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April 21, 2013

Douthat on "Gosnel and the Politics of Abortion"

Just a bit, from what I thought was a good piece by Ross Douthat, commenting on the argument one is hearing in some quarters that the Gosnell case confirms the merits of the pro-abortion-rights side's arguments:

The only things missing from this clean, airtight, entirely consistent argument are, well, all the dead babies in the Gosnell clinic — or the dead “precipitated fetuses,” to employ the language Gosnell and his associates used to euphemize their practice of delivering and then “snipping” rather than aborting in utero. Their absence is not necessarily a problem if you’re willing to argue that those babies were non-persons before delivery and became persons immediately after (in which case Gosnell is guilty of infanticide but a more competent late-term abortion facility wouldn’t be), or if you’re willing to argue, with Peter Singer and some others, that personhood is something that emerges gradually at some indeterminate time after birth (in which case Gosnell’s “snipping” wasn’t murder at all). The former, I think, is the more common form of pro-choice absolutism, and the latter belongs to the more philosophically-inclined fringe (although the debate over “born-alive” bills has moved the official consensus fringeward). But if you’re already committed to absolute support for abortion rights, either argument will suffice to justify treating Gosnell’s conduct as irrelevant to the broader abortion controversy.

What neither argument seems likely to do, however, is do much to persuade the many, many “pro-choice but …” people who aren’t already so committed, and whose support for abortion rights tends to waver most when they’re confronted with the reality of what abortion actually does to fetal life — in clean, well-funded facilities as well as filthy ones, and in the womb as much as on Gosnell’s operating tables. This is, of course, the central reason why the pro-life side assumes that mainstream reporters didn’t particularly want to cover the trial: Because the mainstream press leans pro-choice, because mainstream journalism is pitched to readers in the mushy middle on abortion, and because the practice of “after-birth abortion” makes fetal humanity manifest in ways that almost inevitably push that middle in a more pro-life direction. . . .

Posted by Rick Garnett on April 21, 2013 at 10:42 AM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Comments

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It is somewhat disturbing that either pro-choice or pro-life advocates try to use Gosnell and his trial to bolster their positions. But it seems to me that both sides agree that late-term abortions are particularly troubling. I think those who are pro-choice who are comfortable (or relatively so) with early abortion become increasingly uncomfortable the later in pregnancy an abortion is performed, and I think those who would support abortion up to the final minutes, or days, or even weeks of pregnancy are very few, except in cases where there is a truly serious threat to the mother. For most who are pro-choice, I think, birth is a very significant dividing line, but they do not believe that in the latest stages of pregnancy, anything that would be a heinous crime to perpetrate on a newborn five minutes after birth is perfectly neutral if done five minutes before birth.

I think what would be an obvious response to the Gosnell horrors—aside from public health authorities regularly inspecting abortion facilities and investigating all complaints against them—would be tighter regulation of late-term abortions. As I understand the constitutional issues, late-term abortions cannot be flatly prohibited. But there are a number of states that require a second physician to be present at all late-term abortions to attend to the needs of an infant should it be born alive. The right of states to require this has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Some states also require doctors performing late-term abortions to use the abortion method least likely to result in the death of the infant. As far as I know, there is no constitutional problem with that requirement, either.

One of the problems with the battle over abortion is that to a large extent, those who claim to be interested in making it safer are actually trying to regulate it out of existence. Gun-rights advocates are (in my opinion) often paranoid in believing gun-control advocates really want to take all their guns away. But pro-choice advocates who believe that pro-lifers want to completely prohibit abortion are correct. It is the goal of pro-lifers to come up with as many restrictions on abortion as they can think of, and eventually eliminate any right to abortion at all (even in cases where the mother's life is in danger). So it is no surprise compromise to do something like put more reasonable limits on late-term abortions would be so difficult to achieve. Pro-lifers believe in an absolutist position—no abortions for any reason. Few who are pro-choice would argue for abortions for any reason, at any gestational age. But there is little incentive to compromise with pro-lifers, who would look at any deal as a step toward their ultimate goal of banning all abortions.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 21, 2013 11:59:06 AM

