Dr. Kermit Gosnell and partial birth abortion

As you all know I\’m rather out of step with the rest of society on the subject of abortion. Up here on my pink clouds it\’s wrong and shouldn\’t happen.

However, I\’m a little confused about this growing furore about Dr. Kermit Gosnell. OK, so it was dirty, messy, incompetent and all that. Bad.

But one of the points that people seem to be getting very upset about is that he induced labour in those in the later stages of pregnancy. And that when the baby was born he then killed it by snipping the spine, just under the back of the head.

I think this is vile right from the very start of it of course. But to others who do in fact support abortion in some manner: what actually is wrong with this? It\’s only very slightly different from a partial birth abortion.

In a partial birth abortion labour is induced. The baby is in the process of being born: at this point it\’s \”alive\” as most of us would think of it but not alive as US law has it. Not taken a breath yet, still mostly inside the vaginal canal.

At which point pierce the back of the skull and suck its brains out.

There, it\’s dead before being alive and thus this is an abortion not murder or infanticide.

Partial birth abortion is a relatively standard procedure in the US. It\’s most certainly legal.

We can all see that there\’s a certain amount of legal cortortioning going on here. Suck the brains out before the first breath, snip the spinal cord after it. Legally, quite different.

But in moral terms the difference is what? And who would, on this point alone, want to condemn Dr. Kermit Gosnell and yet support partial birth abortion?

25 comments on “Dr. Kermit Gosnell and partial birth abortion

  1. This is exactly why the US media (and left wing British) hasn’t covered the case, because they don’t want the truth to come out. Similarly, it’s why it’s *not* OK to publish pictures of aborted foetuses but it *is* OK to publish picture of dead Palestinian kids.

  2. Partial Birth Abortions are banned in the US and the relevant legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court in Gonzales versus Carhart in 2007.

  3. I should declare my views right from the start here, which are influenced by my Catholic faith, with which I am not seeking anybody’s agreement. My objection is with using abortion as contraception; simple as.
    There was real outrage about a year ago when two Italian doctors published a paper on what they termed “post-natal abortion”. I raise exactly the same question as Tim: what’s the difference? I would also ask, if your view on the subject is to view life as coming into being somewhere, incrementally along a spectrum, then why is your response so binary? By this I mean: 10 seconds before the first breath is fine; 10 seconds after is the most disgusting thing any doctor could contemplate.

  4. One of the reasons I thought Obama was unelectable was that he refused to vote for a Bill that would have required doctors to help any baby born alive from a botched partial birth abortion. I was wrong. Obama voted to make this sort of thing if not legal, at least not punishable. And he sits in the White House.

    I do not expect the media will be asking him any tough questions about this any time soon.

    But some people have gone where TW is pointing. Peter Singer has long argued for post-birth killing for instance. I expect it is something most people would rather not think about. They support abortion and prefer to remain ignorant. Rather like Jane Austen’s characters and slavery.

  5. The yuk factor here is so high that I reckon any competent lawyer could get him a mis trial.

    So they’ll probably do him for not paying his union dues to the AMA and for violation of a few hygiene regs.

  6. Interested: “…but it *is* OK to publish picture of dead Palestinian kids.”

    Even when they turn out to have been killed by Palestinians…

  7. Public support for abortion is based on us being able to avert our eyes, use comforting euphemisms, and accept barefaced lies as needed. Remember when abortion was going to be safe, rare, and legal? An act of mercy towards poor waifs and strays who would otherwise surely die in a back alley with a rusty coathanger sticking out of their wombs?

  8. I expect it is something most people would rather not think about.

    Sadly true. The people who paid attention to this story were devoted “pro-life” and “pro-choice” activists, the former of whom blamed the legal status of abortion and the latter of whom blamed restrictions on the practices. It was the majority of people who vaguely support, vaguely oppose or just feel vague about abortion that averted their eyes, because their indifference depends on their not being exposed to it.

    Perhaps instead of “their” I should say “our”.

  9. I think it is more a question of practicality.

    The prohibition argument holds for abortions in the same way as it does for drugs. Prohibition doesn’t stop it happening, so you might as well make sure that what is going to happen anyway is safe.

    The issue arises because most people (I think) would say that contraception is fine, but killing a newborn is not.
    However the law needs a concrete rule that it can use to decide what is legal and what is illegal.
    Unfortunately life is not so simple, some people genuinely don’t know if they are pregnant or not until 12 or so weeks in, then it comes as a big shock since they were not trying to be pregnant, but there needs to be a cut off by which time they need to make a decision.

    The only argument worth having is where to draw the line.

  10. “The only argument worth having is where to draw the line.”

    My kids are 15 and 11 and are doing my head in. Is this too late?

  11. Ha! I saved it first!

    “The only argument worth having is where to draw the line.”

