Kermit Gosnell’s House of Horrors: Instead of Giving Up on Life, I Thought I’d Try Writing About It

If you haven’t heard about Dr. Kermit Gosnell and his abortion clinic of horrors by now, all I can say is: get an Internet connection.

The mainstream media, for whatever reason, did its best to keep it quiet, but eventually social media called them out on it. (I usually roll my eyes when I hear the words “liberal bias,” but I’m starting to think I should take those words a bit more seriously.) The whole thing is just a horror story of filth and torture, and it’s definitely not for the weak of heart. Here’s a quick summary: beheadings by scissors, piles of rotting dead babies (with some live ones mixed in), feet preserved in jars.

If you really want to know more, you can go here (if you like to read), or here (if you prefer soundbites, pictures, and links to fluff pieces about ’90s pop culture). At the moment, I’m far too pissed off to write anything coherent, but I have to write something, so let me give you the following thoughts:

This case should be a wake-up call to progressives and liberals.

The American Left often seems like it has never met an abortion it doesn’t like. In fact, the very reason Gosnell’s clinic stayed open so long was concern that regulation of the abortion industry would restrict women’s access to the procedure. I cannot possibly imagine the left applying that sort of thought to anything else. Food is certainly a basic human right, but we regulate the crap out of the food industry to ensure its safety. Hell, we regulate the way that animals are treated at slaughterhouses to minimize their suffering (something we could certainly do better, but I digress) — and we’re killing and eating those animals. I mean, seriously.

Surely if the dignity of an animal we’re killing for food is worth protecting then a human we’re killing for convenience has at least some rights? You would think? And, more to the point, if abortion rights are really about the autonomy of women, shouldn’t we be putting effort into protecting these women’s health and dignity?

The catchphrase from the ’90s Left about abortion was “safe, legal, and rare,” but Dr. Gosnell’s case should make it completely and totally obvious that the only item on that list that the Left cares about at all is “legal.” If we care about the safety of a potentially deadly medical operation, we need to regulate that crap. This isn’t about whether you believe in the right to an abortion. The solution to world hunger is not tainted food. If the Left showed some genuine concern about the legitimate human rights questions raised by abortion, it would go a long way toward winning more voters to its cause.

You don’t support women simply by pushing abortion on them. Even if you’re a fan of the procedure, you support women by ensuring their options are kept open and abortions are as safe as possible.

I mean, right?

This case should be a wake-up call to conservatives.

More often than not, Republicans are far too busy drawing legal lines in the sand to really address the serious issues that abortion raises. The last ten years have seen bill after bill defining “person” as anything from zygote on forced through state legislatures and then quickly struck down as unconstitutional. What the hell do they expect to accomplish with laws like that? Even if that sort of law were constitutional (which, barring a full amendment, it’s probably not), it would be unenforceable.

The Right has, in recent years, been widely criticized as being more interested in punishing women for being women than in actually preventing abortions, and, sadly, I can’t say I entirely disagree with that assessment. Putting serious effort into preventing cases like this would go a long way toward countering that criticism. (It is my firm, if perhaps naïve, belief that women’s, men’s, children’s, and even fetuses’ interests are all aligned. We’re talking about the future of the human race, after all. We all have a stake in these issues.)

Those of us on the pro-life side of this debate may very well have moral qualms regarding birth control or promiscuity, but we would do well to remind ourselves that politics is indeed the art of compromise, and we are very much unlikely to succeed in our attempts to legislate our own personal moral code on others. As much as we might dislike mandated coverage of birth control by health care providers, surely we have to admit that it’s preferable to more abortions. And (to go even further out on this limb), even increased first-trimester abortions would be preferable to the monstrosities that routinely occurred at Gosnell’s clinic.

This case should be a wake-up call to libertarians.

American politics have of late been hijacked by those who seem to honestly believe that deregulation is the answer to all the world’s problems. Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, regardless of which side of the abortion debate you come down on, is a clear example of what happens when industries are deregulated (or when regulations are not enforced). As powerful a tool as the free market is, that’s all it is. It’s a tool, and tools are only useful insofar as they are used wisely. (Gun nuts sure like referring to guns as “tools,” but try using a gun poorly sometime and see what happens.)

