Opinion: Murder? The Gosnell trial and media silence

Kermit Barron Gosnell

By Daniel Burton
If you’ve not heard about Gosnell, I recommend you google it. According to Wikipedia (I know, the lazy man’s research tool):

Kermit Barron Gosnell is an American medical doctor who ran two women’s health clinics in Philadelphia between 1972 and 2011, and as of April 2013, is on trial for first and third degree murder, illegal prescribing of drugs, and related offenses.

It’s a very sterilized description. It gets more gruesome, though, as you start clicking links:

One woman died when an unlicensed employee in the clinic over-sedated her to keep her out until Gosnell, out of the clinic at the time, arrived. She was a healthy 41-year old

It’s reported that “Gosnell has been named in at least 46 malpractice suits, including one over the death of a 22-year-old mother who died of sepsis and a perforated uterus in 2000. Many others also involve perforated uteruses. Gosnell sometimes sewed up the injury without telling women their uteruses had been perforated,[.]“

According to page 87 of the Grand Jury report, Gosnell would charge up to $3,000 for abortions at 30 weeks, six weeks after the legal limit in Pennsylvania, when fetuses have become viable outside the womb. To give some context, a friend of our family’s recently gave birth at 20 weeks and while the child is in intensive care, it is alive and will be well.

According to page 23 of the Presentment of the Grand Jury, “Gosnell’s staff testified that they often witnessed Gosnell killing large, late-term babies whom they had observed breathing and moving.”

And here is where it gets disturbing. What follows may make you squeamish and explains why Gosnell’s clinics have been given the infamous nickname “House of Horrors.” All are directly quoted from either the Presentment or the Grand Jury report:

  • According to an ultrasound, the 17-year old mother was 29.4 weeks pregnant. Gosnell induced labor and sedated the mother, who delivered a baby boy. Cross saw [the baby boy] breathe and move. Gosnell dismissed Cross’s observations, telling her, “it’s the baby’s reflexes. It’s not really moving.” Cross told us that the baby was 18 to 19 inches long and nearly the size of her own newborn daughter, who was six pounds, six ounces at birth. Even Gosnell commented on [the baby boy’s] size, joking “this baby is big enough to walk around with me or walk me to the bus stop.” Cross testified that she saw “the doctor just slit the neck” and place the remains in a clear plastic shoe box for disposal.
  • The search team discovered red biohazard bags containing the remains of 47 fetuses, which were turned over to the medical examiner. One was ”Baby Boy B,” found frozen in a plastic spring-water jug […]. The medical examiner determined that this baby had a gestational age of at least 28 weeks. Kareema Cross testified that she saw Williams [an employee of Gosnell] cut the neck of Baby C, who had been moving and breathing for approximately 20 minutes. Gosnell had delivered the baby and put it on a counter while he suctioned the placenta from the mother. Williams called Cross [an employee of Gosnell] over to look at the baby because it was breathing and moving its arms when Williams pulled on them. After touching the baby, Williams slit its neck. When asked why Williams had killed the baby, Cross answered: Because the baby, I guess, because the baby was moving and breathing. And she see Dr. Gosnell do it so many times, I guess she felt, you know, she can do it. It’s okay.
  • Ashley Baldwin testified that she heard a baby crying in the large procedure room (the one used for later-term abortions) and saw it moving. She said Lynda Williams summoned Dr. Gosnell, who then went into the procedure room where the baby was. Ashley testified that Dr. Gosnell was the only person in the room with the baby, that he came out of the room and put the baby in the waste bin, and that she saw an incision. Kareema Cross testified that Ashley had called her over because she had heard the baby crying; Cross said that she heard this baby “whine” while Dr. Gosnell was alone in the procedure room with the baby. Based on the testimony of the neonatology expert, we believe this baby must have been at least 23 weeks of age and, because it cried more than once, probably older. This baby was born alive, and consistent with the medical guidelines and standards cited by the neonatology expert should have been resuscitated. Instead, it was killed.

A lot of issues are difficult. Ask two Republicans or two Democrats for their take on immigration reform or gay marriage, and you’re likely to find they disagree. They are not clear cut issues.

Abortion, however, is not and should not be one of those issues. A woman’s right to choose whether she has a baby should begin, and end, at the point when she may choose to engage in consensual sexual relations. Rape, incest, and danger to the mother’s life aside, it’s difficult to find a gray area for abortion.

In fact, not only is it difficult to find, but the clarity of that distinction has been covered by advocates such as Planned Parenthood–which recently argued “against a state law that would protect babies born alive after a botched abortion from being left to die, or worse yet, killed. She [the Planned Parent lobbyist] was asked about Planned Parenthood’s position on whether an infant born in this situation should receive medical care, she repeatedly testified, “That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider.”

Lest we be confused, we’re talking a baby that is alive and breathing on the operating table and whether it should live is a decision “between patient and the health care provider” says Planned Parenthood. Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood has revised their position in the wake of public outrage that they would advocate the death of infants that survive abortion.

Which turns back to the question here: why are we drawing a distinction from a life in utero and the life delivered?

But the question remains: How can killing a newborn infant be illegal and shocking to the collective conscience, yet ending that same life moments, days or weeks before be perfectly legal and socially acceptable as long as the baby is still in the womb? There is no logical answer.

Aside from how a baby receives food and oxygen, what changes occur to make the baby human out of the womb but something other than human the second before? Does the baby’s brain magically begin activity; does his or her heartbeat suddenly begin; does the baby abruptly begin moving on his or her own after birth? No, of course not. A baby possesses all of these qualities of life in utero.

It’s a tragedy, but perhaps more tragic is the appalling lack of media coverage the trial has received.

A Lexis-Nexis search shows none of the news shows on the three major national television networks has mentioned the Gosnell trial in the last three months. The exception is when Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan hijacked a segment on Meet the Press meant to foment outrage over an anti-abortion rights law in some backward red state.

The Washington Post has not published original reporting on this during the trial and The New York Times saw fit to run one original story on A-17 on the trial’s first day. They’ve been silent ever since, despite headline-worthy testimony.

As Kirstin Powers puts it, it only took Rush Limbaugh to attack Sandra Fluke for women’s groups and the media to work into a frenzy, but the late term abortions of viable infants has been met with media silence. “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.”

Daniel is currently participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, a month-long quest to post every day. Each day should match a letter of the alphabet. Today is the letter I, as in Idealism.

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