There is a scene in the movie Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, where the investigators, Detective James Wood (Dean Cain) and ADA Lexy McGuire (Sarah Jane Morris) have to examine the bodies of seven corpses to determine if they were babies killed alive or simply late term abortions. To do this, they must cut open the head and see if the skull has already been collapsed. If it had, that means the brains had been sucked out, and therefore the subject was already dead before it passed through the birth canal. If not, then the baby was delivered alive when Dr. Kermit Gosnell snipped the neck with a pair of scissors, which then makes him culpable for first-degree murder. If, however, he had sucked the brains out a few minutes and inches earlier, then it was dead on delivery. No murder charge, and perfectly legal if it happened before 24 weeks of gestation.
It’s a harrowing scene (Though not graphic. The film wisely leaves the gruesome details implied rather than shown), for the questions it raises as well as the violence it portrays. Performing an illegal late-term abortion in Pennsylvania is a third degree felony, and one convicted of such an act may be “sentenced to a term of imprisonment, the maximum of which is not more than seven years.” First Degree murder is still a capital crime in that state. 7 years maximum or the death penalty, depending on just how and where they were killed. It bears repeating that the bodies on the table were all equally developed, and the investigators could not tell whether or not the procedure could have been legal without autopsy.
Of course you see where I am going. One of the great unspoken tragedies of this entire debate, is that when it comes to abortion, both legislation and attitudes, Everything’s Arbitrary. Take the geographic argument, for example, the idea that it’s immoral to kill the subject when it has been completely delivered, but moral or at least less severe a crime when it was still in the womb a few moments earlier. Now no one could reasonably argue in this case that a few minutes of more gestation makes so significant a difference in the development of the subject, which then must be equally human in and out of the womb at that moment. In fact, given that a 24th week abortion may be performed on Thursday or Friday, a baby delivered on Thursday would actually be less developed. I’ll point out that a baby born prior to 24 weeks is no longer science fiction: https://www.today.com/health/born-21-weeks-she-may-be-most-premature-surviving-baby-t118610
Since actual fetal development then does not work in the pro-late term abortion argument (if it would, very simply, all subjects aborted would be substantially less developed than those born alive), let us return to the idea of bodily autonomy/the woman’s rights over her own body, as it applies here. As long as the subject is within the woman’s body, it does not have rights of its own. As long as it is physically dependent, it is more like a parasite than a human being. Yet the Devil of Arbitrary pokes his infernal head in again, with troubles like the partial birth abortion debate. “Intact Dilation and Extraction” is a process where the subject is being delivered, only to be aborted in the process of labor. As the head is still inside the mother, the procedure was still legal, prior to the The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 and the Supreme Court decision Gonzalez vs Carhart. Now this was a corrupt legislation (http://americanrtl.org/partial-birth-abortion-ban-fiasco-saved-not-one), which actually was little more than a manual on how to subvert its intended purpose (if you deliver the baby to the navel, rather than the neck, then it’s okay to kill) and did not save a single life, but it is worth noting that future presidential candidates Senators Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders opposed such a ban, as did future President Donald Trump at the time. All three 2016 contenders defended the indefensible. But where is the line drawn? Look at this transcript from the senate floor, between Senators Rick Santorum and Barbara Boxer:
Santorum: What we are talking about here with partial birth, as the senator from California knows, is a baby is in the process of being born —
Boxer: “The process of being born.” This is why this conversation makes no sense, because to me it is obvious when a baby is born. To you it isn’t obvious.
Santorum: Maybe you can make it obvious to me. So what you are suggesting is if the baby’s foot is still inside of the mother, that baby can then still be killed.
Boxer: No, I am not suggesting that in any way!
Santorum: I am asking.
Boxer: I am absolutely not suggesting that. You asked me a question, in essence, when the baby is born.
Santorum: I am asking you again. Can you answer that?
Boxer: I will answer the question when the baby is born. The baby is born when the baby is outside the mother’s body. The baby is born.
Santorum: I am not going to put words in your mouth –
Boxer: I hope not.
Santorum: But, again, what you are suggesting is if the baby’s toe is inside the mother, you can, in fact, kill that baby.
Boxer: Absolutely not.
Santorum: OK. So if the baby’s toe is in, you can’t kill the baby. How about if the baby’s foot is in?
Boxer: You are the one who is making these statements.
Santorum: We are trying to draw a line here.
Boxer: I am not answering these questions! I am not answering these questions.
So Boxer falls back on her tautological insistence that “the baby is born when the baby is born”, and loses her composure when Santorum prods her using the Socratic Method to determine specifics are it regards the issue at hand. Again, the logic, such as it is, of defending abortion at this stage collapses.
