence presented at Gosnell’s trial showed that many more babies at much over the legal limit in Pennsylvania for late-term abortions (24 weeks) had been delivered alive, then killed by either Gosnell or his staff. Many of the women patients suffered brutal, permanent damage to their bodies or contracted venereal diseases from the unsterilized instruments. A Nepalese refugee, 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, who had just arrived in the United States, suffered a fatal drug overdose while undergoing an abortion performed by Gosnell.
Despite the filth, botched abortions and deaths, among other crimes, Gosnell’s defense attorney, Jack McMahon, insisted the trial was a witch hunt because Gosnell was black. In a Fox News interview, he stated that Gosnell “was a dream client , nothing but a gentleman, a soft-spoken, intelligent man. “
The story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell was a story that seemed to light up in America for just a moment—then nearly vanished.
My recounting of the multitude of stories of Gosnell’s despicable actions against women and their babies isn’t the point of this article. Although those stories are horrific, something else put an additional burden on my heart.
The Gosnell case revealed a truth about humans—most of us are offended by some abortions, but we differ on when abortion offends us. Our culture’s response to Gosnell’s actions was limited. Many of us weren’t appalled at all of the many abortions he did, but rather by only a few, based on the age of the victims.
During his defense of Gosnell, McMahon said, “When they went in they found 47 fetuses there, 45 of them were in the legal limits of 24 weeks for Pennsylvania.” Why are we not, as a people, offended by those 45? Just because they were aborted legally at a stage of development with which we are comfortable? What does this say about us?
Many in our country—even many who support abortion—were appalled that babies would be aborted by Gosnell after the Pennsylvania legal age of 24 weeks—meaning that, at that stage, they were first born and then their spinal cords were cut as they moved with life on the table. Hearing about those babies, nearly everyone saw what abortion is. They saw abortion as murder.
The standards upon which we base our decisions about abortion are both discriminatory and inconsistent. In the Gosnell case, people were passionate about Baby A, Baby C and Baby D. But what about the babies aborted in their early weeks of gestation? If abortion at that stage is all right, then what’s wrong with late-term abortion? What’s wrong, morally, with killing a baby at 25 weeks if abortion is okay at 24 weeks? Or if abortion at 12 weeks is all right, what’s wrong with abortion at 22 weeks? Why is it okay in some states but not others?
Think about it. Baby A, Baby C and Baby D, just a few weeks earlier, would have been legal abortions with few to advocate for them. When abortions are “normal,” it’s easy to discount the humanity of the fetuses.
In his closing arguments of the trial, McMahon said to the jury, “Abortion, as is any surgical procedure, isn’t pretty. It’s bloody. It’s real. But you have to transcend that.”
It would have been more accurate if he had ended his comments after he presented the fact that abortion is bloody and real. Like most successful lies, his bore an element of truth. With every medically necessary surgery, those involved must transcend the bloody, messy reality of it in order to save a life, to enhance a life. The bloody, messy reality is part of removing cancer, replacing knees, replacing organs, or putting a torn body back together. Bloodshed is often used to preserve life—with the ultimate example being Christ on Calvary.
But abortions are not like any other surgery. Bodies are not repaired to achieve life, but torn apart to end it. Yet according to McMahon, we need to see abortion as normal and get over it; we need to “transcend” the messy reality.
The impact of the Gosnell case continues as regulations are introduced across the country to make abortion facilities cleaner and safer. But abortion facilities, by their nature, will never be clean, safe or secure for one group of people—the unborn. These are not tumors or dysfunctional knee joints. They are human beings, as the Gosnell case reminded us. It served as a bright light that flashed the horror of abortion into the eyes of our culture.
Because Gosnell broke the law, we were given evidence of how appalling and brutal abortion is. Our culture could not be numb to the babies in jars and bags that were aborted (some of them illegally) and kept by Gosnell.
But our culture’s full outrage was limited to those specific late- term abortions. There would have been no trial if Dr. Gosnell had performed all of those abortions within the legal time limit in a sanitary facility. No outraged reporters, no problems, not even newsworthy. Just another procedure that occurs over three thousand times a day in America. The outrage was limited to Baby A, Baby C, and Baby D’s movements on the table. At his trial, Gosnell was convicted of first-degree murder for the three babies. Justice was served, and Gosnell will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Allow the Gosnell case to challenge you. What did Gosnell do that was morally wrong that was different from every other abortion? Morally speaking, Gosnell was at least consistent. He didn’t believe babies have rights; instead, he believed he had rights over them, so much so that he was willing to break the law. If we put our faith in the autonomous self to decide when a baby is viable or not and when an abortion is too ugly or not, if we give ourselves that kind of autonomy, then the Gosnells of the world will have all they need to justify their work. And that, if it happens, will shock us—but that is the price we pay for not being shocked and outraged at every abortion. As the saying goes, you cannot practice vice with virtue.
The result of what Gosnell did to 25-week-old babies is the same as the result of what he did to 10-week-old babies. He is consistent in his view of human life. Are we?
This is adapted from “The Beginning of the End of Abortion: 40 Inspiring Stories of God Changing Hearts and Saving Lives” by Shawn Carney, President of 40 Days for Life. The book is available now.