I think most pro-choice advocates find the idea of late-term abortion troubling, and it is an area of potential compromise with pro-life advocates, although the likelihood of compromise between the two sides is very small. From the pro-choice point of view, the idea that an unborn child is not a fully human person in the earliest stages of development, but becomes a human person worthy of protection at some point in later pregnancy is, I believe, widely held. And I think, given that view, there is nothing terribly problematic for pro-choice advocates in considering birth an extremely important milestone. It is almost certainly true that if Gosnell had killed the seven aborted children before birth that he allegedly killed after birth, he would not be in very serious legal trouble today. He could not have been charged with first-degree murder. But I don't think many pro-choice advocates would claim that Gosnell is a monster but abortionists who do late-term abortions and kill viable infants before they abort them are exemplary doctors. Birth is extremely important legally, and it is very important morally, just because it may be considered an absolute marker after which an infant may not be killed, that does not necessarily mean that killing before birth is necessarily morally neutral. I can't imagine a significant number of those who are pro-choice who would say it would be morally acceptable for a woman going into labor who decides she doesn't want a baby can have a doctor kill it so that it will be stillborn.

It seems to me the first obvious lesson of the Gosnell trial is that abortion clinics need to be inspected regularly (and without advance notice) and that public health authorities need to be diligent in investigating all complaints. It also seems that late-term abortions need to be watched more closely. They should be done only when they are necessary for the life or health of the mother, and "health" should be interpreted in some reasonable and consistent way. My understanding is that court decisions have made this somewhat difficult. But there are certainly reasonable steps that can be taken with regard to late-term abortions. Nine states require the presence of a second physician when late-term abortions are performed to take action to save the infant should it be born alive. The Supreme Court has ruled this requirement to be constitutional. A number of states also require that if an abortion is to be performed and the baby is considered to be viable, the abortionist must use the abortion technique least likely to kill it. Had Gosnell been practicing under those two restrictions, he would never have been able to do what he is charged with.

But of course a major problem is that pro-life advocates don't recognize the legitimacy of *any* abortion. It is no secret that the goal of the pro-life movement is to pass as many restrictions as possible to make abortions more difficult to perform and procure, with the ultimate goal of eliminating abortion altogether. It is no surprise, then, when pro-life advocates claim to be interested in passing restrictions to make abortions safer for the women who procure them, their actions are not taken at face value. They may argue in the legislatures and before the courts that they are trying to make abortions safe, but it is known that their ultimate goal is to do away with abortions completely. For pro-choice advocates, expecting them to compromise with pro-life advocates is like asking Israel to compromise with the various groups that do not recognize its right to resist.

So I see it as illegitimate for either pro-life or pro-choice advocates to try to use the Gosnell case to try to bolster their position. Late-term abortions are very rare, and late-term abortion providers are very few. When late-term abortions make up less than 2% of the total, it is highly unlikely we're going to discover more Gosnells out there. Being a late-term abortion provide already made him a very rare figure in the abortion industry. It is just not credible to hint that he represents the "tip of the iceberg" or is in any way representative of abortion providers.

There are very few people, even among those who are ardently pro-choice, who agree with Peter Singer. It is surprising how often Singer's name gets mentioned in these discussions, when he is completely irrelevant. Neither American law nor the pro-choice movement is based on the philosophy of Peter Singer or his beliefs about when personhood begins.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 21, 2013 3:14:52 PM

"So I see it as illegitimate for either pro-life or pro-choice advocates to try to use the Gosnell case to try to bolster their position."

David,
This doesn't make sense to me -- it seems quite obvious to me that the Gosnell case presents an argument against abortion at more stages than just late-term. First, it is undeniable that, when considering late-term abortions, the Gosnell case presents a huge intellectual challenge to the "pro-choice, but...." middle described by Douthat ---- because the baselessness of the birth milestone is so clearly demonstrated by the Gosnell case. And when this "pro-choice, but...." person starts to see the baselessness of the birth milestone and starts to recognized that the entity in the womb has humanity and corresponding human rights, then the next question that naturally presents itself to that person's mind is, "if a late-pregnancy entity in the womb has humanity and corresponding human rights, at what time does this humanity first begin in the unborn entity?" And, of course, the pro-choice side doesn't have a good answer to that question.

If you read the Roger Simon article I linked to in the other post, you'll see a pro-choice supporter make this intellectual progression on his own, without even being prompted by a pro-life person articulating the argument. Now the author doesn't resolve the question, but it's fascinating to see the author simply asking the question about the morality of abortion-at-any-stage in the first place. And he's questioning the morality of abortion-at-any-stage because the Gosnell case has gotten him to pause and think about abortion. So it seems obvious to me that Gosnell case can be used as an argument for the pro-life position.

