Three Takeaways from the Kermit Gosnell Trial

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Yong Kim / MCT / ZUMA PRESS

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, right, gets escorted to a van leaving the Criminal Justice Center after getting convicted on three counts of first degree murder on Monday, May 13, 2013, in Philadelphia.

A Philadelphia jury on Monday convicted abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell on three counts of murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three babies and one adult patient at his inner-city clinic. The case, which revealed horrific conditions at Gosnell’s practice as well as gruesome details about the illegal operations he performed there, became a flashpoint in the national debate about abortion. While his sentence is not yet decided–jurors will reconvene on May 21 to consider whether Gosnell should be executed–there are lessons to draw from his trial, its coverage and the outcome.

This was not a case about the morality of legal, late-term abortion. Gosnell’s trial was about illegal abortion and homicide. The methods Gosnell used to end the lives of the babies cited in the case against him—including snipping their necks with scissors after they were outside the womb—are medically indefensible by any measure, in any case. Prochoice advocates did not defend Gosnell or argue that the gruesome practices in his clinic were part of the sad, but real, world of legal abortion in the U.S. On the contrary, many abortion rights activists long ago called for Gosnell to be convicted of murder.

(MORE: Abortion Doctor’s Murder Trial Sparks Media Debate)

Gosnell was accused of falsifying medical records to make it appear as though the babies aborted in his clinic were all under the legal limit for abortion in Pennsylvania, which is 24 weeks of gestation, about the age many babies can survive on their own outside the womb. But even legally performing abortions this late in pregnancy is extremely rare. While some anti-abortion activists claim that the horror of Gosnell’s case reflects a widespread problem of under-regulated late-term abortion providers, according to the the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization often cited by those on both sides of the abortion debate, less than 2% of all abortions in the U.S. occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy. Some 80% take place before 10 weeks.

State regulation is where the action is on abortion. By all counts, Pennsylvania state regulators failed spectacularly in the Kermit Gosnell case. Authorities neglected to properly and consistently inspect Gosnell’s clinic and at least two top health officials were fired in the wake of the scandal. Pro-life state legislators across the country in recent years have been successfully pushing for additional state regulations governing the architecture and operation of abortion clinics. The Pennsylvania case will be a boon for this effort; pro-life activists will no doubt argue that more regulations will prevent the next Kermit Gosnell. But, as abortion rights activists point out, many of the new modern state regulations for abortion clinics do not objectively improve safety. The goal of these new laws, in many cases, appears to be to regulate abortion providers out of business. As TIME reported in a recent cover  story:

[Pro-life activists’] ultimate goal is to land another abortion case before a sympathetic Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn Roe. Along the way, in what Charmaine Yoest, president of the antiabortion group Americans United for Life, describes as a strategy to “work around Roe,” pro-life activists hope to severely–or completely–curtail access to abortion at the state level.

In Mississippi, pro-life activists pushed for passage of a 2012 law requiring that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals. None of the out-of-state physicians who perform abortions at the state’s sole abortion clinic have these privileges…Governor Phil Bryant, who signed the law, said it was part of an effort to “end abortion in Mississippi.”

The Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic in Knoxville, Tenn., was open for 38 years before it closed in August 2012, citing the state’s Life Defense Act, passed earlier in the year, which also requires doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. A doctor who worked at the facility obtained hospital privileges but died suddenly of a stroke, and clinic director Deb Walsh said she couldn’t afford to keep her doors open while she tried to replace him.

In Virginia, the state board of health adopted a rule last year requiring abortion clinics to comply with architectural zoning regulations for hospitals. Like the Mississippi law and one just enacted in Michigan requiring abortion clinics to be licensed, the Virginia rule seems designed to make clinics safer, but there is little evidence that women’s health had previously been in danger.

In Gosnell’s case, regulators failed to enforce existing laws that, if applied, might have prevented the horrors that occurred in his clinic.

(MORE: New Availability of Plan B Makes Philadelphia Abortion Doc an Anachronism)

While it wasn’t completely ignored, the Gosnell trial revealed the mainstream media’s hesitancy to swarm a story about a horrifying abortion-related crime. Philadelphia news outlets did an exemplary job of covering the Gosnell trial, but the national media did not. Two years after outlets like the Associated Press and the New York Times covered Gosnell’s arrest and a judge issued a preliminary gag order on his trial, few representatives from the mainstream media showed up to cover the testimony in early 2013. (In contrast, cases like the murder of abortion provider George Tiller remained in the public eye for their duration.) Conservative activists interpreted this aloofness as evidence of pro-choice bias and pressured major outlets to cover the story more aggressively. “This should be front page news,” Kirsten Powers wrote in a USA Today op-ed. “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.”

Some reporters initially shrugged off this criticism—one health care writer publicly dismissed the case as a “local crime story” —but most outlets corrected course, and devoted more attention to the trial. Part of the media’s hesitation probably did have to do with politics; it’s no secret that most journalists are socially liberal. But a more powerful explanation might have to do with the extremely disturbing nature of the crime and its proximity to issues—abortion, poverty and race—that Americans are often uncomfortable discussing. Kidnapping and terrorism are tabloid fodder, but the grisly details of the Gosnell case are revulsive to even the most desensitized rubbernecker.

