In Philadelphia, at a human abattoir on Lancaster Avenue, is where it ends, not where it starts. It starts with the perversion of language. It starts when the icons of a dissipated culture reduce a baby to a “fetus.” From there, Yeats’s blood-dimmed tide rolls rapidly in. Before long, a baby is not a person but a punishment, as President Barack Obama framed the matter in his familiar off-the-cuff iciness.
Of course, to describe newborn children in their boundless possibilities and wonder would be to acknowledge, foremost, their humanity. That is why, instead, abortion enthusiasts must grope for words when circumstances force them to speak publicly about their gruesome business.
“That fetus, or child — however way you want to describe it,” Mr. Obama once stammered. This was back when, as a state senator, he was unnerved by the natural resistance of babies to the unnatural insistence of their mothers — of the culture — that they just disappear. If you’ve ever watched a hit man testify, you’ve heard the same stammer: the faint glimmer of a long-forgotten but stubbornly indelible line between right and wrong.
It is the line that makes killing much easier to do than to talk about. It is the line that now impels a self-imposed media embargo against news about the shocking trial of Kermit Gosnell.
Gosnell is a 72-year-old abortionist. The formal charges against him — the murders of a woman and seven babies — are but drops in a sea of carnage. Mounting evidence reveals him to be a mass murderer of epic scale and Mengele methods. It also spotlights the evil — the apparently unspeakable evil — of legalized abortion in all its coarsening gore. Plainly, the vaunted journalists of our debased mainstream have determined that there must be no meaningful coverage. No time in the 24/7 cycle to notice the inexorable path from dehumanizing the vulnerable through word games to mass-murdering them with casual sadism.
Better to shove the evidence into a dark closet. That’s what they did in Chicago. There, despite the best efforts of “physicians” (they of the “do no harm” oath), many “however way you want to describe its” were “not just coming out limp and dead,” as Obama haltingly put it. The abortionists’ answer was to stick the helpless survivors in a utility closet where they could die, out of sight and out of mind. Obama, in the pitiless logic of legalized abortion, labored to preserve this oft-practiced but never discussed form of infanticide against the Illinois legislature’s proposed “Born Alive” ban. (See senate transcript, April 4, 2002, beginning at page 29.)
A decade later in Philadelphia, “it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.” So said Stephen Massof, one of Kermit Gosnell’s fellow butchers, as he described for the jury the chamber of horrors that was the “Women’s Medical Society” on Lancaster Avenue. There, scores of babies — perhaps hundreds of them — were willfully mutilated after being born alive.
Standard fare was the “snip.”
“Snip” is a terse, antiseptic word. Like “choice,” it is tailored to those rare, discomfiting occasions when the intentional killing of a “however way you want to describe it” must be spoken of rather than silently done. It is an effort, as much mentally as verbally, to evade the monstrousness we abide in the United States, where nearly 60 million children — a population roughly equal to that of France or the United Kingdom — have been aborted since the Supreme Court’s 1973 fatwa in Roe v. Wade.
In a “snip,” the abortionist, sharp scissors in hand, grasps the squirming and sometimes squealing baby he has just delivered. He stabs the child in the back and then, snapping the blades, severs the spinal cord from the brain. Massof described the snip as “literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.”
He was testifying in exchange for a plea bargain that discounts his participation in numerous such “procedures” to a mere two instances of third-degree murder. After all, most of what he did at the “Women’s Medical Society” was perfectly legal.
The euphemistic “snip” calls to mind the Supreme Court’s opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart, another case about “choice.” Like Gosnell, LeRoy Carhart was an abortion “physician.” In the high court, he joined his progressive friends at Planned Parenthood and the City of San Francisco to defend the “choice” known as “partial birth” abortion — a name soothingly rebranded to “late term” abortion once it became clear that “partial birth” conveyed too much information.
In an uncharacteristically de trop outburst, the five justices in the narrow Carhart majority described varying abortion procedures with startling clinical precision. Most common is the first-trimester “suction curettage,” in which the “physician” vacuums the unwanted “embryonic tissue” from the womb. By the time the second trimester is reached, this “tissue” has matured into the unmistakable shape of a child. Thus the “dilation and evacuation” procedure is often called for.
Employed millions of times in this most civilized country over the last half century, “D&E,” the court explained, involves the “physician’s” use of forceps “to tear apart” the “fetus” by “ripping” it from the cervix and then “evacuating the fetus piece by piece . . . until it has been completely removed” from the mother. Often, the justices observed, the D&E “physician” finds it more congenial to “kill the fetus a day or two before performing the surgical evacuation,” since “medical” experience has shown that, “once dead . . . the fetus’ body will soften,” becoming “easier” to dice and remove. Oh, another helpful tip: “Rotating the fetus as it is being pulled decreases the odds of dismemberment.”
By the time Carhart was decided, Roe v. Wade had been on the books for over a generation — the generation, to be more specific, that is now ruling the roost. It goes without saying — for we wouldn’t want to say it — that, in a nation that has absorbed this generation’s preening “values,” D&E already enjoyed the stamp of judicial approval. The only question before the Carhart Court was whether “partial birth” abortion — “intact D&E” — was beyond the pale.
This “medical procedure” is triggered by an advanced stage of maturation, in which the child’s well-developed head tends to “lodge in the cervix.” Relying on the instruction of Martin Haskell, another experienced abortionist, the justices related:
The right-handed surgeon slides the fingers of the left [hand] along the back of the fetus and “hooks” the shoulders of the fetus with the index and ring fingers (palm down). While maintaining this tension, lifting the cervix and applying traction to the shoulders with the fingers of the left hand, the surgeon takes a pair of blunt curved Metzenbaum scissors in the right hand. He carefully advances the tip, curved down, along the spine and under his middle finger until he feels it contact the base of the skull under the tip of his middle finger.
The surgeon then forces the scissors into the base of the skull. . . . He spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening. . . . The surgeon [then] removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents. With the catheter still in place, he applies traction to the fetus, removing it completely from the patient.
“Evacuates the skull contents” may be more bracing than “snip,” but it doesn’t quite do justice to the process and the frightful insouciance behind it. That was left to a nurse who had watched Haskell perform the “procedure” on a six-month-old “however way you want to describe it.” She recalled that, once all but the head had been delivered,
the baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head, and the baby’s arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall.
The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening, and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby went completely limp. . . . He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw the baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used.
Four justices of the United States Supreme Court would have upheld this barbarism. They would not have described it. It is not to be spoken of, only done. After all, to speak of it would infringe upon “choice.”
Speaking of “choice,” if President Obama has the opportunity to choose one more Supreme Court justice over the next four years, the Carhart dissenters will be the majority. Welcome to Philadelphia.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.