Abortion trial reignites culture wars in US

TVNZ 1 May 2013
Around the world, many are watching the criminal trial in Philadelphia of an avuncular-looking 72-year-old doctor named Kermit Gosnell. You’ve probably never heard of him, but his notoriety is such that when you enter his first name into Google, he’s second only to Kermit the Frog. Gosnell was (depending on your view) an “abortion provider”, or abortionist. He ran a slipshod organisation in one of the poorest parts of town. Staff had no medical training. Records were often lost, or not kept.

The FBI raided his clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, in February 2010 on suspicion that Gosnell was running a “pill mill”, that is, dispensing drugs to addicts. What they found was described later in a grand jury report as “baby charnel house”. The 281-page document recounts bloodstained furniture and blankets, repeatedly used disposable medical supplies, and improperly-sterilised instruments. Patients were given venereal diseases thus. Bags, jars and bottles holding aborted fetuses and body parts (particularly baby feet) were scattered throughout the building. Cats roamed freely in the building, defecating and urinating. The place stank. You can read the report here , but be warned, it will provoke disbelief, anger, and sadness.

Pro-life campaigners will say that Dr Gosnell devoted his life to ending life; what the trial is attempting to determine is whether he did so illegally. He faces five charges over five deaths, including the death of an adult, 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, a recent refugee to the US, allegedly overdosed by before an abortion. The babies killed, all late-term abortions, are referred to for legal purposes as Baby A, B, C, D, and E. Prosecutors allege they were born alive, and died after their spines were cut. Late term abortion is prohibited in Pennsylvania after 24 weeks; the medical homicide of adults is a crime at any age.

If convicted Gosnell faces the death penalty, which -if it occurs- will furnish a certain thematic unity to the proceedings, but little clarity. The case has reignited culture wars over abortion in the US. Conservatives alleged media bias when it wasn’t covered nationally. It’s covered now. Liberals say it’s being used as a wedge issue to galvanise American opposition (as expressed through polls) to late term abortion. They say coverage has been distorted, but -to be fair- details like these distort themselves.

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