To the editor:
In the May 16 editorial, "Don't read into Gosnell verdict," you argued that the Gosnell matter had "nothing to do with" legal abortion in the United States. Gosnell was about infanticide: the brutal murder of three premature newborns. (Let's forget for the moment that the babies were murdered because they happened to survive abortion attempts). His acts, you wrote, were an "abomination to humanity." The presumed point of the editorial was that, whatever our disagreements regarding abortion, we can all agree that the Gosnell case was about something else.
But here's the thing - Gosnell should make us all uncomfortable. We shouldn't allow ourselves to stand apart from his actions and say, with a measure of self-satisfaction, "at least we're not him."
Yes, there was a particular ugliness about Gosnell's acts. As you described, his "little clinic" was filthy. His staff was unqualified. He showed no care or concern for the women who paid for his services. He was callous and driven by profits. But these facts were side notes in a gruesome story. They were not the basis of his murder conviction.
Gosnell was convicted of murder for killing three babies using scissors, based on the graphic testimony of his own employees. He would have been convicted of this crime even if he was a true believer in the "self-sovereignty of women." He would have been convicted even if his clinic was the model of cleanliness and his staff was well-trained and attentive to his customers. One fact alone was critical to his conviction: that he used his scissors seconds after the babies were born, and not seconds before.
This small distinction should trouble us. As citizens, we all have some responsibility for the legal framework in this country that continues to substantially protect abortions, even late-term abortions, by various methods. These methods may have technical, medical names, but in the end they involve the same cruelty employed by Gosnell, with scissors, knives or chemical poisoning used to end the babies' lives. Do we really believe that, so long as the clinic is clean and the cruelty is kept out of sight, we are dealing with something entirely unlike Gosnell?
Gosnell, as you recognized, is an "abhorrent case." But it's a case that speaks directly to this "unceasing" debate about abortion. It forces us to look upon the humanity of the child, which for too long we've kept out of view. And, confronted with Gosnell's shattered "moral compass," it compels us to examine our own. We can't keep Gosnell at a safe distance and pretend that he has nothing to do with us. Not without sacrificing the truth.