In May of 2013, Dr. Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of murdering three babies who were born alive in his abortion clinic. Gosnell’s employees testified that he routinely performed late term abortions that were past Pennsylvania’s 24 week time limit. They also testified that babies were often aborted who were whimpering, still moving, and sometimes even breathing. Dr. Gosnell simply “snipped” their spines. Upon investigation authorities found fetuses stored in bags and bottles in the clinic as well as severed feet.[i] The clinic was given the name “house of horrors” and this story was labeled as an extreme outlier.
Pro-life activists were quick to identify this as an example of the reality of abortion. At the same time pro-choice activists warned that if states continued to enact strict abortion policies women would continue to be forced to go to these extreme measures. Illustrated for us in this story, very obviously, is that human life has value and the taking of it will result in legal consequences. Illustrated not so obviously in the response to this story is the current view on the definition of life.
The value that any society places on a specific right is manifested in its laws. Abortion represents inconsistencies of values in the American society. This can be illustrated by a quick look at American values enacted into law. First we must note that in 41 states elective abortions are legal up to the point of viability which for most states is 24 weeks.[ii] There are some states for example Illinois and South Carolina that allow abortions into the third trimester, which begins between 26 and 28 weeks. These laws are the result of the landmark case Roe v Wade (1973) where it was decided that abortion was a Constitutional right up into the third trimester. This decision was made on the basis that women have the right to privacy of their own body thus the saying “my body my choice.”[iii]
Situational Right to Life
From the right to privacy stems the new found right to choice; this has become a very popular right to defend. The inconsistencies begin when we look at other laws regarding human fetuses, for example, fetal homicide laws. Currently 38 states have fetal homicide laws 23 of which apply to a fetus at early stages of development (before viability). For example Arizona applies manslaughter, negligent homicide, and first and second degree murder to an unborn child no matter the stage of development. Illinois, the same state that allows abortions late into the third trimester, defines an unborn child as “any individual of the human species from fertilization until birth” and protects the unborn child in instances of homicide, involuntary manslaughter, voluntary man slaughter, reckless homicide, battery, and aggravated battery.[iv] However in each of these 38 states there is one exception; abortion. The right to life of the unborn child is protected in every case except that of abortion.
The variable that distinguishes these different cases is the state of “being wanted.” Can we conclude that the definition of life and ones right to it is dependent on being wanted? If the life of the child is wanted then it is protected by law, it has rights that can be violated by another human which is punishable by law. However it is important to note that the state of being wanted is only valid if it is perpetuated from the mother. Being wanted by the father is not enough to merit the right to life; the child’s rights are only granted if the mother allows it. The rights of one individual are entirely dependent on desires of another? The danger in this “logic” is further perpetuated when we look at the “research” surrounding the topic of abortion.
Recently a study was published that concluded there are positive relationships between states with strict abortion policies and high child homicide rates. The authors concluded that the issue with child homicide was strict abortion policies.[v] To look at cases of child abuse and child homicide and cite abortion as the answer is to eliminate the victim not the offender. Abuse and homicide are an issue because they are in violation a child’s right to life. The only solution that abortion offers is to eliminate that right at an earlier stage.
Gosnell not an “outlier”
Dr. Gosnell was labeled as an “extreme outlier,” however, it was not an isolated incident. A few days later another abortionist, Douglas Karpen, was investigated under similar charges. Karpen’s employees took pictures of two babies that did not die in the womb. Their skin was pink; they had sever bruising indicating that at the time the trauma (from the extraction instruments) was inflicted, the heart was beating. The eyes of one baby were open and developed enough to indicate the child was somewhere between 26-28 weeks. Karpen’s employees shared horror stories similar to those of Dr. Gosnell, snipping spinal cords of whimpering babies, as well as twisting heads from spines. Dr. Gosnell had a history of reports including one in 2005 when the business adjacent to his clinic reported that a sewer line had broken, spilling carnage of blood and what appeared to be human feet and hands.[vi] The charges against Dr. Karpen were dismissed on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support that he was violating any laws.
This story again illustrates the inconsistent values surrounding abortion. The right to life was recognized by the state of Pennsylvania but was denied in the state of Texas. Even more alarming is the knowledge that since the decision of Roe v Wade 55,772,015 individuals in the United States[vii] have been denied their rights because they did not reach the status of “being wanted” by their mothers. Most alarming is a society that has placed a higher value on granting the personal desires of one individual over protecting the rights of the defenseless.
[ii] Michigan State University. “State Abortion laws.” https://www.msu.edu/user/schwenkl/abtrbng/stablw.htm (accessed 6/16/2014 )
[iii] Epstein, Lee, and Thomas g. Walker. “The right to privacy.” In Constitutional Law for a Changing America: A short Course. Washington D.C.: CQ Press, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/113
[iv] National Conference of State Legislature. “Fetal Homicide State Laws.”. http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/fetal-homicide-state-laws.aspx (accessed 6/16/2014).
[v] Sen, Bisakha, and Martha Wingate. “The relationship between state abortion-restrictions and homicide deaths among children under 5 years of age: A longitudinal study.” Social Science and Medicine, 1 July 2012. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22497846
[vii] Ertelt, Steven. “55,772,015 Abortions in America since Roe v. Wade in 1973.”. http://www.lifenews.com/2013/01/18/55772015-abortions-in-america-since-roe-vs-wade-in-1973/ (accessed 6/16/2014).