USA Today‘s Kirsten Powers has written an op-ed today arguing that the Kermit Gosnell abortion trial hasn’t been getting enough national attention. Powers is a liberal and an evangelical Christian; she criticizes the right on women’s rights, the left on abortion. Her latest piece argues that the Gosnell trial, currently occurring in Philadelphia, is being ignored by the mainstream media because it is unflattering to those with pro-choice agendas. A host of conservatives, including Sarah Palin, have praised the piece. Here’s Powers:
Whether Gosnell was killing the infants one second after they left the womb instead of partially inside or completely inside the womb — as in a routine late-term abortion — is merely a matter of geography. That one is murder and the other is a legal procedure is morally irreconcilable.
Powers’s aim is to draw attention to the fact that the Gosnell murder charges should make us consider whether there’s really a difference between killing a baby inside the womb, or outside, as he so horrifically did. But this is misleading. Gosnell is being charged with murdering seven infants who were alive and viable after 24 weeks, the legal limit for abortion in Pennsylvania. It would not have been legal to abort these babies inside or outside the womb.
The moral to be drawn from the Gosnell trial is not that current abortion laws are screwed up. Indeed, Gosnell is accused of breaking them, which is why he’s on trial. Rather, it’s that as individual states increasingly restrict abortion rights, more and more illegal clinics, like Gosnell’s may crop up. One of the reasons prosecutors allege Gosnell killed babies after they were born is because he had not properly administered the drugs necessary to kill them in the womb. He was able to recruit willing assistants, in large part because they were unlicensed and untrained. He is also accused of killing a 41-year-old woman, after she died of an overdose of drugs administered by that staff.* He himself was not a certified obstetrician or gynecologist.
Chistopher Moraff, writing last month for The Philly Post, made this point well, citing a gynecologist who operated pre-Roe v. Wade.
Waldo Fielding, a retired Boston-based obstetrician and gynecologist details the variety of crude implements women regularly used to self induce abortions:
“The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous “coat hanger”—which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. However, not simply coat hangers were used. Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion—darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.”
Moraff also cites the “roughly 1,500 abortion clinics have closed since 1991,” while “an average of seven abortion clinics a month shut their doors last year.” Last month, it should be added, North Dakota passed the harshest abortion law in the country, deciding that the procedure would be illegal as soon as a fetal heartbeat was discovered, i.e., as early as 6 weeks. If the state’s single abortion clinic, in Fargo, closes due to the law (80% of the abortions it performs would be banned), the Upper Midwest will have to reckon with an 800-mile stretch of territory without a clinic.
But not without abortions, of course. Which is why we should indeed focus on the Gosnell trial. But not for the reasons Powers tells us to.
*This post has been updated to reflect this fact. It was also been updated for clarity.