In reality, the vast majority of consumers lack the time, energy, and cultural empowerment to protect themselves from those who would seek to exploit them and the free market for personal gain. We can’t hop over the counter at McDonald’s to check whether there are rats in the kitchen. On the one hand, we’re not allowed; on the other, the very fact that we’re eating at McDonald’s in the first place shows that we’re already experiencing a degree of desperation.

This is infinitely more true of the abortion industry, which is an industry built on the desperation of poor and disenfranchised women. (Fun fact: three-fourths of Planned Parenthood’s locations are located in minority communities. Think about that.) The libertarian wing of this country (which, not coincidentally, is a group that is overwhelmingly white and wealthy) simply can’t fathom this, but the reality is that certain people are disadvantaged from birth due to factors far beyond their control. Gosnell knew this, and he was more than happy to exploit it. White women were taken to the “nice” waiting room at his clinic, given more and better anesthetic, and just generally treated well — because he knew they had the cultural cachet to shut him down if they wanted. Meanwhile the poor, black, and hispanic women were treated worse than animals.

Those of us who are wealthy and white can generally avoid squalid health clinics like this, but even we aren’t invincible. I recently spent an entire Saturday standing in line, waiting to get checked for HIV and hepatitis because the oral surgeon who took out my wisdom teeth was too lazy to properly clean his instruments or use sterile needles. How was I supposed to know the guy was a scumbag? I couldn’t have, which is why we have a government branch that’s supposed to inspect places like that (but because this is Oklahoma, they’re underfunded and don’t do their job, which is why I ended up standing in line). But even if you want to blame this guy’s patients for having limited time, energy, and empowerment, what if some of them had contracted HIV, and then had passed it on to others? We could easily have an epidemic. Public health issues have a domino effect, and eventually they end up affecting us all — financially, if nothing else (checking 7,000 people for HIV ain’t cheap, friends).

Finally, this case should be a wake-up call to anyone who honestly still believes that human nature is basically good.

Sick, twisted, disgusting, and depraved in every possible sense? Yeah. But as I read the descriptions of Gosnell’s clinic, all I could think to myself was, “I can actually imagine working in a place like that.”

The thing is, Gosnell’s atrocities are only shocking because he worked in one of the most despicable industries there is. In reality, his clinic was nothing more than an ineptly run business, and we’ve all seen those. Most of us have worked at at least one of them. I spent my college years working at a fast food joint with restrooms that never got cleaned and a colony of roaches living in the ice cream machine. Line cooks picked their noses, dishes got reused without getting washed, and employees weren’t above eating out of the trash. It wasn’t that anyone had malicious intent toward the customers; it was just that nobody gave enough of a damn to make sure things got done right.

Very few people get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to make the world a worse place to live today.” What happens is we get lazy. We let little things slide. And when no one calls us out on the small stuff, we let bigger and bigger stuff slide, until people are getting hurt, or killed, or mutilated and left screaming in a pile of dead babies.

Now, to be fair, it takes a “special” kind of person to say, “I want to be an abortion doctor.” A desire to “help women” isn’t enough. People who really want to help women become obstetricians and gynecologists and feminist activists. No, if you really want to spend your career dismembering fetuses, you have to be at least a little sick in the head to begin with. But, that said, there are abortion doctors out there who are halfway decent people — people who have a moral code that is more or less internally consistent, and have genuine concern for the women they treat, and run a tight ship when it comes to organization and cleanliness. But even for the best of us, there are very few steps between being an upstanding member of the community and being a sick freak.

I imagine Dr. Gosnell, at some point, was a halfway decent human being, but, like all of us, got lazy. He forgot to wash his instruments one day, and forgot to take out the trash the next, and pretty soon he realized there weren’t any consequences for doing a half-assed job. These desperate, poor, minority women would still come to him and give him money to terminate their pregnancies. And then one day, he botched an abortion, and the baby was born alive, and he didn’t want to own up to it, so he snipped the damned thing’s neck. And it was easy. And no one called him out on it. So he kept doing it, and he kept raking in the cash. Let’s not kid ourselves; this could happen to any of us if we had started down the same path.

