Politics & Policy

Gosnell Is Not an Aberration

A jury in Pennsylvania has convicted abortionist Kermit Gosnell of three counts of murder, one count of involuntary manslaughter, and several counts of performing illegal late-term abortions at his facility in West Philadelphia. Gosnell is eligible for the death sentence, an end that would be as close to justice as earthly powers can mete out in this episode. The English language does not contain a word sufficient for describing the crimes of Kermit Gosnell; “murder” will do, but only for legal purposes.

Gosnell’s human abattoir is the logical endpoint of our morally fraudulent national approach to abortion, the proponents of which maintain that they wish the procedure to remain “safe, legal, and rare,” in Bill Clinton’s cynically triangulating formulation, while at the same time resisting any and all restrictions upon the procedure. Gosnell’s murders are not an aberrant abuse of the abortion license but an inevitable result of it.

#ad#Gosnell had thousands of enablers: every judge and justice who has declared every abortion sacrosanct, every politician who has blocked meaningful regulation and oversight of the practice, and every intellectual who has furthered the notion that what resides in a woman’s womb is nothing more than a meaningless clump of cells. Barack Obama, who as a state senator in Illinois worked against establishing protections for infants marked for abortion but outside the womb, must assume his share of guilt in this matter. So must those who voted for him because of his abortion absolutism rather than in spite of it.

Gosnell’s crimes produced stunning imagery: the severed spines, the severed limbs, a floundering baby struggling for life in a toilet. But Gosnell’s brutality was in fact not much different from what happens on any abortionist’s table. Perhaps he performed his work a fortnight or two into the pregnancy past where some others (but by no means all of them) would have drawn the line. He carried out some of his butchery a foot or two away from where it usually happens, just outside the womb rather than just inside it. His crimes differed from the usual practice of abortion in that his practices made them more visible. That we recoil in horror from the images of Gosnell’s crimes is evidence that the casual practice of abortion, and all of the political rhetoric deployed on its behalf, have not yet entirely extinguished the moral sense of those who are confronted with these bloody scenes.

There are many more victims here than the three accounted for by the murder charges. The others have been assigned to a place among those anonymous millions put to death by less infamous men at less infamous facilities.

The state of Pennsylvania disallows most abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy, meaning that practically all of Gosnell’s late-term abortions were crimes. And yet the responsible authorities did nothing to interfere with his activities. From the administration of former governor Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Republican who made the decision not to monitor these clinics, to local health and law-enforcement agencies, Pennsylvania’s political leadership has some share in these crimes. And Pennsylvania is hardly the only state to take such a hands-off approach to late-term abortions. Congress and the state legislatures should hold hearings to identify others operating on the Gosnell model, as there surely are.

The Supreme Court in theory allows for the protection of infants who have reached the stage of viability, but in practice the Court has made enforcement of such laws all but impossible, which is why prosecutions of late-term abortions are exceedingly rare, even in states such as Pennsylvania, where the practice is nominally illegal. This, too, should be the subject of congressional investigation.

We may be disgusted and horrified by Kermit Gosnell, but we should not be shocked by his crimes. Thanks to the misguided social entrepreneurship of the Supreme Court, abortion is protected as a constitutional absolute, and late-term abortions, grisly as they are, enjoy substantial protection as well. What that looks like in practice is Gosnell’s slaughterhouse. We should not pretend that this evil does not extend past the Philadelphia city limits. If you would have an unlimited abortion franchise, then you will have all that goes with it, including the pitiless knife of Kermit Gosnell. 

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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