Jonah Goldberg: Kermit Gosnell and abortion's darkest side
If abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is found guilty of homicide, he will be unique among murderers-for-hire: He set his fees based on weight. "The bigger the baby, the more he charged," a grand jury explained. It recommended he be charged with eight counts of murder - one patient, seven babies.
Despite what amounted to a blackout at many media outlets until last week, you've probably now heard at least some of the details. According to the grand jury report, Gosnell's Philadelphia "clinic" was a filthy abattoir. It stunk of urine. Flea-ridden cats defecated freely, including in procedure rooms. Fetuses - or, rather, parts of fetuses - were all over the place, in jars, on shelves. The remains of 45 babies were found by authorities. Gosnell collected baby feet in jars.
Karnamaya Mongar, 41, a refugee from Nepal, died at Gosnell's clinic, allegedly because he and his staff used too much of a cheap sedative and because the clinic was so crammed with junk that it took paramedics 20 minutes just to find their way out. Authorities later found her intact 19-week-old fetus in a freezer. It had been there for three months.
This barely scratches the surface of what the grand jury describes as a "charnel house."
So, obviously this is a story about the mainstream media.
My fellow Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers wrote a USA Today column last week shaming the media for not covering the Gosnell case enough or, in many cases, at all. She got results. Suddenly everyone was talking about it. Though a dismaying amount of the coverage is about why there was a lack of coverage.
It's an important issue, of course. But it's not a complicated one. It seems obvious that most mainstream outlets are run and staffed by pro-choice liberals. But whatever the motivation, the Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger is surely correct when she says the mainstream media are generally locked into a single narrative about abortion: "reproductive rights under siege."
Ironically, the same factors that might have discouraged the mainstream media from covering the story in the first place now give them an incentive to turn it into a story about the media. CBS News, for instance, broke its broadcast boycott of the trial by running a piece on the political firestorm over the lack of coverage. Now, for understandable reasons, the bombing at the Boston Marathon is likely to push the Gosnell story out of the news once again.
In fairness, some feminist writers have been talking about the case all along. But their outrage has not been over the fact that Gosnell fully delivered live babies and then cut their spines with scissors. Their outrage was focused on the legitimately outrageous conditions of the clinic and the economic and racial inequities involved. Gosnell preyed mostly on poor and minority women. He was even something of a racist, reportedly reserving a clean visiting room for white patients.
For example, in 2011, Amanda Marcotte wrote in Slate: "These ... charges involve late-term abortion, and all I could think upon reading the news story was, 'I wish these women could have gone to Dr. George Tiller,' (who) was renowned for the quality of care provided at his Kansas clinic."
Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion fanatic in 2009 because he was one of the most prominent providers of late-term abortions. And though Gosnell's patients would no doubt have gotten better care from Tiller, the truly significant difference is that the fetuses would have been killed without seeing the light of the day.
Many prominent Democratic politicians oppose any meaningful restrictions on late-term abortions. President Obama, as a state senator, fought a law that would have protected live infants accidentally delivered during an abortion. Sen. Barbara Boxer once said that constitutional rights begin when you bring the baby home from the hospital. Prosecutors almost never try to enforce violations of late-term abortion laws, in part because the Supreme Court says any abortion is constitutional if the mother's psychological health would be endangered by continuing the pregnancy.
Regardless, Gosnell isn't only being charged with performing illegal late-term abortions. He's being charged with delivering viable babies and killing them. The really profound question here is what is the moral difference between killing a living baby that is outside the mother for a few seconds and killing one that's still inside. It's no wonder the media would rather talk about itself.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of "The Tyranny of Clichés," which will be released in paperback April 30. You can write to him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.