Posted by: Thales | Apr 21, 2013 4:25:53 PM

"the reality of what abortion actually does to fetal life"

The "reality" is that over 90% of abortions occur before or shortly after the first trimester. Before even a "fetus" exists. The "reality" is that abortions as late as those done in the Gosnell case tend to be tragic cases where the average person would be sympathetic if they knew all the facts. There are few "absolutists" here. The vast number of abortions, however, would not get that far.

Since, see RH Reality Check's podcast for this week, yet again, there actually was not a media blackout, particularly among the feminist pro-choice media voices that strongly support abortion rights, the assumption cited is dubious. The feminist press here have covered the case, which includes discussing what happened. A full reporting would discuss how current policies tragically led to this situation, how safe abortion services, supported by the pro-choice side would make the Gosnells of the world less likely to be a menace. Ditto other cases where the poor were victims such as some slumlord allowing rats.

It also would explain how most abortions occur long before there is a chance of viability but this would also show that those against abortion rights aren't just concerned with late term abortions but want to go back to one week, including barring Plan B in some cases which goes back before contraception. Focusing on late term abortions however confuses the public akin to using the worse speech out there to explain why censorship is a good thing and suggesting those wanting a more liberal line are like "absolutists" who actually make up a tiny fraction of the people out there.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 22, 2013 11:38:52 AM

ETA: To be fair, some for more restrictive abortion rights are somewhere in the middle of the position in Roe v. Wade and the "back to conception" group. Few however want to ban it in the first trimester with various exceptions later, which would entail a vast majority of abortions. This is uncomfortable to some anti-abortion choice advocates. Finally, people, including those personally against abortion but who still have them in certain cases, are aware of how babies are made and all. They STILL support abortion rights, at least not to make them illegal, and don't have to have the facts of life (misleadingly so as noted) rubbed in their faces to so think.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 22, 2013 11:44:24 AM

The occupant of the White House, and his political partner the largest abortion chain in the country Planned Parenthood, are on record opposing laws that would protect the child born during abortion--so radical and explicit is their vision of and commitment to Roe v. Wade. The Gosnell matter is therefore directly relevant to the abortion battle. It legitimately undermines the foundation of the abortion enterprise and the politicians who prop themselves up on the influence and money of that industrial complex. That's why the mainstream media was eventually shamed into covering the story, and why reflections on it will not go away, as much as many people wish those reflections would go away as being "illegitimate."

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 22, 2013 12:09:27 PM


Thales,

You say: ". . . because the baselessness of the birth milestone is so clearly demonstrated by the Gosnell case."

Birth is an *extraordinarily* significant milestone. I don't think I need to document that. Even with the various versions of born-alive bills, under the law, an embryo or a fetus (no matter how far along in development) is not a person until it is born. Hundreds of years of laws and legal tradition have taken birth to be the beginning of a person's life. Abortion in our legal tradition has never been homicide. You take it as some kind of given that birth is not a truly significant milestone, but that is not the case in our legal tradition. It is those who are pro-life who are seeking to change what has been accepted in the law for centuries.

You say: . . . "if a late-pregnancy entity in the womb has humanity and corresponding human rights, at what time does this humanity first begin in the unborn entity?' And, of course, the pro-choice side doesn't have a good answer to that question."

First, there is not one and only one answer from the pro-choice side. As I believe I have already said, I don't think you will find more than a handful of people who call themselves pro-choice who would find it acceptable to kill the baby of a woman who has just gone into labor because at that point she decides she doesn't want the baby. The law provides significantly greater protection for unborn infants in the third trimester than it does for the unborn earlier in pregnancy.

No doubt you think that "at conception" is the only good answer to the question you raise. I am reminded of Rick Warren asking both Obama and McCain at what point a baby gets human rights. Obama gave his extremely ill-conceived "above my pay grade" response, and McCain got cheers for answering, "At the moment of conception!" And then later in the same interview, McCain supported stem-cell research!


Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 22, 2013 12:10:51 PM

Hi Mr. Nickol,

"It seems to me the first obvious lesson of the Gosnell trial is that abortion clinics need to be inspected regularly (and without advance notice) and that public health authorities need to be diligent in investigating all complaints. It also seems that late-term abortions need to be watched more closely"

But didn't Pennsylvania already have such laws in place? And, if so, why didn't they stop a Dr. Gosnell from occurring? It seems to me that one of the questions that has also been missing in the coverage has been why Pennsylvania's tough laws on abortion didn't stop him.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 22, 2013 3:39:28 PM

Also, I just got my email from the PBS NewsHour for tonight's program and they will be discussing the Gosnell case.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 22, 2013 4:12:32 PM

Tough laws can't stop crime, tough enforcement can.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Apr 22, 2013 5:26:09 PM

Edward Dougherty,

You ask: "But didn't Pennsylvania already have such laws in place?"

