Family Research Council

The Gosnell Case Was About Abortion

By Rob Schwarzwalder Senior Vice-President


Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on May 20, 2013.


So, now we're hearing the fevered denials and sometimes desperate counterattacks of abortion advocates concerning the Gosnell trial. They claim he used unsanitized instruments, unqualified aides, etc. Here is a modest sampling of the kind of protests I'm describing:

"This was not a case about the morality of legal, late-term abortion," writes TIME's Kate Pickert and Adam Sorensen. "Gosnell's trial was about illegal abortion and homicide."

The Los Angeles Times tells us that "though Gosnell's behavior was deplorable, macabre and unquestionably illegal, it was aberrational, not symbolic. He has now been convicted, and he will be punished. This does not weaken the case for safe, legal and accessible abortion."

From his perch high atop Manhattan's Eighth Avenue, an indignant, even peevish New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal informs us that "the Gosnell case does not really speak to the broader abortion debate. ... Of course that won't stop anti-abortion groups from drawing the connection for their own ideological purposes. They have already done so, using the case in their effort to move the commonly defined date of viability from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or even earlier."

And Jodi Jacobson of "Reproductive Health (RH) Reality Check" comforts us by affirming that the Gosnell case "bears no comparison to safe abortion care or even late abortion care, because he performed abortions post-viability on women without indications for such, so they were illegal."

This buffet of illogic presents so many options for criticism that to choose a few does a sad disservice to their glistening companions. For the sake of space, I will choose one from each, in the form of a handful of questions:

TIME: So, the morality of abortion is determined by its legality? And homicide is defined by the location of the child (inside the womb, deathly mutilation is OK, but not outside of it?), not his or her inherent value?

Los Angeles Times: What about the children Gosnell succeeded in dismembering in their mothers' wombs at, say, 20 weeks?

New York Times: Imagine - limiting abortion before 20 weeks? What will the pro-life primitives suggest next? Perhaps that parental notification is not an altogether imprudent idea? Or that quality ultrasounds should be mandatory for every woman considering an abortion, or that abortion clinics have the same required health standards as veterinary clinics? Behold the Timesbuilding; it is shuddering in the bourgeois breeze.

RHRealityCheck.org: "Viability" is the test for a late-term abortion, eh? Some babies can live outside the womb earlier than others. So: 19 weeks? 17, or 21? And any parent will tell you a newborn is no more "viable" outside the womb than within it.

Ah, but Gosnell was a mere "aberration," right? Here are some stories that seem to contradict that "Minister of Truth"-like dictum from abortion advocates:

  • Item: At Texas "Dr." Douglas Karpen's clinics, an aide "described how some babies would emerge too soon and would be alive, moving, and breathing. She also told of how Karpen would sometimes deliver the babies feet first with the toes wiggling until he stabbed them with a surgical implement. At the moment the toes would suddenly splay out before going limp. Sometimes he would kill the babies by 'twisting the head off the neck.'"
  • Item: Of "Dr." Steven Chase Brigham's Elkton, Maryland clinic: "Investigators in Maryland saidduring an investigation that began 16 months ago they discovered 35 late-term fetuses in a freezer at the Elkton clinic, including one suspected of being aborted at 36 weeks. Brigham is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and one count of murder conspiracy."
  • Item: "Nicola Riley, the Utah doctor accused of botching an abortion in Maryland in 2010, has been charged with murder. A Maryland circuit court indicted her and another doctor this week after an investigation into a patient's medical complications led to the discovery of approximately 35 frozen late-term fetuses."
  • Item: Dr. Hanes Swingle, Pediatric Fellow, University of Iowa: As a medical student in 1976, "I retrieved a bag of IV fluid that the resident physician had requested. The IV fluids were to administer prostaglandin, a drug that induces the uterus to contract and expel. The patient made little eye contact with us. A few hours later, I saw the aborted fetus moving its legs and gasping in a bedpan, which was then covered with a drape."

I could keep listing example after example, but as I'll be haunted enough as I spend time with my children tonight, I will stop.