The Baby Butcher
Pro-choice absolutism and the grisly abortion scandal in Philadelphia.
It's one thing to preach these ideas in the lefty blogosphere. It's quite another to see them in practice. That's where Kermit Gosnell, the doctor at the center of the Philadelphia scandal, comes in. According to the newly released grand jury report, Gosnell accepted abortion patients without regard to gestational age. "Gosnell catered to the women who couldn't get abortions elsewhere—because they were too pregnant," the report explains. "More and more of his patients came from out of state and were late second-trimester patients. Many of them were well beyond 24 weeks. Gosnell was known as a doctor who would perform abortions at any stage, without regard for legal limits."
This meant killing viable babies. "We were able to document seven specific incidents in which Gosnell or one of his employees severed the spine of a viable baby born alive," the grand jury concludes. One victim was killed at 26 weeks. Another was killed at 28. A third was killed at 32. Some of the dead were 12 to 18 inches long. One had been moving and breathing outside the womb for 20 minutes. The report alleges hundreds of such atrocities. One employee admitted to severing the spinal cords of 100 babies, each one beyond 24 weeks.
Gosnell, as described in the report, is hardly what the absolutists have in mind when they speak of reproductive freedom. According to the indictment, he treated his patients like garbage and caused one of them to die. But those are separate charges. Regardless of how those charges turn out, the grand jury has recommended that Gosnell be prosecuted for murder in the deaths of seven babies, for infanticide in the deaths of two others, and for 33 felony counts of performing abortions after 24 weeks in violation of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act.
The question for Furedi, Berer, Yanow, Herold, and anyone else who asserts an indefinite right to choose is whether this part of the indictment should be dropped. You can argue that what Gosnell did wasn't conventional abortion—he routinely delivered the babies before slitting their necks—but the 33 proposed charges involving the Abortion Control Act have nothing to do with that. Those charges pertain strictly to a time limit: performing abortions beyond 24 weeks. Should Gosnell be prosecuted for violating that limit? Is it OK to outlaw abortions at 28, 30, or 32 weeks? Or is drawing such a line an unacceptable breach of women's autonomy?
Throwing Gosnell in jail won't solve the problem. The women who came to him at 26, 28, or 30 weeks will show up somewhere else. And if you won't say no to them, you will have to say yes.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photo of pregnant woman by Jupiterimages/Thinkstock.