I will never forget reading through the 281-page grand jury report on the now-infamous Kermit Gosnell in January 2011. Gosnell ran an abortion facility in Philadelphia that involved what he called a “late-term abortion” procedure: the delivery of healthy babies followed by the severing of their necks and spinal cords. The grand jury report outlined the stomach-turning details of these deaths as well as the deplorable conditions at the clinic, the prejudice against minority women, the negligent medical attention that ultimately led to the deaths of two patients and, perhaps most startlingly, the lack of any kind of government oversight. On May 13, Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and more than 200 lesser charges.
Perhaps the one silver lining of the situation is that this abortion shop of horrors has caused many who normally identify themselves as “pro-choice” to question the abortion industry. How could such crimes take place so publicly and for so long? What “choice” is being defended by abortion advocates?
When President Obama was asked about the trial in a mid-April media interview, he declined to comment. He instead responded with the popular old adage that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” In light of the Gosnell trial and the questions it provokes, a review of these three categories seems to be in order.
Safe? Many claim that Gosnell is an outlier. But the unfortunate reality is that most abortion facilities have less regulatory oversight than veterinary clinics and hair salons. At last count, according to the Americans United for Life annual report titled Defending Life (2013), 25 states had abortion clinic regulatory laws on the books, with another seven not being enforced due to litigation (p. 112). Pennsylvania, home to Gosnell’s clinic, imposes “stringent” standards on abortion facilities, but authorities neglected oversight for years. In fact, it was only because of suspected illegal prescriptions that the Gosnell clinic was investigated at all.
In addition, there are numerous physical side effects to abortion, including increased risk of pre-term birth, hemorrhage, menstrual problems, serious infection and death. The abortion drug RU-486, use of which is on the rise, also poses serious health risks.
Legal? A Knights of Columbus-Marist poll in December 2012 showed that 8 out of 10 Americans favor significant limitations on abortion (saying it should be illegal or allowed only in first trimester, only in certain situations, etc.).
But contrary to public opinion, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decisions Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton set the stage for legal abortion at any time during pregnancy for any reason. In fact, the United States and Canada stand with China and North Korea as the four countries with the most permissive abortion laws in the world.
Since the Gosnell trial involved infanticide, it magnified the gruesomeness of abortion. Nonetheless, there are still many politicians and abortion advocates today who support even “partial-birth abortion” and oppose legislation protecting infants born alive during abortion procedures.
Rare? In recent years, there have been more than one million abortions annually in the United States alone. This past January, as we marked the 40th anniversary of Roe, we mourned the loss of some 55 million Americans who have died as a result of abortion in the last four decades. In urban settings such as New York City, four out of 10 babies are aborted. For African-American babies, the abortion rate is even higher at 60 percent. Even with these ratios, New York politicians are currently advocating for fewer abortion restrictions and greater access.
Safe, legal, rare? A more honest motto about abortion should be, “One killed and one wounded.” In this moment when the abortion industry is under greater scrutiny, pro-life Americans would do well to seize the opportunity and begin a dialogue about basic, common-sense truths regarding life and death.
JEANNE MONAHAN is president of the March for Life Education & Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.