The details coming from the trial of abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia are brutal and disturbing. Not only is he charged with killing a woman who came for an abortion, but also for the murder of seven children already born alive, whom, according to the Grand Jury Report, he killed by severing their spinal cord. (Report of the Grand Jury, Court of Common Pleas, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Criminal Trial Division, MISC. NO. 0009901-2008, January 14, 2011).
Now I’m not saying anyone is responsible for Gosnell’s actions other than Gosnell. But I am suggesting that a certain climate, and a certain set of presumptions, has been created by our current public policy on abortion, and the arguments made to justify it, and that if we are horrified by what Gosnell did to these babies, we have to examine what that connection might be.
Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute show that some 18,150 abortions per year in the United States occur legally at 21 weeks of pregnancy and beyond (guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html). These are babies the size of a large banana.
One of the most memorable conversations I ever had was with abortion provider Dr. Martin Haskell of Ohio, who performs abortions in the latest stages of pregnancy. I asked him how he justified doing such a thing. He told me, “I don’t know when the child receives a soul.”
Recall also what late term abortionist Dr. James McMahon once said: “After 20 weeks where it frankly is a child to me, I really agonize over it. … On the other hand, I have another position, which I think is superior in the hierarchy of questions, and that is: ‘Who owns the child?’ It’s got to be the mother.” (Interview with American Medical News, July 5, 1993).
Notice that we are not hearing an argument here that denies these children to be living human babies, but rather that there is such a thing as a baby who does not deserve protection of the law. It seems to me this dichotomy starts with the dual assertion in Roe vs. Wade that, on the one hand, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins” [410 U.S. 113, 159], yet on the other, “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn” [410 U.S. 113, 158].
So some humans don’t have to be considered persons. The difficulty, of course, is drawing a clear line and having a clear rationale for that line. And we have all kinds of evidence of how dangerously flexible that line can be.
The State of Florida is working to pass a bill that would protect babies after they are born as a result of a failed abortion attempt. We already have this law on the federal level. It’s the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.” As part of the legislative testimony for the Florida bill, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist named Alisa LaPolt Snow testified at the end of March, and was asked this question: “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?” She responded, “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.” (Weeklystandard.com/blogs/video-planned-parenthood-official-argues-right-post-birth-abortion_712198.html).
And about a year earlier, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva entitled, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” (February 23, 2012). The authors state, “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”
As the authors admit, the assertion is not new. Controversial ethicist Peter Singer said long ago: “[T]he location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference” (“On Letting Handicapped Babies Die”), and that to be consistent, there are “only two possibilities,” namely, “oppose abortion, or allow infanticide” (Rethinking Life and Death, p.210).
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In recent years, federal legislation is attempting to put the brakes on the endorsement of infanticide, as witnessed by the above-mentioned “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,” signed into law in 2002, and the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban,” signed into law in 2003 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.
But “it’s the law” is not a sufficient argument to resolve the underlying dangerous tension created by allowing children to be killed at certain stages for rationales that no longer apply to the same children at later stages.
Kermit Gosnell is on trial in Philadelphia for “snipping” the spinal cords of babies scheduled to be aborted but actually born alive in his abortion clinic. Is he just crazy, or is he simply following the logic of an industry based on the assertion that the mother’s choice overrides any right to protection that the baby has?
LifeNews.com Note: Father Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life.