This is horrible

I am in favour of a woman’s right to make her own sexual choices. This encapsulates her right to choose her sexual partner, her right to use contraception, and her right to choose whether or not she has a child. I am unmoved by the “logic” of the anti-choicers, which conflates the life of a developing embryo with the life of a fully-grown human person. I am similarly unmoved by their constant appeals to emotion, thrusting pictures of aborted fetuses in the faces of people who already have a difficult decision to make.

I am not, however, unmoved by this:

West Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell routinely delivered live babies in the third trimester of pregnancy, then murdered them by “sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord,” according to the Philadelphia district attorney. One newborn who weighed almost 6 pounds was so big “the doctor joked . . . this baby ‘could walk me to the bus stop.'”

Those are among the jaw-dropping details — complete with photographs — in a 260-page grand jury report released Wednesday that charges Gosnell, 69, with the murder of a patient and seven infants.

The article goes on to detail some of the abject depravity with which this “doctor” treated his victims patients. He hired unqualified people to perform medical procedures, gave inadequate care, and operated under nightmarish conditions:

What they found, according to the report, was “filthy, deplorable, and disgusting”: blood on the floor; the stench of urine; cat feces on the stairs; semiconscious women moaning in the waiting or recovery rooms, covered with bloodstained blankets; broken equipment; blocked or locked exits.

Whatever your feelings on abortion, you can’t help but be disgusted by not only the way in which this man conducted himself, but at the utter lack of humanity at his core. People pursuing medical care are at a fundamental disadvantage – they’re in severe need and are afraid for their safety. This is precisely the reason why all health care practitioners must undergo extensive medical ethics training (I myself have been the recipient of such training at least 7 times over the course of my short career). When someone provides medical care to another, they enter a position of both authority and trust. Those types of relationships are far too easy to abuse – one person is willing to sacrifice a great deal of their autonomy for the chance at relief from suffering. When you’re the person to whom autonomy is being given, you have a moral obligation to work for the best interests of that person, since that person would (under different circumstances) be operating for their own best interest.

Once again I find myself flummoxed by my inability to express sufficiently my utter horror and disgust at anyone who would systematically abuse this kind of trust. Most health care professionals I have had the pleasure of working with take the oaths and ethics of the caregiver-patient dynamic extremely seriously. I know that I do, even though I rarely have any contact with patients in my day-to-day work. To imagine that someone would not only dismiss that ethical responsibility, but outright contravene it in such an egregious and deleterious way for years shocks me. That this happened under the noses of the people who had a responsibility to regulate and inspect it depresses me beyond all belief.

PZ Myers says that this isn’t an argument about the morality of the practice of abortion, and for the most part I agree with him. He hits it squarely on the head when he says this:

Gosnell is precisely the kind of butcher the pro-choice movement opposes. No one endorses bad medicine and unrestricted, unregulated, cowboy surgery like Gosnell practiced — what he represents is the kind of back-alley deadly hackery that the anti-choice movement would have as the only possible recourse, if they had their way. If anything, the Gosnell case is an argument for legal abortion.

Outlawing abortion, as we have seen from international cases like Romania, and even within the United States, does not stop it from happening. All it does is reduce access to safe abortions, allowing monsters like Gosnell to maim more women who have no other options. Criminalizing abortion disproportionately affects the poor, particularly people of colour and immigrants who do not have the same access to resources and illicit medical services that their wealthier counterparts do.

I am deeply aggrieved and horrified that a remorseless killer like Kermit Gosnell exists and was allowed to continue hurting women for so long. I don’t know what the answer to this problem is, but I am confident that putting more women in the tender merciful hands of amoral ghouls like Kermit Gosnell is a step in the wrong direction.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!


  1. grassrute says

    I agree with you that this is horrible, but for very different reasons. When you state that you’re “aggrieved and horrified that a remorseless killer like Kermit Gosnell exists” I applaud you, but then you add “and was allowed to continue hurting women for so long.” A man is “sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord” and your only concern is how hurt the women are?