I am not sure it was a matter of law or regulatory policy. In any case, whether or not there were laws, Gosnell's clinic went for 17 years without being inspected.

You say: "It seems to me that one of the questions that has also been missing in the coverage has been why Pennsylvania's tough laws on abortion didn't stop him."

Well, first of all, Gosnell is on trial for murder, not abortion, so the question is why didn't Pennsylvania's murder laws stop him. Clearly, whether the reason was gross incompetence, or deliberate looking the other way, the authorities did nothing. It is disturbing to think of what *any* industry might do without inspection, regulation, and without the authorities investigating consumer complaints. As a New Yorker, I feel much better knowing the city inspects restaurants regularly. Certainly any city or state government is capable of inspecting abortion clinics.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 22, 2013 6:08:57 PM

I have answered Matt Bowman at (interminable) length in two comments (Apr 20, 2013 5:09:52 PM and Apr 21, 2013 4:33:22 PM) to "Gosnell Abortion Trial: 'Pulling Back the Curtain on This Procedure'"
http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2013/04/gosnell-abortion-trial-pulling-back-the-curtain-on-this-procedure.html#comments

If he thinks that, as a result of the exposure of Kermit Gosnell's killing of born-alive infants following late-term abortions under horrifying conditions, the scales are going to fall from the eyes of pro-choice Americans and they are going to start believing that personhood begins at conception and all abortions are to be prohibited, I predict he is going to be very disappointed. Even if it *should* (and I don't see how it should), post-abortion murder of born-alive infants is simply not going to galvanize opinion against the vast majority of abortions in this country, more than half of which take place at 8 weeks or less, 88% in the first trimester, and less than 2% at 21 weeks or later.

Posted by: David | Apr 22, 2013 6:32:29 PM

I have answered Matt Bowman at (interminable) length in two comments (Apr 20, 2013 5:09:52 PM and Apr 21, 2013 4:33:22 PM) to "Gosnell Abortion Trial: 'Pulling Back the Curtain on This Procedure'"

If he thinks that, as a result of the exposure of Kermit Gosnell's killing of born-alive infants following late-term abortions under horrifying conditions, the scales are going to fall from the eyes of pro-choice Americans and they are going to start believing that personhood begins at conception and all abortions are to be prohibited, I predict he is going to be very disappointed. Even if it *should* (and I don't see how it should), post-abortion murder of born-alive infants is simply not going to galvanize opinion against the vast majority of abortions in this country, more than half of which take place at 8 weeks or less, 88% in the first trimester, and less than 2% at 21 weeks or later.

Posted by: David | Apr 22, 2013 6:33:46 PM

David Nickol,

1.Re: baselessnes of birth
You are misunderstanding my point and the entire nature of this conversation. We've been talking about the Gosnell case and late-term abortions; we've been talking about the humanity of the unborn human entity and the morality of killing that human entity at a late pregrancy term versus killing the human entity once it has passed through the birth canal. Birth is a baseless milestone for making a moral distinction between the human entity in the womb and the human entity once it has passed through the birth canal. The Gosnell case illustrates this point. And it is not just pro-lifers saying this. It is non-pro-life and pro-choice commentators who are saying this, after being horrified by the Gosnell case. Again, I refer you to the Simon piece I've already mentioned, or the recent Kirsten Powers and Melinda Henneberger Gosnell articles that have been widely read and referenced.

2. You said, "First, there is not one and only one answer from the pro-choice side." Yes, I know. **That's exactly my point.** The pro-choice side doesn't have one single or consistent answer to the question about when humanity first begins in the unborn entity. So, once a pro-choice advocate admits that a late-term unborn entity is a human being and that intentionally killing it without justification is morally wrong, the next questions that naturally present themselves are "When does humanity begin?" and "At what time does an intentional killing of the unborn entity become morally permissible?".... and there aren't any consistent or satisfactory answers to those questions on the pro-choice side. Those questions are the start of a pro-life argument against abortion, and those are questions that are prompted by the Gosnell case. Therefore, the Gosnell case presents an argument for the pro-life position.