That speculation doesn’t account for his habit of keeping fetus feet in jars, but what can I say, really? You can only stare into the Darkness for so long before it starts to consume your mind and your soul. People are not blank slates, and we can’t simply reshape morality as we see fit. It’s difficult to imagine someone ripping apart the human form, repeatedly, for a living, every day, and not going at least a little bit insane.

We shouldn’t be surprised things like this happen. We should simply be thankful that they are as rare as they are.

Kyrie eleison.

8 thoughts on “Kermit Gosnell’s House of Horrors: Instead of Giving Up on Life, I Thought I’d Try Writing About It

  1. I am so frustrated when I read your thoughts on abortion because you come so close to making a reasonable argument about it and I feel like I’m with you for a good chunk of it. But then you insist on this whole “it’s all about convenience” trope and say that abortion providers must be at least somewhat “sick in the head” in order to do what they do. Gosnell was not a good bloke who got lazy and slid more and more into disrepair. This guy was sick and sociopathic. A normal but lazy person does not discriminate against minorities, indicating that he KNEW his practice was irresponsible and unethical and when it would behoove him to hide that irresponsibility and when it wouldn’t. A normal but lazy person has some sense of respect and decency to not keep shit like fetus feet in jars as some sort of trophy (especially considering that most late-term abortions are by women who WANTED their pregnancies but needed them terminated for medical reasons and it would probably traumatize them to see the babies they had wanted and hoped for treated that way). I understand that you have a little one on the way, so maybe this hits particularly close to home for you right now, but it is so unbelievably unfair to compare him to the vast majority of abortion providers, I can’t even…..Honestly, it’s rhetoric like this that makes it impossible to have an intelligent conversation about abortion in this country. When people on either side are painted as being mentally unbalanced or satan incarnate, it doesn’t do anything for anybody.

  2. To some extent, the left behaves towards abortion in much the same way as the right does towards our guns. There are still issues that have been argued so many times, with such fervor, and about which both sides feel so strongly, that we’ve lost all reason. We can’t even talk to one another about it because of the emotions it stirs–like ex-spouses trying to have ‘one reasonable conversation’ about money or the kids or whatever. We open with good intentions, then the feral convictions of our outrage take us over.

    Well, not all of us–mainly the lefties. I’M making perfect sense.

    • You and I are in full agreement there, Dallas. I tend to lean left on most issues, and I’m registered as a Democrat, but I absolutely don’t jibe with my party on abortion. If liberalism is about protecting the weak and vulnerable — and most liberals will tell you it is — how can we ignore the unborn in that equation? Most pro-abortion types see themselves as pro-child, pro-downtrodden, and pro-regulation, but they happily throw all those philosophies out the window when it comes to abortion. I suppose I’ll never understand. And more to the point, I’ll probably never get over my cynicism towards the pro-abortion and pro-gun lobbies, since they’re both funded and controlled by groups that rake in billions from the sale of guns and abortions. But whatever.

      (I actually wrote a piece a few months ago comparing the gun lobby and the abortion lobby. It wasn’t the best thing I ever wrote, and it certainly brought the weirdos out of the woodwork in the comments section, but you might be interested in reading it.)

      What’s depressing to me about “wedge issues” like guns and abortion is that people are much more interested in picking a side and bludgeoning everyone else over the head with it than making any sincere attempts to move forward. I’ve had more than one conversation that began with “I’m pro-life,” “Well, I’m pro-choice” — but once we actually discussed the issues instead of labels, we found we agreed on much more than we disagreed. And as for the gun debate, there are plenty of surveys that have found that people who say they’re opposed to gun control will actually readily agree to specific restrictions, like closing the background check loophole and imposing limits on magazine sizes.

      I think a healthy approach to both issues would be to accept that guns and abortions are both always going to be with us, whether we ban them entirely or make them mandatory; the real question we need to be asking is not, “Are [guns/abortions] good?” but rather “How can we regulate [guns/abortions] wisely and effectively to ensure the greater good?”

      But asking hard questions doesn’t win elections.

  3. Pingback: Toward a Progressive Pro-Life Ethic | The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism

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