    If you’ve ever been in the delivery room during a birth, while there you could have experienced blood on the floor; the stench of urine, women moaning and bloodstained blankets. Mentioning these things falls within the description of “constant appeals to emotion.” If Kermit Gosnell’s procedure was carried out in a hospital, would you be okay with it?

    For some perspective, imagine a mother felt her children were causing her hardship and wanted to get rid of them. She goes to a ‘child extermination clinic’ where a licenced exterminator rams scissors into the back of her children’s neck killing them. As long as this can be carried out without the woman moaning over what took place, blood spilling and remaining on the floor, offensive odder, or soiling of blankets you’re okay with it.

    It’s okay to murder as long as the murderer is professional and licenced, and the one ordering the hit isn’t too traumatized by the kill.

  2. says

    I’m not sure what that’s supposed to be a ‘perspective’ on, but since abortion (even late term abortion, which is STRICTLY regulated and only performed when the mother’s life is in imminent danger) has NOTHING AT ALL to do with “child extermination”, I’m going to continue to ignore such a moronic line of questioning. You’re in favour of people being able to eat meat – SO THEN YOU’RE OKAY IF I DEVOUR YOUR PETS WHILE YOU WATCH?!?!?! You might be that stupid, but I most certainly am not.

  3. says

    Just out of curiosity, do you know anything at all about embryology? Do you think that at the moment of conception a tiny human being is present and expands in size over 9 months?

  4. grassrute says

    These babies were delivered alive, then killed with scissors. That is plain and simple murder, no knowledge of embryology required!

  5. says

    True. It was certainly horrible that he did that, and if I failed to make that point clear, that’s a failure on my part. My apologies for blowing up.

  6. grassrute says

    Crommunist – You referenced PZ Myers who states “He has also been charged with the murders of seven babies, and there I have to disagree.” So I assumed you didn’t feel the killing of those babies was murder. I am very happy, in this instance, to have been wrong.

    This does bring me to a question: What is the difference between these newborns and their state 5 minutes prior to being born? When do you think life begins?

  7. says

    I see what’s happening here. I am not generally in favour of late-term abortions, and as I said they are tightly controlled and should be performed only when the mother’s life is at risk. IF these were late-term abortions performed for that reason, then it’s not accurate to call them ‘murder’. Murder has a very specific definition. If I shoot Brian in order to prevent him from killing you, that isn’t murder. I doubt it would even be considered homicide provided I could demonstrate that there was no other way of preventing your death.

    Neither you nor I have the details to make the call as to the circumstances around these procedures. If the act of “sticking scissors in the spinal cord” is a graphic description of proper medical practice, then I am not in a position to judge the rightness of the action, in the same way that “slicing open someone’s chest and cutting out a piece of their beating heart” is a graphic description of bypass surgery.

    I don’t think there is any difference between a newborn and a baby during labour. Birth doesn’t hold any kind of magical significance for me, but neither does conception. Life began, as best we can estimate, more than 3.5 billion years ago. I would definitely be opposed to stopping that process. If we define human existence by any kind of consistent standard, it’s the ability to think and reason that separates humans from other animals. That ability begins at around 2 years of age. If you put me in a corner and forced me to answer the question “when does human life begin” I guess I’d say at around 2 years old.

  8. says

    If, however, you’re asking me where I would draw the line as to when it is no longer acceptable to perform abortion, I’d offer the time at which the fetus can feel pain as a potential time period. Minimizing suffering is a worthwhile ideal, but that equation necessarily includes the suffering of the mother.

  9. grassrute says

    Now that I’ve retrieved my jaw from the floor, I must question your definition of humanity. I have a daughter who is almost 1 year old who, by that definition, is of no more value than an animal. Just as dogs give birth to dogs, humans give birth to humans. By your definition, those with mental illness aren’t human either. Perhaps if we give them anesthetics, it’s okay to kill them all. At the very least, it’s not as bad as killing someone who has to ability to think and reason. The suggestion defies logic.

    Regarding late-term abortions, could you provide one example of a late term abortion that was necessary in order to save the mother?

