Helpless in Philadelphia

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It’s been interesting, but also stomach-churning, to see the news gradually emerge on how an abortion doctor in Philadelphia was able to get away with murder for over 16 years.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell has recently been formally charged with murder, based on the death of a Bhutanese woman in 2009 and the deaths of seven documented “infants without identities” in his Philadelphia abortion clinic. As put somewhat apologetically by District Attorney Seth Williams:

I am aware that abortion is a hot-button topic. But as district attorney, my job is to carry out the law. A doctor who knowingly and systematically mistreats female patients, to the point that one of them dies in his so-called care, commits murder under the law. A doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is committing murder under the law.

How reassuring to have a district attorney on the job who understands that he’s obliged to actually prosecute cases of murder, hot-button issue or no. The people of Philadelphia can certainly sleep easy in this knowledge.

Of-course the people of Philadelphia, including a significant number who are currently dead, would also have been well served by state bureaucrats doing their job and inspecting even once, over a 16 year period, an abortion clinic where unspeakable horrors were occurring with regularity.

The New York Times reports on criminal events and repulsive conditions dating back to the 1990s:

“It was like walking into a nightmare,” [one-time patient Sherry Thomas] said. “Everyone was sedated, no one was making sense. People were slumped over and waiting in line like they were going into a soup kitchen.”

The clinic was smelly, in part from a dirty turtle tank in the lobby, but also from generally squalid conditions. The grand jury report said the clinic had blood on the floor, a stench of urine in the air and cat feces on the stairs when agents raided it.

“Semiconscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room, where they sat on dirty recliners covered with blood-stained blankets,” the report said.


The clinic had as little regard for the patients’ dignity as it had for their safety. The doctor would arrive late, often after 8 p.m., leaving the untrained staff, including Dr. Gosnell’s wife, Pearl, a cosmetologist, to sedate the women and administer labor-inducing drugs, the report said.

If labor began, the woman was asked to sit on a toilet, and the fetus would drop. It would be fished out later so as not to clog the plumbing, the report said. The remains of 45 fetuses were found at the clinic during the raid, according to the report. Some were stored in the staff’s refrigerator.

Ms. Thomas remembers waking up, soaked in her own blood and feeling scared. People were moving around her, trying to put her in an ambulance. Her uterus had been punctured. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was given a partial hysterectomy.

“When I woke up I thought, ‘I might die today,’ ” Ms. Thomas said. Dr. Gosnell offered her $500, she said, possibly in an effort to avert a lawsuit. She had paid $800 for the abortion.


Ms. Thomas tries to forget what happened. She felt helpless and disposable in Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, and she wants him to feel the same.

The words chosen here — that Ms. Thomas felt “helpless and disposable” while in the abortion clinic — resonate very deeply because they so precisely describe the condition of every unborn baby in every abortion clinic across the United States. In truth, this patient, although undoubtedly a victim herself, was somewhat less than completely helpless, because she was at least able to speak, to complain, and to make decisions about her own actions. None of these things were within the capacity of the babies, whether unborn and out-of-sight, or newly-born and awaiting the scissors that was approaching to snip their little disposable spines.

Helpless is an extraordinarily key word to dwell upon for a moment, because the abortion question is precisely about what we believe society’s obligation is to those human beings who are truly helpless. Does their helplessness determine that we must also rate them as being merely disposable? The same question has implications beyond the abortion debate, in all situations where the value of an individual’s life is up to be weighed and arbitrated by those who are very far indeed from being helpless themselves: courts, politicians, medical professionals and, in the end, all of us as citizens.

The grand jury report in this case also has this to say about why state inspectors did not set foot in this clinic from hell for over 16 years:

We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, and because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.

The disproportionately high rate of abortion amongst African-American women has led some to describe the state-of-affairs since Roe v Wade as a slow-motion genocide. But the fact of abortion being the “political football” that it is has led most African-American political figures in the United States to stand firmly and without shame on the side of maintaining what one might characterize as the status-quo genocidis.

President Barack Obama yesterday made a statement honoring that Roe v Wade decision of 1973, which compelled all fifty U.S. states to make abortion-on-demand legal, as a matter of constitutional right.

Today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.


And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

Other than those sons and daughters who find themselves helpless and disposable in the eyes of the law.