Posted by: Thales | Apr 22, 2013 10:06:02 PM

Thales,

You say: "Birth is a baseless milestone for making a moral distinction between the human entity in the womb and the human entity once it has passed through the birth canal."

That is by no means self-evident. I know that *you* believe it, and I know that probably most pro-lifers believe it. But that does not make it some kind of obvious truth. As I have pointed out many times in these kinds of discussions, in Judaism, birth is a very distinct marker. Note the following:

**********
An unborn fetus in Jewish law is not considered a person (Heb. nefesh, lit. “soul”) until it has been born. The fetus is regarded as a part of the mother’s body and not a separate being until it begins to egress from the womb during parturition (childbirth). In fact, until forty days after conception, the fertilized egg is considered as “mere fluid.” These facts form the basis for the Jewish legal view on abortion.
**********

I should note that this does *not* imply abortion on demand is acceptable. The Jewish position would rule out most abortions, but unlike the Catholic view, it would not rule out all direct abortions.

You say: "The Gosnell case illustrates this point."

I don't think the Gosnell case "illustrates" any particular point about abortion. Both those who are pro-life and pro-choice want to use it to make a case for their own position, but the case is not about abortion. It is about inducing labor in late pregnancy and killing born-alive infants. You may want to use it to make your case that it makes no difference whether a baby is killed and aborted or whether it is aborted and killed, but the case itself doesn't make those arguments for you.

You say: "The pro-choice side doesn't have one single or consistent answer to the question about when humanity first begins in the unborn entity."

Let us grant for the sake of argument that all people who call themselves pro-life have a single and consistent answer—"at conception." (I don't think that is true, by the way. As I pointed out above, McCain is among a number of people who call themselves pro-life who also support stem-cell research. I think many who are pro-life would permit abortion in cases of rape, incest, and serious threat to the life of the mother. So I don't concede that pro-lifers have a consistent answer. I think the well known hypothetical of the fire in the fertility clinic, where most people forced to choose between saving a single doctor or nurse or a canister of a hundred frozen embryos would save the living, breathing person is very telling.) A single, simple answer to a tough question can, after all, simply be wrong. It may save you the trouble of figuring out where to draw a line, but that may very well be taking the easy way out rather than grappling with a difficult question. It seems to me the question of where you draw the line is often put forward as an attempt to stop all discussion. It may not be easy in many cases (not just fetal personhood) to say where the line must be drawn, and there may not be universal agreement, but that by no means indicates that avoiding line drawing by a simple answer is the right approach. When for example, do you stop taking extraordinary measures to keep a seriously ill or injured person alive? The simple answer is that you use every means necessary to keep the person's heart beating as long as possible, disregarding questions of expense and suffering of the patient and likelihood of success. But that would seem a terrible approach to me. So you must make what is often an agonizing choice on a case-by-case basis to determine when to stop fighting and let nature take its course. There may be bitter family disagreements over what to do in these situations, but the answer, it seems to me, is *not* to decide to do everything imaginable to prolong a life as long as possible.

Posted by: David | Apr 23, 2013 10:49:28 AM

DN, the more you interminably insist that prolifers should stop talking about Gosnell, the more we are reassured that we should continue to do so because it has struck a deep nerve that pro abortion people cannot deal with.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 23, 2013 12:51:42 PM

Hi Mr. Bowman,

How about talking about how the laws of Pennsylvania, which I understand to have been some of the toughest in the U.S. and which included a mandatory inspection of clinics, appear not to have been effective in stopping this from happening?

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 23, 2013 1:19:13 PM

How about because pro-abortion politicians in the pocket of the abortion industry refused to enforce those laws.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 23, 2013 1:41:29 PM

Do you have any proof of that?

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 23, 2013 1:44:37 PM

It is universally reported. You can disbelieve it if you want

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 23, 2013 1:46:42 PM

Have you read the grand jury indictment?

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 23, 2013 1:49:12 PM

But I thought there wasn't any reporting on this case and that's what we were so upset about.

I have and it's disgusting. Mr. Gosnell clearly deserves what's coming to him. But I don't see where the State deliberately stopped inspecting his clinic or that there was any conspiracy to do so.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 23, 2013 1:56:02 PM

Pro-abortion blog commenters' MO: insist there's nothing to see here, demand proof, then refuse to even read the proof, insisting that they are right regardless. Reasons why you aren't taken seriously.