    Naming something a “proper medical practice” doesn’t make it right. Unlike heart surgery, in the case of abortion, someone dies! The very purpose of heart surgery is to save a life whereas with abortion, it is to take life. You happen to place very little value on the life in question. All human life is of equal value and it is the responsibility of those who can reason to defend those who cannot, just as it is their responsibility to defend the defenceless.

    I’m not saying that life begins at conception either, but as long as I’m not sure, I won’t take the chance that I may be killing someone.

  10. says

    You can look up ectopic pregnancy if you’re unaware of a circumstance where the life of the mother is put at risk during pregnancy. That is just one of several examples where late-term abortions may be necessary (other things like bleeding or clotting disorders, severe gestational diabetes, other types of genetic disorders could also preclude a healthy birth).

    “Just as dogs give birth to dogs, humans give birth to humans.”

    Uhh… what? Dogs represent a variety of subspecies that we collectively call “dog”. Horses can give birth to non-horses. Tigers can give birth to non-tigers. The definition of species of birth parents is a circular one that assumes that species have remained fixed since… well, forever. Species adapt and change, and if you wind the clock back long enough you’ll find a blurry line separating one species from another. While I’d tend to agree with the conventional, colloquial definition of what makes a ‘human’, colloquial definitions have no place in these kinds of discussion.

    My point about proper medical practice is that neither you nor I have sufficient facts to make a judgment about the procedure as described. We don’t know if the aborted fetuses would have been able to survive after the delivery, we don’t know the circumstances surrounding the abortions. If they were viable babies, then yes killing them is a crime. We don’t know whether or not that was the case here. And again, you say that “someone dies” – a collection of human cells dies. A person is the result of a great number of experiences, far more than the simple mixing of fluids and tissues. How does it not diminish us all to say that everything that is human about us is contained in a single fertilized cell?

    Please note that I never suggested that I was in favour of involuntarily euthanizing the mentally ill (I am pretty sure you meant developmentally challenged rather than someone with depression?). My point is that the definition of ‘human’ is more complex than just pointing and saying “that’s a human, that’s not”. I’m sure your 1 year-old has great value to you, and please rest assured that I would treat her with the same kindness that I would treat any child – I just don’t see a scientific reason for it. It would make for a better world if everyone treated 1 year-old children with loving care and ensured that they are protected from all types of harm, but that doesn’t mean that we grant the same rights to a 1 year-old that we do to an 18 year-old.

    Please be more sparing with your use of the word “logic”. My statement, while certainly monstrous, is perfectly logical. It would just have horrific consequences if it were actually the case that everyone believed it as written.

  11. grassrute says

    “I am pretty sure you meant developmentally challenged rather than someone with depression?” Yup, I guess I should have been more clear.
    I must agree with some of your closing statement: “My statement, while certainly monstrous,” understatement! “It would just have horrific consequences if it were actually the case that everyone believed it as written.” No doubt

  12. Angela Squires says

    From a biological perspective humans are animals; that we have developed self awareness and conceptual thought processes places us apart from animals or does it? An animal fetus and prior to medical advances, a human fetus that was not viable would naturally abort, be born dead or die soon after birth. Humans have altered that natural process and it can be argued that we have non-viable humans ‘living’ in care at societal expense while healthy children go hungry.
    Crommunist makes a very good point about 2 year olds. In the past if an infant made it to that age without heroic medical intervention they were usually viable in a biological sense.
    The Earth can only support so many creatures but we have changed the balance of nature such that humanity is overpopulating to the detriment of other animals and plants.
    I am pro-choice and it appears to me that such as Gosnell only exist in modern society because of lack of access for many women to safe abortion procedures. No birth control method is 100% foolproof, many women have access to none, and yet bear many children they cannot feed. In nature these human animals would simply die for lack of care; better they not live to suffer.

  13. danielrudolph says

    Ugh. Some seriously bad arguments being made in that thread. If it weren’t over a year old and dead, I’d be all over some of it. I guess I missed it the first time around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *