Virginia Is for . . . Gosnell Clinic Lovers?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Virginia has been the scene of the most horrific abortion rhetoric and lies in recent years, where pro-lifers have been accused of insisting on regulations that sounded terribly invasive – like some tyrannical mechanism to keep women from abortion. In truth, transvaginal ultrasounds (I resent that we even wound up talking about such a thing in political circles) were already being performed in some Virginia Planned Parenthood clinics because they were simply a safer way to perform some abortions. The issue became a political farce even as we continued to look away from the brutality of abortion — to the unborn child, to the lives of his mother and father and family now living lives of denial and regret.

And so now, this:

RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe moved to free Virginia’s abortion clinics from strict hospital-style building codes on Monday, loading up the state health board with abortion rights supporters and ordering it to review rules that clinic operators say threaten to put them out of business.

The Democratic governor is also looking for ways to soften or suspend the rules to keep clinics open during the health board’s review, which could take more than two years. The General Assembly approved the regulations in 2011; they are set to take effect as early as June.

That’s the opening of the Washington Post news report on the governor’s desire to loosen safety measures for women in abortion clinics. We’ve seen this push to make abortion access easier and standards lower in California and we’ve seen Andrew Cuomo’s lusting after it in New York. (Leading you to wonder if Democratic governors are in some kind of perverse Culture of Death competition.)

Today’s the first anniversary of Kermit Gosnell’s conviction. Have we learned nothing?

One of the most important things written in the past year on Gosnell was the e-book reporter Steve Volk wrote after interviewing Gosnell from jail. I wrote a little about it in September:

The first journalist Gosnell has talked to since the trial, Volk received twelve letters from Gosnell, 50 e-mails, and a dozen phone calls. At one point Gosnell, “out of left field,” said that he would have to express himself on some matters in verse. In Gosnell’s Babies, it becomes clear why Gosnell never testified on his own behalf, even as he claims innocence to Volk: He’s guilty as charged and has only assertions of righteousness as a warrior for women in a war on poverty to plead in his behalf.

Meanwhile, Gosnell waits for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to return the one copy of his C.V. he had sent after his arrest, hoping for future employment with the foundation. He had asked them to send it back to him, “But I never received anything,” Gosnell told Volk. “I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my notoriety.” So he is aware of that much, at least. In conversation with Volk, Gosnell laughed; “Given my circumstances, I suppose they aren’t sure what to do with me.”

He’s also waiting on the Clinton Global Initiative, where he applied for a job he saw advertised in The Economist, “working with a global health-care initiative, training young doctors.”

“I think I would be a fitting person,” he told Volk, “to address young people before they begin a global career in medicine.”

That seems oddly consistent with a man who went about feeding his turtles clams even as the police, armed with a warrant, were searching his filthy Philadelphia clinic, believing the place to be the “pill mill” that in fact it was: pain management for the poor and desperate, in Gosnell’s mind. “These are hard economic times,” he explained to Volk. “These people need these pills.” And so: “He seemed unconcerned. He smashed the clams to pieces and started feeding fragments of shell and clam meat through a hatch in the tank,” Volk writes about the scene inside Gosnell’s clinic at 3801 Lancaster. As police looked in drawers — ultimately finding feet and other body parts of dead babies — Gosnell went on to tend to a patient pushing out a stillborn baby, then asked the officers whether they minded if he ate his dinner. “He sat down, pulled a plate of salmon teriyaki from a paper sack, and started to eat with his torn and bloody surgical gloves still covering his hands.”

As for the late-term abortions, he would perform them past the state limit of 23 weeks. Should any clinic worker believe she was not qualified to do what she was doing with patients, or question whether what was being done there was even legal, he would dismiss the concerns, assuring his employee that it was all legal, and saying that the patient, who was in her 25th or 26th week, was actually in her 24th. Why say 24th? Volk was perplexed. If you’re going to lie on a medical chart anyway, why not say 23rd and make it legal? “The law was vague,” Gosnell explained to Volk, “and poorly written. And I took it to mean, and I believe I was justified in doing so, that abortions could continue in the 24th week.”

There’s no actual ambiguity save for the moral one: If law is a teacher, what does a culture learn from a law that permits abortions up to the 23rd week of a pregnancy? What does the law teach us about the dignity of human life?

Gosnell believed that a woman who walked into his clinic had decided she wanted a dead baby and had a right to exactly that. He admits to ignoring waiting periods, which are designed to allow a woman to change her mind. “Access to legalized abortion is a requirement for the educational and fiscal futures of women,” Gosnell told Volk, “and — by extension — the well-being of all the people in their circle of family, friends, neighborhood and society. Access to legalized abortion is necessary in a world where we do not take proper care of all the children we have.”

We’ve bought into way too many lies. We’ve sold them and been complicit in them. We live in a time, one year since Gosnell’s conviction, in which people remain in denial. Where with a straight face, out in the open, reported by the Washington Post, the governor of the state of Virginia can make life less safe in Virginia, pretending it’s an issue of health and freedom — when it’s just the opposite. When will we learn? When will our consciences be rocked, already?

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