"The Department of Health conducted sporadic, inadequate inspections for 13 years,
and then none at all between 1993 and 2010.
...
Under Governor Robert Casey, [the Pa DOH inspections director] said, the department inspected abortion facilities annually. Yet, when Governor Tom Ridge came in, the attorneys interpreted the same regulations that had permitted annual inspections for years to no longer authorize those inspections. Then, only complaint-driven
inspections supposedly were authorized. Staloski said that DOH’s policy during Governor Ridge’s administration was motivated by a desire not to be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions.
...
Lawyers at the Pennsylvania Department of State behaved in the same fashion."

www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 23, 2013 1:58:13 PM

"I don't see where the State deliberately stopped inspecting his clinic or that there was any conspiracy to do so."

Yeah. 30 pages from a Grand Jury detailing the state's politically motivated gross neglect is no evidence at all. Some people "don't see" because they don't want to see.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 23, 2013 2:02:01 PM

Matt Bowman:

You say: "DN, the more you interminably insist that prolifers should stop talking about Gosnell, the more we are reassured that we should continue to do so because it has struck a deep nerve that pro abortion people cannot deal with."

I have no problem with pro-lifers talking about Gosnell all they want. I personally found the lack of media coverage odd, and I am glad to see the case receiving more attention. As far as I am concerned pro-lifers can say anything they want to say. It's a free country. I am sure there will be at least some who are pro-choice who are shaken by the case and might moderate their position. That does not keep me from thinking that there is good reason why anyone who has no problem with early abortions should see the Gosnell case as having any relevance to anything other than post-viability abortions, which I think most who are pro-choice are not comfortable with in the first place. I would have no problem at all with the Gosnell case resulting in closer monitoring of abortion providers and stronger restrictions on late-term abortions.

I am no medical expert, but I don't see any reason why a post-viability abortion would ever be necessary, although if it were necessary to save the life of the mother, I can't see pro-life politicians prohibiting it.

Posted by: David | Apr 23, 2013 2:34:45 PM

"I have no problem with pro-lifers talking about Gosnell all they want."

Wonderful, then we're in agreement

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 23, 2013 2:41:16 PM

Well, Mr. Bowman, I try to see things as they are. And if that was done, then shame on them. But it didn't deter Mr. Gosnell, did it? And that makes me question the effectiveness of laws to eliminate abortion. I think that American Civil Law (and I'm not a lawyer and I have no legal training) fares poorly when it deals with items of personal vice (for lack of a better term). The list is long in this area: sodomy, Prohibition, contraception, adultery, marijuana and I think that abortion could be included on it. I am in favor of keeping government from funding abortion but I also think that criminal prosecution of the women who have abortions and their doctors would not solve what is really a cultural problem (plus it would take up increasingly scarce incarceration budgets).

This also seems to be slightly relevant and just came out on the Philly Inquirer

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/breaking/20130423_Judge_tosses_three_murder_counts_against_Kermit_Gosnell.html

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 23, 2013 2:54:20 PM

David Nickol,

I realize that some people think that the human entity gains humanity merely on the basis of geography (and not development), and that the third-trimester human entity in the womb is not a human person with no corresponding human rights while the second-trimester human entity outside of the womb is a premature human baby with corresponding human rights. I wasn’t speaking about these people with extreme views. I was speaking about the broad middle of "pro-choice, but...." people.

I realize that some extreme pro-abortion supporters (and you yourself?) might think that it is only birth that is the distinguishing factor which affects the nature of the human entity. And I realize that some extreme pro-abortion supporters (and you yourself?) might think that Dr. Gosnell would have been acting morally if he had just conducted his abortions within the womb. And I realize that some extreme pro-abortion supporters (and you yourself) don’t think that the Gosnell case illustrates any particular point about abortion because the case is not about abortion in any way.

But here’s my point, which you keep on missing: to a lot of people in the broad middle of "pro-choice, but...", to a lot of a non-pro-life and pro-choice advocates, the Gosnell case *does* illustrate a point about abortion and does make an argument to them that birth is a baseless milestone when considering the morality of late-term abortion. Again, please see the Simon, Powers, and Hennenberger articles.

You keep on saying that the Gosnell case doesn’t make an argument against abortion. I know that *you* don’t think it does, but it’s undeniable that the Gosnell has acted as an argument against abortion for several non-pro-life and pro-choice supporters. It makes no sense for you to keep on declaring that the Gosnell case isn’t an argument against abortion when pro-choice commentators are themselves admitting that the Gosnell case is making them reconsider their own positions on abortion.

