Murder? Not if you just kill a baby

Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is on trial in Philadelphia.
Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is on trial in Philadelphia.

Nearly a quarter-century has passed since The Los Angeles Times published a piece by the late David Shaw, then its media critic, arguing that the anti-abortion viewpoint didn’t get fair treatment in the news media. Among the anecdotes he used to illustrate his case was that of a Boston Globe reporter who turned in a story on late-term abortions only to have an editor reject a sentence that described the operation “destroying” the fetus by “crushing forming skulls and bones.” Said the editor: “As far as I’m concerned, until that thing is born, it is really no different from a kidney; it is part of the woman’s body.” So to use the word “destroy,” the editor continued “is really to distort the issue.”

At the time, I had two thoughts. One was that if the editor thought you can’t destroy a body part, he ought to look at some pictures of lungs that have been exposed to cigarette smoke for 20 years. The other was how he could draw such a bright moral line: a crushable “thing” one moment, a baby the next. Is the act of passing down a birth canal really so momentous that it confers humanity on what is otherwise merely a discardable wad of tissue?

It seems that many abortion-rights activists worried about drawing that line, too. But what they wanted to do was erase it. The increasingly horrifying debate over what should happen to babies born live after attempted abortions has made it clear that what defines human life to the abortion-rights community is not viability but convenience.

The worst revelations — the stuff that will make you vomit at your desk — have come from testimony in the murder trial of a Philadelphia abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell. You probably haven’t read much about the case because newspapers outside Pennsylvania haven’t been covering it. (Why not is a column of its own.)

Gosnell has been charged with murdering seven infants born alive after his botched abortions. And we are not talking about technically alive, their lungs heaving a few ragged times before giving out. These were “live, breathing, squirming babies,” as the grand jury that indicted Gosnell declared in its report. Or they were until Gosnell chopped apart their spinal cords with scissors — “snipping,” if you prefer his more delicate language.

And we are not really talking about seven, though that’s the number in Gosnell’s indictment. Evidence has indicated that live babies were born, and killed, by the score in Gosnell’s clinic. One of his assistants (who has already pleaded guilty to murder) testified to personally taking part in nearly 100 of the so-called snippings. “It would rain fetuses,” he said outside the courtroom. “Fetuses and blood all over the place. It is literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.”

Other babies were tossed in a toilet, so many that it often backed up and had to be cleaned out. One witness recalled an infant that “was, like swimming . . . basically, trying to get out.” Another was so large, she said, that the jolly Gosnell joked that “the baby is big enough that it could walk to the store or the bus stop.” Until the doctor hacked its spine into pieces, anyway.

Gosnell hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, and if he is, the abortion-rights folks will surely argue that he was a lone hack in an otherwise responsible industry. But if that’s so, why do abortion-rights forces battle so tenaciously against laws to protect babies that survive abortions?

Barack Obama, when he was in the Illinois Legislature, voted against several bills that would ensure medical treatment for aborted babies born alive, saying doctors could be trusted to do the right thing. California Sen. Barbara Boxer went further, flatly declaring that an infant is fair game for an abortionist until “you bring your baby home.” Buyer’s-remorse protection for mothers!

Then there was the ringing proclamation of a Planned Parenthood lobbyist before the Florida Legislature last month. Asked what her group thought should happen to a “child that is struggling for life” after a botched abortion, Alisa LaPolt Snow replied: “Any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician.” A stray dog gets more protection than that — he’ll at least have a stay of execution for a few days to see if another family wants him.

But the blunt truth is that, to a lot of abortion-rights activists, stray dogs have more rights than babies. The same Philadelphia grand jury that indicted Gosnell revealed that his baby slaughterhouse went undetected for years because Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge’s administration ordered the state health department to stop inspecting abortion clinics. “Officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions,’ ” the grand jury reported; after all, the only victims would be “infants without identities.”

Those same officials were quite unimpressed with the grand jury’s criticism. Shrugged Christine Dutton, the state health department’s chief attorney: “People die.” That’s right, Ms. Dutton. People.

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