    A lot of people seem to like to use the point where a foetus becomes “viable”, when it could survive outside the womb. I don’t really like this choice, as the threshold moves backwards as technology progresses and I can imagine a time when a newly fertilized egg is viable. At that point, this criterion would effectively outlaw abortion.

    I feel the best answer is abortion should cease to be available by the time the foetus becomes sentient. This is also the worst answer as no one knows when that is. Imagine deciding that sentience is the key factor and then science revealing that babies don’t become self-aware until three months after birth. That would put the cat among the pigeons.

    So with these options out, where do you go? I think you have to err on the side of caution. I may not know if a 35 week foetus is sentient, but I can assume it’s more sentient than a five-week one. So I would say that we can assume most (self-aware) women should be able to determine they are pregnant by 13 weeks and then give them three or four more to sort something out. That takes us to 16-18 week territory.

    The more I think about it, the more I wonder why abortion is *not* such a divisive issue in the UK.

  12. “but I can assume it’s more sentient…”

    Should have read,

    “but I can assume it’s more likely to be sentient…”

  13. LJAR – “The prohibition argument holds for abortions in the same way as it does for drugs. Prohibition doesn-t stop it happening, so you might as well make sure that what is going to happen anyway is safe.”

    Actually I think a case could be made that the prohibition argument holds for abortion in the same way it holds for rape. We cannot ban it completely, but most people would not argue that is a case to give up. Nor for setting up some sort of “Safe Rape Room” where would-be rapists could bring their victims and so ensure said victim could get medical attention and psychological counseling as quickly as possible.

    “The issue arises because most people (I think) would say that contraception is fine, but killing a newborn is not.”

    Give them time. We already have people arguing that the killing of new borns is fine – and that is basically what Kermit Gosnell did. To the more or less complete indifference of anyone not already opposed to abortion. The media has had to be bullied into covering what should be the Trial of the Century.

    “Unfortunately life is not so simple, some people genuinely don

  14. LJAR – “Unfortunately life is not so simple, some people genuinely don-t know if they are pregnant or not until 12 or so weeks in, then it comes as a big shock since they were not trying to be pregnant, but there needs to be a cut off by which time they need to make a decision.”

    So the decision of when a foetus deserves some sort of legal protection should be taken without reference to the foetus at all but solely the convenience of the mother?

    “The only argument worth having is where to draw the line.”

    Whatever else you can say I think most people would agree this is not an argument worth having. Either the foetus is a person or it is a woman’s right to choose. That is a total ban or right up to nine months. The “debate” about where to draw the line is not a debate at all, nor is it intellectually interesting or consistent. It is simply a political solution to make the problem go away so that Right Thinking People never have to hear about crimes like Gosnell’s again.

    12Mr Potarto – “At that point, this criterion would effectively outlaw abortion.”

    And that would be bad because …. ?

    “I feel the best answer is abortion should cease to be available by the time the foetus becomes sentient. This is also the worst answer as no one knows when that is.”

    Not sure we can even define it.

    “Imagine deciding that sentience is the key factor and then science revealing that babies don-t become self-aware until three months after birth.”

    Peter Singer is way ahead of you.

    “So I would say that we can assume most (self-aware) women should be able to determine they are pregnant by 13 weeks and then give them three or four more to sort something out. That takes us to 16-18 week territory.”

    But now you have gone froma baby-focused definition to a convenience-of-the-mother one. How can you justify that? Either we adopt a limited based on the self-awareness of the baby or we do not. Not both.

    “The more I think about it, the more I wonder why abortion is *not* such a divisive issue in the UK.”

    As with Capital Punishment, the Great and the Good have decided that we should not talk about it and hence we should not know. You will not hear the BBC reporting Gosnell-s little collection of aborted baby feet for instance. Might make it an issue.

  15. @LJAR “The prohibition argument holds for abortions in the same way as it does for drugs. Prohibition doesnt stop it happening, so you might as well make sure that what is going to happen anyway is safe.”

    The same is true of burglary, rape and murder. I do get tired of this argument, that it’s only worth doing something if we can do it 100%, and that the fact that we can’t means it’s not worth dping anything.

  16. “But now you have gone from a baby-focused definition to a convenience-of-the-mother one. How can you justify that?”

    I justify it by not knowing enough about the baby.

    “Whatever else you can say I think most people would agree this is not an argument worth having. Either the foetus is a person or it is a woman’s right to choose. That is a total ban or right up to nine months.”

    It’s interesting that you think that, because I don’t believe most people would agree that at all – though I have no evidence. Do you have any evidence?

    I would have thought “most people” would agree that the foetus is not a person in the first few days after conception and is a person in the last few days before a viable birth.

    Which is why the debate around dates exists.

