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Why Gosnell's case offends us

Much has already been written and said about the lack of media attention the Kermit Gosnell abortion case has received.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell in March 2010  (AP Photo/Philadelphia Daily News, Yong Kim)
Dr. Kermit Gosnell in March 2010

Much has already been written and said about the lack of media attention the Kermit Gosnell abortion case has received.

He is charged with killing four babies allegedly born alive at his clinic in West Philadelphia, the 2009 overdose death of a 41-year-old mother of three, hundreds of abortion-law violations, including performing third-trimester abortions and failing to counsel patients.

But while the outrage was slow to come, it eventually did, and now even staunch pro-choice advocates are rightly coming out to denounce Gosnell and his practices. The outrage is appropriate and welcome. Planned Parenthood, along with many others, has denounced the doctor.

You might think that the stunning lack of oversight in this case--multiple government agencies failed to put an end to his illegal practices over the years--would prompt calls for new legislation to make it harder for criminals like Gosnell to do what he did for as long as he did. But Planned Parenthood has opposes the idea. It insists that no new regulations can stop a physician who has decided to disregard the law.

That doesn't stop gun control advocates from pushing for new laws every time a monster shoots up a school or a movie theater. But when it comes to abortion, there's a difference. For one, lawful gun use doesn't accidentally or intentionally also result in a mass shooting. Legal abortion can result in the death of a mother, the death of babies born alive and the deaths of late-term fetuses.

For example, according to the CDC, in 2008 at least 12 women died as a result of complications. Are those numbers insignificant?

There are also countless stories of born-alive abortions that occur in clinics across the country. Florida Rep. Cary Pigman, a doctor, recently testified that in 2010, 1,270 infants died after being born alive during abortions. Why oppose bills that require appropriate medical care for babies who survive abortions?

But another reason we should ask ourselves why Gosnell's case offends us so much is that medical science has changed exponentially since Roe v. Wade was passed, and therefore we have to confront some hard realities about what it means to end a life today.

In 2009 1.3% of all abortions were performed after 21 weeks' gestation. Thanks to advanced technology that we didn't have in the 70s, "The difference now between a pregnancy at 12 weeks and one at 22 is life itself," as Margaret Carlson put it in Bloomberg last year. "Walk into any neonatal unit and you'll see newborns weighing 2 pounds; they'll be playing basketball one day." Gosnell is a monster. But what happens when there is no monster, but the results are the same?

For pro-life folks, the Gosnell case is horrifying because abortion is horrifying, at any number of weeks, in any kind of environment, whether it’s done by the book or unlawfully.

But for the other side, the very details of the Gosnell case that we might assume to be the most repellent are sometimes consequences of legal abortion. If we hate them here, shouldn't we want to reduce or stop them elsewhere?

It isn't intellectually honest to say that these consequences are horrors when perpetrated by a monster like Gosnell but acceptable when the result of well-meaning and well-trained physicians. The very nature of what we consider to be human life has changed. As a society it's up to us to progress. That means having difficult conversations about why we are outraged by Gosnell. And what we can do about it.