Aside from wishing that people would simply not talk about Kermit Gosnell at all, pro-choice groups in American politics would really like everyone to understand that Kermit Gosnell was a horrific aberration. As a group, the pro-choice movement tends to circle the wagon around late-term abortionists and idolize them. George Tiller, for example, was considered a hero even before his murder made him a martyr. So, when the late term abortion is legal, you’re a women’s rights crusader and paragon of sacrifice and bravery. But, if you take the exact same fetus and more or less the same method of execution and carry it out outside the womb, then all of a sudden that is something completely and totally different. So: killing human beings inside the womb at (for example) 24 weeks and killing human beings outside the womb (also, for example, at 24 weeks) are basically unrelated practices, as far as the pro-choice movement is concerned. One gets you awards and fame, the other gets you a life-term prison sentence.
The pro-life side is, to put it mildly, rather skeptical of this bright-line distinction.
When pro-choice individuals are honest, of course, they also admit that there’s not much of a distinction at all. Pro-choice philosophers openly call for infanticide (aka “after birth abortion“), so have Planned Parenthood spokespersons, and most notably there’s an extensive article called “Second trimester abortion provision: breaking the silence and changing the discourse” by an abortionist about the personal trauma she feels when carrying out late-term abortions. The truth is undeniable: abortion–and especially late-term abortion–is an act of savage and barbaric violence that dehumanizes everyone concerned: the woman, the abortionist, and of course the unborn (or born, does it really make a difference?) human being.
This may seem judgmental to women in crisis pregnancies, but the pro-life movement has from the earliest days of woman’s suffrage understood that abortion is a means for exploiting women who, because of an unplanned pregnancy, are in an incredibly vulnerable position. Rather than the stereotypical angry abortion clinic protester yelling at women or calling them murderers, the pro-life movement as I have known it my entire life is best summarized by this bumper sticker I once saw: Abortion has two victims: One killed and one wounded.
Today I read tragic news from Texas that confirms the pro-life understanding of abortion (especially late-term abortion) as a dehumanizing practice. WARNING: THIS NEWS IS GRAPHIC.
The Daily Mail reports that a new “house of horrors” has been discovered in Texas where abortionist Douglas Karpen delivered live babies during third trimester before killing them. The extreme nature of the charges explain why the story is getting it’s biggest coverage in a UK tabloid, but the evidence is credible. The New York Times reports Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has called for an investigation, and the Harris County district attorney’s office is opening one. In addition, the Houston Chronicle vetted the three eyewitnesses at the center of the case and determined (based on pay stubs) that they had indeed been employed by the clinic. There are also photos and videos, although I don’t have the stomach to look at more of those.
So, what was Karpen up to? Like Gosnell, he would “snip” the spinal cords of living newborns with scissors. Alternatively, he killed some by physically twisting their heads off with his bare hands or ripping their throats out with forceps. I guess he was experimenting with different techniques? If they were too big to deliver whole, he would dismember them in the womb and then pull the pieces out. (Why is that controversial? It’s the standard legal abortion technique.) This wasn’t some weird exception, either. The news coverage of Gosnell’s conviction mentions that he was found guilty on three counts of murder, but they neglect that he killed hundreds of newborns. They just didn’t have physical evidence that the others had been delivered alive before being killed. After all: if you kill the unborn human being inside her mother’s womb it is (generally, depending on the state) legal. Same thing was going on in Douglas Karpen’s clinic. Here’s testimony from a clinic worker:
When he did an abortion, especially an over 20 week abortion, most of the time the fetus would come completely out before he either cut the spinal cord or he introduced one of the instruments into the soft spot of the fetus in order to kill it…. or actually twisting the head off the neck with his own bare hands. It was still alive because it was still moving and you could see the stomach breathing.
What will it take for people to understand that infanticide is not just the inevitable theoretical but also the practical consequence of America’s gruesomely liberal abortion laws? When you tell doctors that they can take $4,000 for killing a human being and that this not only acceptable but laudable, when you treat these men and women as heroes, what do you expect to be the result? The reality is that killing a human being is psychologically traumatic. People who do that for money, as their career, either have something wrong with them already or break something inside of themselves as they go. That’s the reason abortion clinics are becoming so rare, by the way. It’s really hard to convince idealistic, freshly minted MDs to take up the practice of killing instead of healing. I haven’t found any reporting on the condition of the clinic–Kermit Gosnell’s was filthy, filled with body parts of dead bodies, and was operated in a racist way that gave preferences to white mothers over black mothers, but I would be surprised if a lot of the same weren’t also true of Douglas Karpen’s facility.