  17. I am almost with you on abortion especially as it is one of the narratives of the women’s movement. Another one of course would be PETA who wish to show lambs in the slaughterhouse. I’ll do a deal with both. Show the lambs right after abortion murder. Especially to those sensitive souls who think it is OK to murder a child after its born. These are usually the same people who think that the child is owned by society and not the mother. So if society sates that you shall not abort then…..

  18. “…a cut off by which time they need to make a decision.”

    How about “before they get pregnant”

    Wouldn’t that be the best time to make this decision?

    Thus avoiding all talk of snipping necks and sucking out brains?

  19. Partial birth abortion is a relatively standard procedure in the US. It[apostrophe]s most certainly legal.

    As Peter Metcalfe points out, it is most certainly not legal.

    Either the foetus is a person or it is a woman’s right to choose. That is a total ban or right up to nine months. The “debate” about where to draw the line is not a debate at all, nor is it intellectually interesting or consistent. It is simply a political solution to make the problem go away

    A fetus is not a person, but it is a living thing which may become a person. Killing it does matter, but so does a woman’s autonomy, and we have to strike a balance between the two. There’s no intellectual inconsistency.

  20. A lot of people seem to like to use the point where a foetus becomes “viable”, when it could survive outside the womb. … At that point, this criterion would effectively outlaw abortion.

    As SMFS asks, why is this a bad thing? If abortion is all about a mother not having to look after an unwanted child, then this seems like precisely the most desirable solution: to tell mothers that if their child could survive (with medical intervention) then they cannot destroy it but must instead give it up.

    Of course, I am working from the position that an unborn infant is just that: an infant not yet born, and possessed of the dignity of a human being. Other’s ethical mileages will, doubtless, vary.

  21. Mr Potarto – “I justify it by not knowing enough about the baby.”

    But what do you need to know? I mean I can see where you are coming from. I think the bumper sticker is wrong. Babies do not need guns. What they need is to be able to scream. But because they are in utero, most of the time, when they are aborted, they are unable to. So for most people the fact that the abortion takes place with no information transfer is enough. An absolutely minimal level of information transfer would be enough to get most people to agree to a ban. Which is why pro-abortionists are determined to keep people with minimal levels of knowledge.

    “It-s interesting that you think that, because I don-t believe most people would agree that at all – though I have no evidence. Do you have any evidence?”

    Well the fact that no one is having this argument for one thing. The fact that so few people are even willing to discuss what Gosnell did. Most people might be happy with a compromise, but that does not mean the argument in favour of the compromise is consistent, coherent or logical. It just means that most people muddle through their lives without thinking through the views very strongly. If they did have an argument it would be very hard to come up with a valid or coherent argument except the 0 or 9 months one.

    “Which is why the debate around dates exists.”

    What debate is this? You may notice everyone is trying to prevent this debate taking place. And even if it did, the people arguing it are not arguing in good faith. It is largely a battle between those who think all abortion ought to be illegal and those that think all abortion ought to be legal. They both reject the compromise but need to make it for political reasons.

    20PaulB – “A fetus is not a person, but it is a living thing which may become a person.”

    That is a political statement of zero intellectual or logical validity. You have no basis for making that statement. It is simply a statement of your own personal prejudices. As you know full well, plenty of other people define a person differently.

    “Killing it does matter, but so does a woman-s autonomy, and we have to strike a balance between the two. There-s no intellectual inconsistency.”

    Obviously striking a balance does lead to intellectual inconsistency. More or less by definition. But if it is not a person then why does killing it matter?

    What you mean, I think, is that you are more willing to give in to those who are alive today and can call you a bastard than protect the rights of those who will not get to be born tomorrow. And would probably call you a bastard once they were grown up anyway. That is not an intellectually valid or interesting position either. It is moral cowardice.

  22. Philip Walker: “As SMFS asks, why is this a bad thing? If abortion is all about a mother not having to look after an unwanted child, then this seems like precisely the most desirable solution: to tell mothers that if their child could survive (with medical intervention) then they cannot destroy it but must instead give it up.”

    Perhaps it is the best solution. I suppose my problem with it is I view viability as a proxy for self-awareness, but that’s just my personal prejudice.

    Thanks to both of you for the arguments.

  23. That [a fetus is not a person] is a political statement of zero intellectual or logical validity. You have no basis for making that statement. It is simply a statement of your own personal prejudices. As you know full well, plenty of other people define a person differently.

    Yes, I’m aware, obviously, that opinion is divided on the question. But my view is no more personal prejudice than is yours. It’s not a question to be settled by logical argument alone; what’s at issue is one’s definition of personhood.

    Obviously striking a balance does lead to intellectual inconsistency. More or less by definition

    That’s just wrong. There are many solvable optimization problems.

    if it is not a person then why does killing it matter?

    Lots of things matter which are not murder.

    What you mean, I think…

    You’re wrong.

  24. These same pro-choice people are the same that cry double-homicide when a pregnant woman is murdered. This hypocrisy is pathetic.

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