MORE: Why the Pa. Abortion Doc’s Case Is About Poverty, Not Roe v. Wade

20 comments
savedhelyn
savedhelyn

Baby killing should be illegal whether in womb or out & I am for doing an "end run" if that is what it takes until people are ashamed of this "legal" crime of murder.

brenneka
brenneka

Sorry, but I don't buy this:

"It’s no secret that most journalists are socially liberal. But a more powerful explanation might have to do with the extremely disturbing nature of the crime and its proximity to issues—abortion, poverty and race—that Americans are often uncomfortable discussing. Kidnapping and terrorism are tabloid fodder, but the grisly details of the Gosnell case are revulsive to even the most desensitized rubbernecker."

If this is true, how did the Casey Anthony trial get so much press? What about Trevon Martin? Killing of children and race are not off limits when it comes to "real" kids or when the racial issue bends towards the media's liberal leanings.

Anonymous02174
Anonymous02174

Ah to return to the good old days when you got your girl friend (or sister) drunk and while she was stumbling around you tackled her inducing a a          a  miscarriage along with internal bleeding.  This happened in the God fearing Midwest before abortion was made legal in Kansas. which     

ChuckPizagno
ChuckPizagno like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

When does Citizenship begin ?

The Gosnell Trial is in many ways a wake-up call to those who think abortion is just a women’s health care issue and nothing more. In dramatic fashion, we have been confronted with one of the stark national outcomes of where Roe vs. Wade has taken us. The product of abortion is a death.  Gosnell reminded us that for some, whether that death happens inside or outside the womb matters little.

This raises critical moral questions for America.

We have to ask ourselves does the veil of flesh that surrounds the womb really define when life begins? Is it a child – and thus a citizen - only when breathing outside the womb and thus entitled to medical care and the protection of life.  Only if the death occurs outside the womb is it then murder ?

Is it simply the act of passage thru that veil of flesh that marks the beginning of life and thus citizenship rights?

And can our nation continue to believe that a wiggling child, almost outside the womb, still be legally denied life and citizenship when doctors penetrate the skull and vacuum out the brain ?

Or is it from the moment of conception that both life and citizenship begin ?

JosephineHarkay
JosephineHarkay like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I hope and pray that one day our nation will hang its head in collective shame for having legalized abortion in the first place.

GoodGrief2
GoodGrief2

"according to the the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization often cited by those on both sides of the abortion debate, less than 2% of all abortions in the U.S. occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy. Some 80% take place before 10 weeks."  And they would know this because???  All those 'government regulations' in place and yet, this went on for HOW MANY YEARS?  Pickert and Sorenson are shameful examples of the left spin of our biased media.  If they were actually reporting the REAL facts, they would not be defending abortion.  They would just be reporting what happened at yet another abortion clinic.  And FYI - According to the state of PA, this WAS a legal abortion clinic.

thomas1
thomas1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Get a grip. The reality is that the media didn't know HOW to cover this story and felt uncomfortable doing so. Yes, most journalists are socially liberal. It wasn't until they were embarrassed for ignoring the story that they reluctantly began coverage. And they continue to try to find a way to spin it. 

The uncomfortable truth is that killing babies is never a comfortable topic.


JoseErnestoDiazSegura
JoseErnestoDiazSegura like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Abortion is murder... period. You have to be out of your mind to tweak the facts and justify the killing of one innocent human being just because the mother "choose" to... the baby is another person... right from conception. There is no ground whatsoever, no ethical reasoning, no logical basis to justify that... only human ego and selfishness.

Travis
Travis like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Yes, this is about the morality of late-term abortion. It forces us to acknowledge that, in some cases, however few, the only differences between murder and legal abortion are: (1) the location of the baby; and (2) the method of killing.   

Neither of these differences justifies labeling one act a legal abortion and the other murder.  And we can't avoid the question simply by saying it only matters 2% of the time. 

Chosun1
Chosun1

@Travis -- 2% of the time is thousands of cases per year.  The Census Bureau tells us there are about 1.2 million abortions per year in the USA (that is a huge number), so that means about 24,000 late term abortions per year.  24,000 likely viable babies ... killed ... but not counted as murdered because they were killed before getting out......  So much killing in the name of choice and freedom.  I still believe that life trumps freedom.  I'm waiting for the day when the courts in America realize that the rights liberty and pursuit of happiness mean nothing if there is no right to life.

CharlesByrne
CharlesByrne like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Oh no! The abortion mask slips slightly and we get a small peek at its true horror! What's liberal about killing babies (inside the womb our outside) ?

Anonymous783
Anonymous783 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

So snapping babies necks in the womb is ok then? 

Anonymous783
Anonymous783

The Guttmacher Institute began as a branch of Planned Parenthood...

BernieBlasnalus
BernieBlasnalus like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

"On the contrary, many abortion rights activists long ago called for Gosnell to be convicted of murder." - Who/When?

charleskaye
charleskaye like.author.displayName 1 Like

" it’s no secret that most journalists are socially liberal..."

Is this news to anyone? Seriously. How can the media remain objective and give fair treatment to political issues if they lean one way or the other?

The media continues to report from a left leaning view. They glorify the actions of left leaning politicians and slander the right. If voters in this country are not aware of the blatant media bias by now, God help us all, as way too many voters simply read the news as fact. Instead of questioning the reporting of "facts", or lack thereof as in the Gosnell case, voters seem happy to just read the left biased news and take it as "that's the truth".

American voters are being lied to on a daily basis by the media. They are reading distorted articles that are less fact and more opinion. Next time any of you voters read about how great Obama is, or how some leftist policy is doing so great, remember, what you are hearing is most likely coming from someone that cannot be objective and will not give you an unbiased article. Life in liberal land isn't as rosey as the media would have you believe. Are you smart enough to read through their slant, or are you happy to just believe everything you read?


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