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The right to choose, gone horribly awry


A notorious West Philadelphia abortion provider has come to trial on charges of killing one woman by an overdose of anaesthetic, and seven babies allegedly born alive in illegal late-term abortions.


The case promises to be emotive and controversial — not only because abortion, especially late-term abortion, is inherently a morally fraught issue (one of the babies was allegedly born at 30 weeks gestation), but because the 72-year-old defendant, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, is black and the women he operated on were poor, young and black.  Dr. Gosnell's lawyer already has accused city officials of "a prosecutorial lynching."

Dr. Gosnell himself grew wealthy from the estimated 16,000 abortions he performed or oversaw over his 30-year career.  Nobody disputes that.  Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore revealed that police had found $250,000 in cash during a 2010 search of Dr. Gosnell's home.

And nobody disputes the fact that Dr. Gosnell's abortion methods were unorthodox.  Most abortion providers kill the unborn babies in utero.  Dr. Gosnell's patients were allegedly drug-induced into labour, and the babies killed upon delivery, the usual technique being the snipping of the spinal cord with scissors.

Dr. Gosnell's "staff " consisted of unlicensed medical-school students, while the "anesthetist" was a Grade 6 dropout.  A 261-page 2011 grand jury report called the clinic a "house of horrors," citing unwashed instruments spreading venereal disease, cats defecating where they pleased, a padlocked emergency exit and floors sticky with placental and fetal remains.

Dr. Gosnell's gruesome practice was no secret, but the Pennsylvania Department of Health had decided to stop inspecting abortion clinics because, according to the grand jury report, "officials concluded that inspections would be 'putting a barrier up to women seeking abortions.'"  And so Dr. Gosnell was free to pursue his Mengele-esque path to wealth without regulatory oversight, all in the name of "a women's right to choose."

At his arraignment two years ago, Dr. Gosnell was described by one observer as, "a little befuddled."  He understood the charge for the dead woman, but didn't seem to comprehend that killing live babies was morally wrong.  In his mind, as long as you call it an "abortion," killing live babies is a morally neutral activity.

There is a lesson here for Canada, where pro-choice advocates are proud of the fact that moral choices surrounding abortion are made by doctors, not politicians.  And it is no doubt quite true that the vast majority of Canadian abortion doctors are highly competent and professional.  But as the example of Dr. Gosnell shows, the mere fact that someone has a medical degree does not change the fact that he or she is a fallible human, and therefore subject to all the same vices and moral failings as the rest of us.

Dr. Gosnell at least realized he was breaking a law, which forbade late-term abortion in his jurisdiction.  Canada does not even have such a law.  It's sobering to note that, absent the filth and the uncredentialed staff in Dr. Gosnell's clinic, a Canadian doctor imbued with the same notion of a woman's unfettered right to choose at any stage of gestation might take the same jaundiced view:  that even live babies, under certain conditions, are non-persons.

Watching an abortion on ultrasound in real time stayed in his hand forever.

Certainly, the majority of Canadians support a woman's right to abortion services — especially in the first trimester.  Contrary to the fears of some militant pro-choicers, there is no risk that abortion will be entirely banned by any Canadian government.  Nevertheless, this is an appropriate moment to recall the words of the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson.  He was the American Henry Morgentaler, an ardent prochoicer who made a fortune from an extensive abortion practice, in which he oversaw 75,000 abortions (he performed 5,000 personally, including one on his own mistress).

Ultrasounds were an epiphany for Dr. Nathanson, who later confessed, "I am one of those who ushered in this barbaric age."  Watching an abortion on ultrasound in real time stayed in his hand forever.  He directed and narrated the powerful film The Silent Scream in cooperation with the Right to Life Committee (which Ronald Reagan screened at the White House, to the fury of liberals).

Dr. Kermit Gosnell was arraigned just weeks before Dr. Nathanson died, a fitting testimonial to Dr. Nathanson's cause for remorse.

The Silent Scream


Barbara Kay "The right to choose, gone horribly awry." National Post, (Canada) 21 March, 2013.

Reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the National Post.

The Author

kay Barbara Kay is a Montreal-based writer. She has been a Comment page columnist (Wednesdays) in the National Post since September, 2003. She may be reached here.

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