Of the many lessons to be learned from the Kermit Gosnell trial, which I have watched in the courtroom, one is that abortion not only destroys babies and their mothers; it destroys the doctors who perform them.
Many observers of Dr. Gosnell have marveled at his composure in the courtroom, and commented on his apparently gentle demeanor and smile. How can this be the same man, they wonder, who is accused of cutting the spinal cords of living children and running an operation that has killed women?
In short, what goes on in the mind, the soul, of one who does abortions?
I have examined this question for decades, conducting meetings and healing programs with former abortionists and former abortion clinic workers, and collaborating with Dr. Philip Ney, the Canadian psychiatrist who has done the bulk of the groundbreaking research on this theme. In a matter of weeks, in fact, I will again bring a group of former abortion providers through a weekend of healing.
Seeking to understand how a person gets into the abortion business, and how they come out, is a fascinating and often scary undertaking. It shows us how a human being can totally disconnect from his own natural responses of horror and aversion to killing, from his own natural warnings of conscience. We’re not talking here about a religious conviction or doctrine. We’re talking about the most basic responses, rooted in human nature, that favor the preservation of oneself, of others and of one’s own species.
What we find is the ability to do what Dr. Gosnell has allegedly done.
Each of us has a natural psychological and physical barrier to killing someone. In normal circumstances, we just can’t bring ourselves to do it. This is part of our humanity. Killing is easier when one dehumanizes the victim first. Bullies engage in name-calling before beating up their victims. Yet in dehumanizing the victim, the perpetrator dehumanizes himself. So it is with abortionists.
What we find is that abortionists normally begin medical training with high hopes that they will help humanity. Most of them, however, come from a childhood marked with abuse or neglect, and have low self-worth. An esteemed mentor may take them aside to show them an abortion, and the process of dehumanization is accelerated as soon as the abortionist-in-training refuses to listen to the voice of conscience. Dr. Ney explains in his book “The Centurion’s Pathway”: “They quell their natural protest, ‘no, you mustn’t do that,’ much like they stilled a protest at their own mistreatment. Once they have passively participated in an abortion, they must begin to rationalize to themselves why they did not protest.”
Dr. David Brewer, a former abortionist, tells his story: “I can remember that day watching the first abortion . I saw a little tiny head, and I saw a piece of a leg, and I saw a tiny hand, and I saw an arm. You know, it was like somebody put a hot poker into me . I had a conscience and that hurt. That was a very hard experience for me to go through, emotionally. So I did what a lot of us do throughout our life, we don’t do anything. I didn’t talk with anybody about it. and do you know what happened? I got to see another abortion. You know what? That one hurt, too. But I kept seeing abortions, and it hurt a little bit less every time I saw one. Do you know what happened next? I got to sit down and do one . The first one that I did was kind of hard. It was like hurting again like a hot poker. But after a while, it got to where it didn’t hurt” (Testimony at “Meet the Abortion Providers” conference in Chicago).
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who launched the abortion industry in America, even aborted his own child, and writes about how he felt. “I swear to you that I had no feelings aside from the sense of accomplishment, the pride of expertise. On inspecting the contents of the bag, I felt only the satisfaction of knowing that I had done a thorough job” (“The Hand of God”).
So yes, I am not at all surprised that Dr. Gosnell is cool, calm and collected, smiling even as he listens to those accusing him of murder. Abortion destroys the abortionists themselves.
The Rev. Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life.