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April 30, 2013
The Gosnell story and its lessons
By Francis Maier *

By Francis Maier *

Some stories, no matter how unsettling, just can't be ignored – even when some people are determined to look away.

The murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell will soon go to jury. And like every other criminally accused person under the law, Gosnell is innocent until proven guilty. Whatever the verdict though, there's no ambiguity about the kind of business he ran at his West Philadelphia “Women's Medical Center” – an abortion clinic that critics have likened to a meatpacking plant or a butcher shop, with unborn children delivered into a toilet, and jars of fetal body parts stored around the facility.

Dr. Gosnell was originally charged with one count of infanticide and five counts of “abuse of corpse” for killing fetuses born alive by plunging scissors into their necks. Without explanation, the judge in the case accepted a motion to acquit Gosnell of these charges earlier this week. Gosnell still faces four counts of first-degree and one count of third-degree murder. Eight of his coworkers have already pleaded guilty in the case, including three to third-degree murder.

Or so said The New York Times in a report dated April 23. The date is important. Gosnell's trial began March 18, more than a month ago. The Times coverage, while modest, is significant. Why? The answer is simple. The Inquirer – Philadelphia's hometown paper – has done a good job following the trial. But most prestige national media have seemed remarkably eager to ignore the story until shamed into covering it.

Gosnell is much more than a “local” story. The continuing debate over legalized abortion is a hot button national issue that drew half a million prolife demonstrators to Washington in January. The battle over abortion restrictions continues in every state. Forty years after the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision, resistance to permissive abortion remains high. And the vivid details of the Gosnell clinic tragedy have the kind of salacious appeal that few national media would normally avoid – if the issue were anything else. But abortion is too often, and in too many news rooms, exactly the kind of topic that brings on a sudden case of snow blindness.

The real story in the Gosnell trial is bigger than the ugly allegations against Gosnell himself; it includes the failure – the allergic disinterest – of some of our most important national media. A headline in The Atlantic magazine, April 12, states the obvious: “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell's Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story: The dead babies. The exploited women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures. It is thoroughly newsworthy.”

The Atlantic story by Conor Friedersdorf is worth reading:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/why-dr-kermit-gosnells-trial-should-be-a-front-page-story/274944/

But don't stop there. Read this by Kirsten Powers, columnist for The Daily Beast, in USA Today:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/04/10/philadelphia-abortion-clinic-horror-column/2072577/

And see these excellent analyses by journalists Terry Mattingly, Mollie Hemingway and George Conger:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/?s=gosnell

The irony is that much of the media's lethargy in covering the Gosnell case really doesn't surprise. It's part of the fabric of a culture that simply will not see what it doesn't want to see about the realities of abortion. And it leads to the kind of implausible claim made recently by one local commentator that “no sense of guilt is warranted” by the media because “there is no causal connection between coverage of [the Gosnell] case and bias.” It's hard to imagine a more untenable alibi.

The brutality in abortion is intimate, personal and permanent. It violates women, and it kills a developing human life every time – whether the venue is a “Women's Medical Center” style meat factory or a soothing suburban clinic. What makes the Gosnell story unique is that it should distress anyone with its details, pro-choice or prolife, regardless of religion or politics.

But of course, people need to know about an evil before they can do anything about it.

Francis X Maier is the former Editor in Chief of the National Catholic Register.
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