Outrage in Philadelphia
Reading about the recent indictment of a Pennsylvania abortion provider and the members of his staff is gruesome work. The West Philadelphia physician Kermit Gosnell and his employees have been charged with several criminal counts, including eight of murder for the killing of one patient and seven infants born viable during abortion procedures. The details of these alleged crimes read like something out of a horror novel. Dr. Gosnell routinely delivered live babies in the second and even third trimester of pregnancy, then dispatched them by “sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord,” Philadelphia’s District Attorney Seth Williams charges. According to a 260-page grand jury report, one newborn who weighed almost six pounds was so big “the doctor joked...this baby ‘could walk me to the bus stop.’”
The seven defenseless infants remembered in the criminal indictments were hardly his only victims. According to the district attorney, Dr. Gosnell performed hundreds of such “snippings” on infants delivered in the sixth, seventh and even eighth month of pregnancy. How could his “practice” have been allowed to continue for 32 years without coming to the attention of regulators or law enforcement?
Where Dr. Gosnell worked helps explain how he worked—and how he got away with it. Dr. Gosnell has been operating for years within Philadelphia’s poor and immigrant communities, among people less likely or unable to object to substandard treatment. His patients’ limited options and economic constraints make a mockery of the presumption of choice.
In their efforts to protect unrestricted abortion rights in America, the pro-choice community helped create the cultural space for such aberrations. How many other Dr. Gosnells are out there trolling in America’s neglected communities? This sorry episode stands as a stark indictment of the flimsiness of America’s abortion controls. You could not do to a dog what this man and his staff allegedly did to their patients and these helpless infants.
After decades of abortion on demand, it is not clear Americans can be shocked anymore by this peculiar institution’s cruelty and inhumanity. Are these grisly acts what the right to privacy was intended to screen from public scrutiny? The fine print of Roe v. Wade diminished but did not obliterate the state’s legitimate interest in protecting prenatal life. Perhaps this outrage may be enough to awaken the government again to its basic obligations.
Drop That Gun
The shooting in Tucson on Jan. 8 can be just one more moment of televised grief or it can be the door, if we dare to open it, to a sane and more just society.
The cover of The Economist for Jan. 15 summed up our situation well: a cartoon drawing of two screaming heads, mouths wide open and, in place of tongues, two hands sticking out clutching pistols. In American culture many people seem to think any problem can be resolved at gunpoint—from an imagined insult to a paranoid fear that appeals to the Second Amendment to protect us from “big government.”
Blame may be spread: our heritage of frontier violence; crime shows where handguns are everywhere; neighborhoods where a weapon defines a teenager’s masculinity; gun merchants who sell weapons to mad students who become mass killers, like the assassins who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech and five at Northern Illinois University; gun enthusiasts who preach that we should tote pistols to work, restaurants, ball games, political meetings, classes and even church.
Blame also the pusillanimous politicians who have sold their souls to the National Rifle Association at the cost of 100,000 shootings a year and 34 gun-related deaths a day in the United States.
Jerome Grossman of Boston, who blogs at “Relentless Liberal,” made three reasonable proposals on Jan. 10 for gun control: uniform regulations in all states; required physical, medical and written tests along with training in firearms; housing all guns in the local police station to be signed out for a reason, e.g., to hunt or target-shoot, not to shoot one’s spouse or one’s self, to settle an argument, or for children to play with.
But for the time being, our leaders—politicians, intellectuals and clergy—must call for immediate practical reforms to deal with the most glaring problems. No private citizen should own automatic weapons or guns with high capacity magazines like the 33-cartridge unit used in Tucson. Tough laws, strictly enforced, must deny guns to mentally ill individuals like Jared Loughner, ban guns at public events and require dealers to keep records of all legal sales.
President Obama praised the six who lost their lives in Tucson as representing “the best in America.” But how much do we value the lives and safety not just of a congresswoman, a judge and a 9-year-old girl, but of every neighbor? How will we answer that most basic question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”