When Killing Children Gets Ugly

I just spent the past hour trying to work my way through Conor Friedersdorf‘s article that appeared this morning in the Atlantic, about the trial (and lack of media coverage) of abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell.  I had to step away from the computer several times to either sob or quell my queasiness as I read through the details – which would have been hard enough to read under normal circumstances, but more difficult still as a parent of a not-quite-two-week-old baby girl.  The grand jury report summarizes some of these details:

“This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” it states. “The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.”

It is shocking to me that this case has not sparked more media attention and that this doctor was able to operate with impunity with the full knowledge of his staff – and at least partial knowledge of oversight agencies whose job it is to make sure that operations such as Gosnell’s are shut down (notably the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Department of State’s Board of Medicine).  Again, the grand jury proffers a guess as to why these agencies and employees failed to act: “’We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.’”

This case isn’t just about murdered babies, though:

“It is also a story about a place where, according to the grand jury, women were sent to give birth into toilets; where a doctor casually spread gonorrhea and chlamydiae to unsuspecting women through the reuse of cheap, disposable instruments; an office where a 15-year-old administered anesthesia; an office where former workers admit to playing games when giving patients powerful narcotics; an office where white women were attended to by a doctor and black women were pawned off on clueless untrained staffers.”

The dignity of human life was overlooked and cast aside in so many instances – from the health and well-being of women and young girls who could see no other option, to the innocent lives that were destroyed at the hands of this doctor and his staff.  Mistreated women and murdered babies are enough to send anyone into a rage, no matter what side of the abortion debate one stands on.  However, the moral outrage this case engenders leads to some important questions:

Is it only a crime if we can hear their screams?  Is it only morally reprehensible if we can witness the murder, see the decapitation of another human being?  Surely everyone should be able to recognize the true evil of murdering newborn children.  Perhaps a bigger concern than this is the banality of evil that accompanies abortion—the sanitized, safe way of killing children out of sight.

And this is what supporters of legal abortion fear and why so many have avoided discussing the Gosnell case.  They know how arbitrary it is to separate murder from “reproductive health” using a child’s first breath as the dividing line.  But what keeps that separation legitimate in the eyes of millions is the air of civility, the atmosphere of legitimate medicine.  Only when it seems like the doctor is just performing surgery, like removing an appendix, can the horror be obscured in ordinariness.

When a scandal of this nature occurs, it destroys that illusion and reveals the depravity of killing an innocent human being.  And inevitably (as it should), it will make some people wonder if such horrific scenes would still be horrific if they occurred out of sight, inside the womb.  And this is why pro-choice advocates, including those who are supposed to be impartial, unbiased journalists, wanted to keep this story hidden—to preserve the banality of evil intimately connected to the legalized killing of unborn children.