The banality of infanticide

The shocking admission is hidden on Planned Parenthood's website, among pleasant pictures of smiling women and soothing assurances that abortion is a "common" and "safe procedure":

"In later second-trimester procedures, you may also need a shot through your abdomen to make sure there is fetal demise before the procedure begins."

I wonder if any woman reads it and feels a shock: "You mean, if I don't get that shot, then in the abortion I would give birth to a baby? But then wouldn't I be allowing them to kill my baby, if I allowed them to give me that shot?"

That which is to be a man, is already a man, said Tertullian. That which is about to be born as my baby, is already my baby.

The woman's next thought really ought to be: Why in the world would I put myself into the hands of anyone who is prepared to kill my baby? Followed by: And if these people are prepared to kill my baby now in the second trimester, why should I believe their assurances that they are not killing women's babies in the first trimester?

Every defense of abortion is also a defense of infanticide, because the boundary line of birth is morally irrelevant. Likewise no one can be repulsed by infanticide without decisively turning against abortion. The Culture of Life lines up against abortion and infanticide; the Culture of Death is equally unconcerned about both.

Witness the reactions to the Philadelphia abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Only the pro-life news sources dwelt upon it. It's not that the major media covered it up: they simply did not care. It was no big deal for them.

Dr. Gosnell's clinic was unsanitary. The Department of Health found cat feces strewn about, blood stained blankets, and surfaces that hadn't been cleaned in months. But suppose the clinic was as dirt-free as a semi-conductor manufacturing plant, the important facts would remain the same.

Dr. Gosnell was greedy, lazy, and a bungling surgeon. Because he was greedy, over time he gravitated to doing late abortions which no one else would do, for which he commanded fees of up to $5,000 each.

Because he was lazy, he took a lazy man's approach to late term abortions: he gave his clients large doses of drugs which induced labor; he sedated them heavily; and then he would simply wait until the baby was born (or it "precipitated", as the baby's birth was referred to in the scientific lingo of his clinic). His abortion practice basically consisted in making women go into early labor.

Given the circumstances, many of the babies born prematurely in this way would be alive. Naturally, they would need to meet their demise. Here is where Gosnell's bungling skill came in. The usual procedure, as in the Planned Parenthood quote, is to cause the baby's demise while it was still in the womb. But Gosnell was not very good at techniques such as injecting chemicals into the tiny heart of an infant in utero. Or, as in partial birth abortion, pulling out all of the baby except the head, and then sucking out the baby's brains while the head was in the birth canal.

These techniques seemed like troublesome refinements to him. If his job involved causing the baby's demise, what difference would it make whether he did so immediately before it was born, or immediately after. It's a heck of a lot easier to do the job after birth.

Gosnell had different methods, and we can imagine a progression. Sometimes he let the head come out first, and then he sucked the baby's brains out when the baby was still in the birth canal -- a kind of backwards partial birth abortion. Sometimes he let the baby get born and then, as the baby lay there breathing and moving on the delivery table, he would suck out its brains after the fact. And sometimes -- this was his own contribution to the art of abortion, his own special technique -- he would insert surgical scissors into the small of the baby's neck and snip its spinal column in half at that spot.

He did not do with this with one baby or two, or a dozen, but with hundreds. "How many times would you say you've seen this?" various clinic workers were asked in the Grand Jury investigation. "Hundreds. I've seen hundreds," one worker said. "More than I care to remember," said another, who then estimated this happened about 50 percent of the time.

Gosnell cracked jokes about it. "That's what you call a chicken with its head cut off," he said about one of his victims of infanticide. One baby, he said, was so big that "he could walk me to the bus stop." He also collected and preserved the severed feet of the babies he killed, arranging the specimens in neatly arranged rows of plastic jars, perhaps to mock pro-lifers with their "precious feet" pins.

In a healthy society, such an evil would provoke such revulsion that crowds would rise up and march as if with torches, crying out for an immediate reversal of Roe. People would wonder, "what have we come to?" and call for days of penance and reparation.

But, as it is, the media reports on the unclean conditions of the clinic building, and the need for better regulation, and the National Abortion Federation decries the unprofessionalism of it, and nobody really cares.

Michael Pakaluk is Professor of Philosophy and Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Ave Maria University.