I have no idea why you keep on talking about conception. The fact that some people may be uncertain about when a human person begins is irrelevant to them discussing and concluding that a human person exists at some later stage of development.

Posted by: Thales | Apr 23, 2013 5:57:37 PM

".... the Gosnell case *does* illustrate a point about abortion and does make an argument to them that birth is a baseless milestone when considering the morality of late-term abortion."

Thales,

I have no idea why you seem to think I am some kind of pro-abortion extremist. Certainly if you limit the discussion to LATE-TERM abortions, and someone who is ardently pro-choice argues that killing a VIABLE infant ten minutes before it is aborted is MORALLY acceptable, but killing it ten minutes after it is aborted is murder, if you ask them what the moral difference is, I don't know what answer they could come up with that is convincing. I personally have no objection to putting very tight restrictions on late-term abortions, restricting them only when the mother is in serious danger.

It is important to note that in the cases for which Gosnell is being tried (and in many, many others), he was performing ILLEGAL abortions. Abortion is not permitted after 24 weeks in Pennsylvania. Gosnell wasn't performing legal abortions and then killing born-alive infants. He was performing illegal abortions—abortions after week 24—when babies had a reasonable chance of survival. So there, in my opinion, goes your argument that the Gosnell trial is an argument against late-term abortions. Gosnell was performing abortions that were so late-term they were already illegal. If Gosnell had obeyed the law, there would have been no viable babies to kill, because he would not have done any abortions involving viable babies.

You say: "I have no idea why you keep on talking about conception. The fact that some people may be uncertain about when a human person begins is irrelevant to them discussing and concluding that a human person exists at some later stage of development."

Unless I am very profoundly mistaken, your answer to when a person comes into existence is "at conception," and that is the answer of the pro-life movement, as well. The pro-life movement, again unless I am profoundly mistaken, wants to outlaw *all* abortions. You also said earlier that the pro-choice movement doesn't have an answer for when human life begins, but the pro-life movement does. Surely you were talking about conception, weren't you? I personally would count myself among those who believe that a late-term, viable baby must be treated as a person. But I find it very difficult to maintain that a fertilized egg is a person. (Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe you would claim it is.) So it seems very reasonable to me to conclude that somewhere in between conception and the last several weeks of pregnancy, we're dealing with a human person.

So you can count me among the people who believe that *morally*, it made no difference if Gosnell killed viable babies before or after aborting them. But that certainly doesn't, to me, raise any questions about earlier abortions.

In sum, Gosnell is being tried for murder, not abortion. He killed babies after they were aborted. However, if those babies had not been alive after they were aborted, Gosnell could have been put on trial for performing them anyway, because they were illegal. Stricter laws were not necessary to have prevented what Gosnell was doing or at least to catch him earlier. It was enforcement of the laws that was lacking.

If the Gosnell trial makes pro-choice people "stop and think" and reconsider their opinion of abortion *in general*, then I don't think they understand what the trial is about. People definitely *should* be appalled at what Gosnell is alleged to have done, because if it is true, he was performing abortions that the law did not allow him to perform.

Posted by: David | Apr 23, 2013 7:31:07 PM

David,

"People definitely *should* be appalled at what Gosnell is alleged to have done, because if it is true, he was performing abortions that the law did not allow him to perform."

Heh. I'm amused you said that. David, you might be appalled by the Gosnell case because he was violating the law. But I'll let you in on secret: many other people, including pro-choice people, are appalled because Gosnell was killing human entities which appear to the eyes of these pro-choice people to be entitled to some level of human dignity.

Here's another secret: to some pro-choice people, once they recognize the humanity of an unborn human entity, they start to question whether late-term abortion is morally permissible or not. And believe it or not, because the pro-choice position doesn't have a consistent answer to when humanity begins, when some pro-choice people see the humanity in a late-term human entity, these same pro-choice people start to wonder about the humanity of an unborn human entity before late-term. And, hold on to your socks... some pro-choice people start to question the morality of all abortion. It happens all the time.

So, the Gosnell case is an argument for the humanity of a human entity during late-term pregnancy, and by extension, the Gosnell case is an argument against abortion. Now, *you* might think that the Gosnell is not an argument against abortion. But other pro-choice people think it's argument against abortion. I've pointed out to you three commentaries already. What's more, there is the example of the dozens, hundreds, thousands of conversions of formerly pro-choice advocates who changed their mind after they recognized the humanity of an unborn human entity.

