History’s Jury Is Out: Has Gosnell Rocked Our Conscience?
The right to a dead baby. That’s not pretty. That’s not a euphemism. That’s not how we talk about abortion in the United States of America. But that is the reality of abortion in the United States of America.
When a woman walks into an abortion facility, that’s what she expects from the doctor and that’s what the doctor is expected to provide.
That’s what the Kermit Gosnell trial exposed.
Now that he has been convicted of at least some of the deaths of women and babies under his care, history records this as a hinge moment. We cannot pretend to not understand the logic of legal abortion: Human dignity is not inherent; a child is not a human life unless its mother wills it to be. We choose to continue to tolerate this or we make it stop.
Kermit Gosnell provided the service expected of him, in his filthy, torturous practice, as officials looked away at complaints about conditions and crimes within.
In the shadow of his trial, Lila Rose’s Live Action released a series of undercover videos, raising grave questions about just what doctors are doing inside top-of-the-line abortion businesses, too. Dr. LeRoy Carhart tells the actress in her 26th week of pregnancy who approached him to schedule an elective late-term abortion: “I think you’ll be affected for the positive. I think you have — I think you can make very difficult, hard decisions that help shape the life — the rest of your future and [that will] make you work harder for the things, you know, that are important.”
He goes on to say, “I think out of respect and love and honor for this baby that you’ve lost, you will find yourself being a better person.” He tells her that “postpartum depression is really very common, but post-abortion depression? I can honestly tell you that I haven’t seen one — one person that way.”
To do what he does, to tolerate what we have, we cling to delusions of the sanctification of evil as a drug to numb the conscience.
Kirsten Powers, a formerly pro-abortion-rights Democrat who led a campaign to shame the mainstream media into covering the Gosnell trial, reflected: “Medical advances since Roe v. Wade have made it clear to me that late-term abortion is not a moral gray area, and we need to stop pretending it is. No six-months-pregnant woman is picking out names for her ‘fetus.’ It’s a baby. Let’s stop playing Orwellian word games. We are talking about human beings here.”
Further, she said: “I cannot legitimately say I am a person who cherishes human rights — the animating issue of my life and a frequent topic of my writing — and remain silent about our country’s legally endorsing infanticide.”
“I simply have to believe we are better than this,” she concluded.
That’s an open question.
In a homily at St. Rose of Lima parish in Newtown, Conn., that Advent Sunday after the horrific school shooting that killed 26, Dominican Father Peter John Cameron, editor of Magnificat, explained that “the meaning of life” and our humanity is the call “to give ourselves in sacrifice to those who are hurting and lost and to help them. Life is hard! People are fragile! We need to look into the eyes of the people who are in front of us and dare to see their hurt, their wounds. To be human means to take that kind of initiative with others — to take a risk in loving them.”
It should be impossible not to think of Karnamaya Mongar, a Bhutanese refugee who died at Gosnell’s hand, as we consider the murder of innocents. She should have found a better life here. But we’re a culture that insists that new and unplanned life is a problem, not an opportunity for expanding ourselves in self-giving, sacrificial love.
A culture that has distanced itself from the cross — the redemptive infusion of meaning to our suffering — convinces itself that abortion is a necessary solution to a problem. And by doing so we deny women and mothers and men their dignity. We pretend that there is new life for an individual through the death of another in her care, that anything else — any protections for humanity — would result in “back alleys,” even as Gosnell was a “back alley” in open sight under our “choice” regime.
Conventionally speaking, Planned Parenthood has insinuated itself as a gold standard of women’s health in politics and culture, despite being the country’s largest provider of abortions, despite alarming questions that have been raised about practices, questions that are routinely dismissed and questioners punished for ever raising them. (Phill Kline, the former prosecutor in Kansas who tried, knows this all too well.)
And the president of the United States cheers them, gives them a hand in policymaking (and imprimatur on the phony “accommodation” of religious liberty the White House issued to the Department of Health and Human Services' abortion drug, contraception, sterilization mandate to the president’s health-care plan).
The word “Planned” is appropriate, but not as intended. Sometimes our best plans are the worst ideas. That’s increasingly so in our approach to life itself. We pretend that we are not beautifully made with an order that makes sense of the chaos of our fallen world. And so we argue that marriage isn’t marriage and life isn’t life. We don’t look to see the face of Christ in our brother, the immigrant, the political opponent, the driver on the road whose skills leave something to be desired. And the further we fall, the harder it is.
“If a person’s right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother’s womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man,” Pope John Paul II observed in Poland in 1979. This is what we see playing out today.
In Evangelium Vitae (On the Inviolability of the Human Life), he wrote, “Not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life” (4).
Here, too, is the opportunity the Gosnell case presents: It informs our national conscience and demands our urgent attention and action.
And therein lies our hope and our inspiration and our mandate. God sent a baby into the world to transform our existence. Our world can look and sound like Babel, but we know the mercy of Our Lord, who makes all things new in him. And so we must sing, unceasingly, the third verse of Joy to the World:
No more let sins and sorrows grow;
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
This knowledge mandates us to love women and men and their children away from the grips of a culture of death that insists it is best, that up is down and wrong is right.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online,
a nationally syndicated columnist and a director of Catholic Voices USA.