UPDATE: I’ve since found that at least one of Karpen’s patients died. Denise Montoya was given an abortion in 1988 when she was 15 years old and 25 weeks pregnant. Karpen performed the procedure which led to Montoya’s death. Her parents sued, alleging that the clinic “failed to adequately explain the risks of the procedure, and had not provided consent forms, or had the parents sign any informed consent document, prior to the fatal abortion.” Another lawsuit stemmed from Nicolette C.’s partial abortion. Nicolette called from Louisiana to ask for advice, and the clinic quoted her a price of about $900 and said it would go up every week. They quoted her over $1,000 after she waited 10 days, but when she arrived at the clinic they said the price was $1,800. Nicolette, alone, 16, without parental notice or consent, tried to pawn her jewelry to meet the higher price. She finally had to return home and borrow money before the clinic would begin the abortion by inserting a laminaria to start dilation. Nicolette changed her mind, however, and returned to the clinic to beg them to remove the laminaria and stop the abortion. (This is a procedure that can be done.) According to the suit the clinic and Karpen lied to Nicolette and refused to remove the laminaria. Finally Nicolette and her mom sought emergency help at a hospital where Nicolette gave birth to a premature little girl. The baby girl survived 6 months before dying. As I suspected, the pattern of wanton cruelty and indifference lives on with late-term abortion providers.
One of the most important consequences of revelations about Gosnell, Karpen, and other late-term abortionists is the collapse of the myth that pro-life activists are concerned only with stopping abortion and not with helping women. Was it really concern for women that led pro-choice groups to cover for Kermit Gosnell? To screen him from any oversight or regulation? To allow him to refer patients from the mainstream National Abortion Federation to his own clinic? To refuse to report his clinic despite being invited to take a tour of the grisly facility? Is it concern for women that leads national organizations like Planned Parenthood to continue to fight tooth and nail against common-sense regulation of abortion clinics that would, for example, hold them up to the same standards as other medical outpatient surgery facilities or require that abortionists have admitting privileges at local hospitals in case something wrong? Is it concern for women that leads Planned Parenthood to not only fail to report evidence of statutory rape, but also to help cover it up? Because let me tell you: if that’s what concern for women looks like, women need some new allies.
I can’t speak for every pro-life organization because I’m not familiar with all of them. I’ve primarily worked with the Virginia Society for Human Life (state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, which is the oldest and largest pro-life organization) and with Secular Pro-Life. Everyone I’ve met at those organizations, and also in my informal discussions with other pro-life activists, cares deeply and sincerely about the welfare of women. We believe that elective abortions are not only wrong because they unnecessarily end innocent human lives, but also because they perpetuate the exploitation of women. Feminists for Life is not an oxymoron. In fact, given the way that the pro-choice movement expresses concern for women by enabling abortionists like Gosnell and Karpen, you might be forgiven for starting to wonder if it was actually the other way around.
It’s perfectly true that late-term abortions are rare. I understand that. As a result, it’s possible for pro-choice people to sincerely believe in early-term abortions as a fundamental right without accepting that elective late-term abortions ought to be legal. But those well-intentioned pro-choice individuals need to understand that their moderate views are not being reflected by the leaders and institutions they often support. If you’re pro-choice and you think Gosnell and Karpen are anomalies, I have news for you: they aren’t. They are logical extensions of the ideology that currently holds sway in the upper echelons of the pro-choice movement. If you’d like to work to reform your own movement to try and make them anomalies, that would be great. But you just might have to overturn Roe v. Wade in the process, because the framework it set up (along with Doe v. Bolton) doesn’t leave an awful lot of wiggle-room.
Are you prepared to do that?
NOTE: This entry was edited Monday morning to correct a mistake I’d made in connecting Operation Rescue (the group that uncovered the evidence against Karpen) and Operation Save America. The history of Operation Rescue is a little confusing, and I got the original Operation Rescue (which is now called Operation Save America) confused with a branch of the original that was called Operation Rescue West but is now called just Operation Rescue. It’s that group, the branch off of the original Operation Rescue, that uncovered this story.)