Posted by: Thales | Apr 23, 2013 8:30:22 PM

Thales,

You say: "But I'll let you in on secret: many other people, including pro-choice people, are appalled because Gosnell was killing human entities which appear to the eyes of these pro-choice people to be entitled to some level of human dignity."

Are you actually paying any attention to what I am saying? *I* am appalled at what Gosnell was doing. He is on trial for murder, and even though the judge threw out three counts today, there are four counts remaining. I think he carried out murder on a large scale, killing viable babies that were born alive as the result of illegal, post-24-week abortions. Killing born-alive, viable babies isn't "killing human entities which appear to the eyes of these pro-choice people to be entitled to some level of human dignity." It's killing people. Some of those who worked for him have already plead guilty.

I can't see any good reason why those who are pro-choice should change their stance because one abortionist was performing illegal abortions and killing babies who survived the abortion However, if the horror of it all creeps out some people who are pro-choice and makes them wonder if they have been wrong, that's a matter of their own consciences.

Posted by: David | Apr 23, 2013 10:26:01 PM

David,

"However, if the horror of it all creeps out some people who are pro-choice and makes them wonder if they have been wrong, that's a matter of their own consciences."

Good. Glad we've come to a resolution of our debate.

A final question I'm curious about: would you be appalled if Gosnell was doing in-the-womb abortions in a jurisdiction that had legalized post-24-week abortions? (I suspect you wouldn't be appalled, and that's okay if that's your position. That would be your position, and my point all along has been that some pro-choice people would disagree with you, as they would take pause and begin to question whether these abortions were moral based on the Gosnell trial.)

Posted by: Thales | Apr 23, 2013 10:58:22 PM

Thales,

You say: "I suspect you wouldn't be appalled, and that's okay if that's your position."

My position is that it is wrong to perform an abortion—whether legal or illegal—at a stage where you have to kill the fetus/baby either before or after the abortion to make sure it doesn't survive. If a viable, unborn child must be sacrificed to save the life of the mother, then I have no objection, but to the best of my knowledge, that circumstance would not arise in the United States or anywhere else with modern medical technology.

Posted by: David | Apr 24, 2013 10:42:06 AM

Mr. Bowman,

Couldn't the failure to inspect the clinics, as indicated in the grand jury report, be attributed not to pro-choice pressure but mostly to the fact that Tom Ridge was a Republican and adopted the Republican philosophy of not doing such inspections because they would clash with insurance interests? This would seem to be keeping in line with the GOP's philosophy of lax regulatory oversight of health and safety issues. Certainly the electoral politics of Pennsylvania are not pro choice so it seems even harder to imagine that the abortion industry could have exercised this kind of influence. I can also tell you that Mr. Ridge's later assignment as the first Secretary as DHS wasn't exactly an exercise in detail, either.

Also, doesn't the report also state that Gosnell applied for certification from the National Abortion Foundation and they rejected him because he didn't meet their standards, which seem to be tougher than Pennsylvania's regulations?

Obviously, there was a massive failure here but I am doubtful that it is due to the abortion industry but GOP reluctance to inspect any such facilities that have to do with health and safety.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Apr 24, 2013 12:03:12 PM

More on "lessons learned" including "did you read the grand jury report":

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/04/james-tarantos-anti-choice-trooferism

Posted by: Joe | Apr 24, 2013 12:59:33 PM

I'm not defending Gosnell's actions. However, I think that issue with abortion is just as complex for pro-lifers as it is for those that are pro-choice. The Catholic Church supports an absolute ban on abortion. There are instances in which an abortion may be necessary to protect the life of the mother. There are also instances in complicated multiple birth pregnancies in which the life of the mother and the other unborn children in the womb may also be endangered without an abortion. These circumstances stand to injure other innocent lives and abortion might be necessary to protect them.

There's also a problem with the Catholic Church’s strong opposition to abortion while also opposing other preventive measures to abortion such as widespread use of contraceptives and sexual education. The Catholic Church should support increased sexual education and the use of contraceptives in order to combat abortion. Our opportunity to protect innocent life can begin before a pregnancy ever occurs in the first place. It isn’t enough just to make abortions illegal, instead the Catholic Church should work to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, the Catholic Church should allow same-sex couples to adopt children so that more children can be placed in loving homes instead of being placed in an orphanage. The Catholic Church can pursue these proactive means of combating abortions by accepting these policies that stop unwanted pregnancies and ensure that unwanted children have safe, healthy homes.

Posted by: Camal | Apr 24, 2013 3:20:30 PM

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