Even more alarming is the stance that former President Barack Obama and my own congresswoman, Rep. Judy Chu, endorse: The refusal to offer protection to babies that had survived an abortion. Living, breathing infants, completely outside the womb.
It must be noted that late term and partial birth abortions only represent a small minority of only the most extreme cases. Yet as these cases and the laws regulating them do pertain to our society’s basic distinction of human rights, they are not irrelevant. Take Courtney Stensrud, mentioned above, the Texas woman who gave birth to a viable at 21 weeks. Texas is the same state as Wendy Davis, the former state senator Hollywood is beatifying with a Sandra Bullock biopic for her heroic efforts to keep abortion legal at 20 weeks and beyond. What does Davis think of Stensrud’s baby girl? Do women’s rights necessitate that killing such a girl be legal?
At one point in the movie, an abortionist takes the stand to testify that Gosnell’s practices are far from standard or acceptable in their shared field. As demonstration of her credentials, she states that in the course of her career, she has performed around 30,000 abortions.
Let that sink in. No, really think about that. The resolve, the conviction. The absolute certainty that either A. These were not living human beings or B. Terminating the life of innocent human being is morally acceptable.
Somewhere in the course of the tens of thousands of, um, procedures, she must have stopped questioning it. How else can one live? There are cases, such as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, himself personally responsible for 75,000 abortions, where a pro-life conversion does occur, but you gotta figure that anyone that far along has committed, and it would take nothing short of a divine miracle to bring them around. Certainly no established science or basic human decency bothered their conscience. Where do these people come from? Do you really think Gosnell is the anomaly?
Well, yes. That’s the argument. They’ll say that Gosnell is a rarity, and, more audacious, that his crimes are in fact a reason to keep abortion legal. Some point to the Hellish conditions of his clinic and claim that these conditions will become typical if abortion is outlawed. Yet this is illogical. On a broad scale, the wide acceptance of abortion as a legitimate practice is most definitely what created the atmosphere that allowed Gosnell to operate in this manner for so long. More specifically, Gosnell operated not only legal impunity, but one may also say legal immunity. Direct orders from Governor Ridge’s office excused abortion clinics from standard health inspections. The practice of abortion is so sacrosanct to so many, to the degree that any attempt to regulate, let alone restrict, must be opposed fanatically.
Case in point, look no further than media coverage and public awareness (or lack thereof) of this whole horrid affair. Take a look at Steven Massof:
Haven’t heard of him? Why is that? Massof worked, unlicensed, at Gosnell’s clinic and testified that he had personally snipped the necks of over 100 living, breathing babies, all according to Gosnell’s instruction and policy. You actually can find Massof listed on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_serial_killers_by_number_of_victims), as the MOST PROLIFIC SERIAL KILLER IN AMERICAN HISTORY. Sentenced to 6 to 12 years. Yet Massof was only working for Gosnell, and only for five years. Credible testimony suggests that Gosnell himself, (much further down on Wikipedia’s list of victims by numbers, do to lack of definitive evidence), who operated for decades, had hundreds more victims.
So shouldn’t that be a bigger story? Must it be politicized? Why did conservative commentators have to drag this crime into the spotlight, kicking and screaming like one of the infants Gosnell slaughtered? Why did Hollywood, which makes countless movies about serial killers, real and imagined, refuse to have anything to do with any portrayal of the biggest one yet, forcing director Nick Searcy to crowd fund it?
I mean, HUNDREDS OF VICTIMS? Dozens of baby feet kept in jars? The possibility that he had used fetal tissue as bait in his crab traps? Where is the universal, non-partisan outrage? How is this man not talked about in the same breath as Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein?
Simple. It’s not about the illegal things Gosnell did, so much as the legal things he did, and the disturbing lack of difference. Nobody this side of rape apologist/unironic modest Swiftian/Princeton professor Dr.Peter Singer actually approves of Gosnell joking that the living baby on the table is big enough to walk him to the bus stop before snipping its neck, but they don’t like to talk about it, because Dr. Kermit Gosnell was operating a legal abortion clinic. Obviously his specific purview had countless health code violations as well as the drug charges, but when it gets down to it, people don’t want to talk about the way he killed babies out of the womb, because it’s not too far removed from the way so many others kill them inside. A practice more than half of America endorses. As I’ve said, everything is arbitrary. This is a human being at 24 weeks, but not 23? Or maybe it is at 20, depending on the state, now that Wendy Davis failed? What hideous evil. What abominable absurdity. Just look at the *GRAPHIC* image of “Baby Boy A”, and ask where the line is drawn.
You may choose to look the other way, but you may never say again that you did not know.
Well, that’s humanity for you. Or maybe it isn’t. What trimester is this?