We’ve finally located the terminus of the slippery slope. It’s on a side street in Philadelphia, in a modest three-story red-brick building, where a painted sign advertises dental, family planning, family practice, gynecological and physical therapy services. This is under an illustration of two happy parents, swinging a small child between them.
But there are no happy children within these walls. This is an abortion clinic made infamous by a doctor on trial for his life, charged with killing seven infants who survived abortions, and a woman who died during “the procedure.” The State of Pennsylvania wants to execute Dr. Kermit Gosnell for the crimes, if crimes they were. But it might not be so easy for the state. The law, as muddled abortion law makes clear, “is a ass.”
By the findings adduced in grand jury testimony, Kermit Gosnell stands convicted of monsterhood. He treated his patients badly and routinely killed live infants who to his great inconvenience survived their trip down the birth canal. “These killings,” the grand jury said, “became so routine that no one could put an exact number on them.” Most of the women are black, as the doctor is, and this is why the mainstream media ignored the trial until pressured to take notice.
Dr. Gosnell, finding humor in his grisly work, seemed to have aspired to be a stand-up comic. One witness said he joked after one abortion that the baby, at 19 inches in length and weighing six pounds, was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” When the survivor of another abortion writhed in pain as the doctor pressed a pair of scissors around his neck, preparing the snip his spinal column, the doctor joked: “That’s what you call a chicken with its head cut off.”
Another witness told how Dr. Gosnell put another survivor on a countertop to die while he attended the mother. He waited 20 minutes for the child to die, but after flailing its arms about but refusing to die, the doctor directed an assistant to “slit its neck.” She did and the child finally expired.
Dr. Gosnell is not typical of doctors who perform abortions; he was one of the rare ones who performed late-term abortions. His clinic is not typical, either. Patients lay in examining rooms reeking of cat droppings and splattered with blood from previous “procedures.” When the cops raided the clinic, they found the remains of 45 infants stored in “bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons, even in cat-food containers.” The grand jury indictment said some fetuses were frozen in an office refrigerator and the doctor kept “rows of jars” filled with severed baby feet.
But as monstrous as he is, under the law as written and laid down by the Supreme Court he might not be a criminal. “Dr. Gosnell,” writes Jon A. Shields, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, in the Weekly Standard magazine, “fits the profile of a sociopathic killer. But unlike most such deviants, Gosnell could argue that he acted within his constitutional rights.”
This is where the slippery slope has brought us. Under Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton and the Supreme Court decisions that followed from it, doctors have an unbounded right to perform abortions until the moment of birth. The states can write exceptions, even banning third-trimester abortions, but exceptions must be allowed for the health of the mother, considering “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The decision goes to the doctor. Under Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court decreed that determining the necessity of an abortion is a “professional judgment” the “physician will be called on to make routinely.”
Prof. Shields thinks that the doctor, vile though he may be, is probably guilty under the law only of two relatively minor offenses. State law requires a second medical opinion for a third-term abortion and Dr. Gosnell did not get one. State law further requires that a doctor must try to save an infant who survives an abortion, and Dr. Gosnell did not do that, either. Given the permissive attitude toward abortion — even the president of the United States smiles on them, and as a state senator in Illinois, Barack Obama declined to vote for legislation protecting an infant who survives an abortion — executing Dr. Gosnell is not likely. Given the law as decreed by judges, he may beat the rap.
The horror of the Gosnell clinic is not what the justices of the Supreme Court thought they were protecting in 1973, nor would even Planned Parenthood make the Philadelphia sociopath their poster boy for abortion rights. Nevertheless, here we are. Nobody has enjoyed the slide down the slope.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.