It seemed like a bad horror movie: the gore-splattered floors of a filthy medical facility, with the pervasive stench of urine and animal feces lying around right next to orange-juice containers filled with the viscera -- and the severed feet -- of aborted babies. Could this really be real?
The news is two years old, but Kermit Gosnell’s devastatingly horrific Philadelphia abortion operation, and ongoing murder trial, has only recently begun to penetrate the public’s consciousness. That’s because the Mainstream Media didn’t deem it important enough to cover. There’s a sense in which the Mainstream Media, the big news outlets, could be forgiven for their lack of enthusiasm in reporting the tragedy; it’s almost too horrifying and saddening to bear. But it isn’t just their lack of coverage that’s frightening. It’s the fact that since news of the trial has circulated more widely, there has been no public outrage, no fervent demand for “discourse” about the issue of abortion in the wake of it.
When a sick, evil young man shot up a bunch of innocent children in Newtown, Conn., last year, Big Media was all over it. And they should have been, because that story is one everyone needed to hear. It’s a story that forced America to take a good hard look at itself: What had we become? How could we have let this happen? The media coverage was almost comically voluminous, with every news network and talk show on the air covering the tragedy for weeks. That event could have caused serious anti-gun legislation to pass through Congress, and it still might.
Not so with Dr. Gosnell’s “house of horrors.” While the Sandy Hook massacre showed us a potential consequence of allowing citizens of a free society to own powerful firearms, the Gosnell fiasco showed us the potential consequences of a society that allows, and even encourages, abortion as a solution to unwanted pregnancy.
Of course Gosnell’s actions were illegal, as were Adam Lanza’s. Legislation existed in both cases to prohibit these tragedies. But the difference is that in Gosnell’s case, apparently nobody thought a national discourse was warranted. What accounts for this?
Sure, some publications covered the story back in 2011, feminists who were concerned about women’s rights and conservatives who opposed abortion. Now Anderson Cooper has talked about it, and there’s much bluster about how social media forced the big networks to respond. But I’m wondering why the big guys -- CNN, NBC, Fox News, CBS -- the crews whose domination of television allows them to whip the country up into a frenzy, haven’t responded over Gosnell like they did Sandy Hook. They are only just coming to the story, and theories abound as to why.
But the only frenzy that exists out there now revolves around the practice of journalism. Even in their mea culpas, their fiery diatribes, and their theorizing, many journalists are still making the story about journalism, not abortion. But surely, given the tremendous caliber of Gosnell’s crimes -- which are at least as heinous, at least as deserving of public outrage, as Lanza's -- a discourse on abortion is now necessary.
So let’s talk about it.
Abortion is ugly. It's also an ugly issue. Not even pro-choice women’s-rights advocates deny this. Even if one is not sure about the exact point at which human life begins, he must admit that abortion is bad for women. It is something a woman will have to “live with” even if she was legally and morally justified in choosing it. It is also deleterious to a woman’s health. A woman’s body is not structured to endure it.
According to evidence from a number of studies, aggregated here, abortion can dramatically raise a woman’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian and cervical cancer, rectal cancer, and a slew of other bodily and emotional ills; all of that is in addition to the risk, though uncommon, of death on the abortion table, one of the crimes for which Gosnell now stands trial.
Conversely, there is conclusive evidence to suggest that carrying multiple children to term decreases many of these risks. Because of methodological difficulties, including the issue's lightning-rod political status, data on abortion’s psychological effects can be controversial. It's famously difficult to get neutral science about it (a fact which is not helping any women). But it’s clear abortion offers no medical benefit and significant medical risk. The medical data are not why this is a white-hot political issue.
Consider the humble wisdom-tooth operation. I had mine out when I was 15. You go in, they put you under, you wake up groggy and a little nauseous, you go home and enjoy the painkillers for a few days. The abortion-industrial complex -- of which Gosnell’s operation was but the tip of the iceberg -- would have young, vulnerable women believe the solution to their problem is as quick and painless as getting their teeth pulled. Go in, go under, wake up, go home. But as countless women attest, it isn’t so simple. Getting your wisdom teeth out doesn’t risk severe trauma to an entire body that’s in the middle of a delicate and complicated process. But abortion does.
Abortion is a hot-button issue because abortion is wide-scale, systemic and accepted violence against women. Especially, it’s violence against poor, undereducated, minority women. If abortion were just another operation, like wisdom teeth, then nobody would about worry whether it got discussed. But everyone knows it’s not. It’s a violent act committed against women who are at their most desperate and vulnerable, who often feel they have no other choice, and apparently, practitioners are making a mint off of it.
But if it were so clear-cut, then surely legislators would have banned it long ago. The catalyst in this toxic institution, the thing that conflicts us, is our deeply impoverished notion of “women’s rights.” The phrase itself has become so monolithically associated with all things “socially just” that it’s heretical to suggest women’s rights may not be worth the price we pay for them. But how much are we willing to pay?
If flagrant and frequent violence to women isn’t bad enough, abortion is white-hot because it is the killing of children. No one wants to touch the burning question: Why is it that Kermit Gosnell is a monster, but someone doing the same thing a few weeks earlier and a little cleanlier is just a regular old family doctor? The pro-life answer is because there’s a lot of money in it and there are powerful lobbyist groups protecting it. (Sounds pretty similar to another argument I can think of.)
In many states, like Missouri, glaring contradictions exist: Abortion is legal, but in one case a man was convicted of two counts of manslaughter after he drunkenly killed his pregnant girlfriend in a car accident. So was the baby a human or not? Surely the "choice" involved in the pro-choice position is not the choice of whether an unborn baby is a human being, is it?
Our society has been debating when a human becomes a human for a long time, and maybe there isn’t a metaphysically clear answer. But isn’t the enormous risk enough? Shouldn’t we at least discuss this? To hear some women tell it, it’s a subjectively difficult and trying thing. But it’s pretty common to hear the refrain: “I wouldn’t have one myself, but we should protect the rights of those who choose to.” Read: I am disgusted by people who would choose to murder their children, but I uphold my hollow notion of rights anyway. Why is it so unfashionable to be against this practice that is so clearly ugly?
When Sandy Hook came around, the Mainstream Media wasn’t interested in whether shooting children should be more heavily regulated. They were interested in how to prevent the shooting of children. Not so with Gosnell: The only thing that he did wrong was that his child-murdering was a little too late and a little too untidy. Nothing to see here, folks.
But we all know that isn’t true. Nobody wants to talk about abortion because most people sense, somehow, that there’s something very wrong with it. We all know it’s negative. Our hearts break for the poor, exploited women whose bodies we are sacrificing for this ideology of death, but as a society we are still terrified to silence by the issue, and we allow dissidents to be shouted down. I think it’s reasonable to assert, as many have, that there are organizations and institutions that know if a Sandy Hook-like firestorm enveloped Gosnell’s trial, legalized abortion could be in danger.
What about the positives of abortion? There’s convenient extraction from consequences of sexual behavior. And that’s about it. When weighed against the extermination of entire classes (and, tragically, races) of people, the destruction of female bodies, and the very real possibility that we’ve murdered millions -- think about that number a moment -- upon millions of human babies, it’s a mighty high butcher’s bill. In a society that purports to value human beings, it’s time that we talk about this.
Rob Ogden is a freelance writer living in Iowa.