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If you have been watching the news over the last couple of weeks, you might not know that a very controversial trial is taking place in Philadelphia. Kermit Gosnell is accused of murder. Allegedly he murdered one of his patients in the process of doing a late term abortion under abominable sanitary conditions at his abortion clinic. She died from a drug overdose. He was charged with infanticide since he allegedly delivered late term babies and then snipped their spinal cords with scissors. As I was writing this post, it was reported that the charges of infanticide were dropped because the prosecution could not prove the babies were born alive. Gosnell’s abortion clinic has been called a house of horrors by anti-abortion advocates. I’m sorry I can’t give you more details about the conditions or Gosnell because there seems to be a sort of collective ignoring of the case by the media. As one blogger pointed out, there seems to be an asymmetry of the coverage of outrage between those who were so exorcised that the Susan G. Komen foundation withdrew support from some clinics who also did abortions and  the near non-outrage regarding Gosnell’s almost macabre nonchalance at infanticide (apparently he kept the severed feet of some of the fetus’ in a jar).

The claims about media bias are as ubiquitous as celebrity wardrobe malfunctions, so I won’t really go into that.  What is interesting is the discrepancy on why people think Gosnell is a bad, bad man. Pro-abortion advocates see Gosnell as a cautionary tale about ensuring women have access to safe and sanitary abortions. Anti-abortionists see it as a cautionary tale about how apathy can lead to evil.

On the pro-abortion side I present Irin Camaron:

“. . . the media coverage obsession is a red herring. By all means, let’s talk about Kermit Gosnell – who is accused of acts that are already illegal – but in a fact-based fashion. As Philadelphia Weekly reporter Tara Murtha put it, this was about a “multi-level, panoramic, institutional negligence, a culture of passing the buck and flagrant disregard for patient’s welfare, [which] prevented any meaningful investigation.” This is not about how Gosnell performed “late term abortions” (a highly imprecise term) as much as it is about the fact that the women who went to him felt they had nowhere else to go, an issue I have yet to see all the right-wing grandstanders fully address.”

Nothing about what Gosnell jokingly called “snipping.” Nothing about the fetus at all. To Camaron, that is simply not the story. Her narrative shapes this as being about women’s healthcare. However, it turns out that a lot of Gosnell’s patients weren’t simply poor women who had no where else to go and who no doubt would have gone to a reputable abortion doctor if they had federal funding.  James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, reports that according to Grand Jury testimony:

  His patients came from several states, including Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, as well as from Pennsylvania cities outside the Philadelphia area, such as Allentown. He also had many late-term Philadelphia patients because most other local clinics would not perform procedures past 20 weeks.” The woman Gosnell is accused of murdering with a drug overdose, 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, came from Virginia and was referred by a clinic either there or in the District of Columbia.

So the idea that this is a cautionary tale about poor women seems well, just wrong. More likely, as the Grand Jury testimony indicates, Gosnell was known as a doctor who would do what other doctors didn’t have the guts to do. Perform live births and then kill babies who would have easily survived. But why should that surprise us. After all, what’s a few weeks when it comes to women’s health? What’s important is that women have control over their bodies right? They shouldn’t be saddled with an unwanted pregnancy. I hear some of you saying, “Typical man. You don’t know what its like to be pregnant. You must simply shut up and stop telling women what they should or should not do with their body.” This is of course a logical fallacy. It is a red herring that Camaron evoked in her bait and switch. I agree that women’s health is important. I also agree with anti-abortionist David Gushee that anti-abortion proponents should talk about the plight of poor women and care about the difficulties they face with more passion in the midst of a making a case that abortion doesn’t have to be the last resort of the poor. But the fact that I’m a man, doesn’t make my argument invalid.

The fact of the matter is that if we make the morality of terminating a pregnancy a matter of geography (see “Human Rights? Only for Some Humans?” )
then its not that hard for us to imagine women and gynecologists quietly admiring what Gosnell did. Consider the bold statements of Mary Elizabeth Williams who declares: “So What if Abortion Ends a Life?”

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always….

When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?…

…saves lives not just in the most medically literal way, but in the roads that women who have choice then get to go down, in the possibilities for them and for their families. And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time – even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.

Well, at least she’s honest. The life of the mother trumps the life of an non-autonomous entity every single time. Who cares if that mother waited till a bit past some arbitrary deadline a bunch of men in some legislature decided–“This is late term lady. This fetus is okay to abort lady.”  Gosnell knows the truth. Snip it. Snip it in the bud. Just keep it quiet, you brave man.”

Here’s the thing, if Williams is right, then there is no magic that gives someone moral status. And she’s okay with that. And apparently so was Gosnell. But there are a lot of people that see her comments as a kind of everyday evil. Its the kind of evil James Waller says is what you see when ordinary people commit genocide. The life of a Jew isn’t as important as the life of German. The life of a Croatian isn’t as valuable as a Serb. What magic is it that says the life of one is more than another? Autonomy? Why autonomy? Why not, hair color? In the absence of any foundational principles, its easy to rationalize this. I started this post with the intent to rip into Williams. But actually I find myself weeping. Its sad when a soul gets cauterized and adopts ideas with such dire consequences without the need to justify them from any deeper ethical principles.

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