Kermit Gosnell. The name conjures up all forms of horror in the minds of so many. The arrest, trial, and conviction of Kermit Gosnell touches on a plethora of social, cultural, and public policy issues as few other high profile court cases do. The case has provoked a broad range of worthy discussions, several of which I will raise through a series of blog posts at Abortion.com and in a complete article at another source that will be accessible at a later time. Hopefully the good to come from the evils of this man will be honest dialogue about some of these issues.
To begin an honest dialogue, the controversy about the media coverage of the Gosnell case seems like a good starting point. Since the beginning of the trial and, now, after the conviction, the case is continually mentioned by conservative radio entertainers, anti-choice politicians, and anti-choice activists in every possible forum. The mindset of many seems to be that media, in collusion with pro-choice advocates, has conspired to minimize any significance that the case brings to the abortion debate. Their goal is arguably to saturate the public with incorrect messaging and try to use the Gosnell case to define the choice of abortion. Such a tactic is not likely to convert pro-choice people to an anti-abortion position. What it will do is keep the most radical anti-choice activists occupied with promoting misinformation.
The criminal case against Kermit Gosnell initially did seem to be a case about abortion or at the very least about bad abortion providers and clinics. For sure, a number of abortion-related political, moral, legal, and public policy issues were made relevant as a result of the case. However, the case was not about abortion; the role of abortion in the case was limited to being a part of the evidence against Gosnell, a criminal. The indictment against Gosnell states, “…we realize this case will be used by those on both sides of the abortion debate…the case is not about that controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants.” The indictment was graphic; Gosnell was evil. (See http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf ) The prosecution actually did an excellent job throughout the trial in keeping the case focused on the legal merits and not the political debate about abortion.
As a licensed doctor who violated laws and professional standards of abortion care, as well as other areas of medical practice (including unlawful prescribing of pain medication), Gosnell has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison for murdering three babies. (There were other charges and mixed verdicts; the sentence was the result of a negotiation between the defense and the prosecution to avoid the death penalty.) He was not performing late term abortions in the cases for which he was charged. He was killing viable third trimester fetuses – babies – under the guise of providing elective second trimester abortions. When a health-related later term abortion is performed, and results in a live birth, a competent professional doctor would follow protocol to provide or seek immediate medical attention for the baby. Gosnell did neither. Instead, he not only failed to check for signs of life, but he also ensured death and involved others in his crimes. He jeopardized the health and lives of his patients. He maximized his profits by hiring nonmedical staff. The clinic was also filthy and in violation of numerous laws and professional standards. In all probability, Gosnell would have been convicted of crimes regardless if he provided abortions.
It was not surprising that the Gosnell case continued to be perceived to be about abortion even after the trial. Virtually all news reports gave more attention to the reactions of the two sides of the abortion debate instead of the actual crimes he committed. When I recently asked news-informed people what they knew about the case, all could reference abortion. None could provide information concerning specific details about the charges against Gosnell. There continue to be claims that the media ignored the case; most basing their belief on their opinion that the majority of media professionals are pro-choice liberals. In reality, the media reported on the case similarly to other criminal cases. The charges filed against Gosnell in January, 2011 were reported by the media. After the initial charges were filed, there was nothing new to report until the trial began – in part because a gag order was imposed on the defense and the prosecution in April. It is as simple as that.
Consider recent high profile criminal cases that have made the news. After the initial cycle of “breaking news” headlines, there may have been a few special interest storylines but little else until a court proceeding took place. The mass killing at the theater in Aurora, Colorado comes to mind. For several weeks after the event, families willing to speak with the press enabled numerous human interest issues. The only news since has concerned court decisions, such as last week’s ruling that the accused will be allowed to plead insanity. The recovery of three women in Ohio who had been held captive for ten years was major news until there was nothing new to report. This week, it was reported that the accused was no longer on suicide watch – nothing else. In the Gosnell case, there were also medical privacy issues that posed significant challenges to reporters who might have been interested in presenting human interest storylines similar to other high profile criminal cases.
It seems that people opposed to abortion believe that if abortion is part of the evidence in a criminal case, or if the criminal is an abortion provider, the media should be obligated to continuously report something about the case. Ironically, even conservative media sources did not report on the case until the trial. And, even then, they hypocritically pointed to the lack of coverage as if they had no ownership of the so-called “failure” to cover the story. If there had been something new to report between the time of the initial charges and indictment to the time of the trial, the more conservative media sources at the very least would have reported.
Many of us, including pro-choice folks, wonder why the murder trials of Casey Anthony and Jody Arias as well as the upcoming murder trial of George Zimmerman warrant constant coverage but the Gosnell trial did not. One answer is that cameras are not allowed in Pennsylvania courtrooms. Other explanations include the sheer difficulty in presenting technical medical testimony through the filter of reporters or editors and protecting the privacy of medical records submitted as evidence. Those two points alone had the potential to create enormous error which would be a disservice to all.
An objective look at the history of the coverage of the Gosnell case will confirm that there was no conspiracy to hide or minimize the atrocity of the crimes committed by Kermit Gosnell. The passion and convictions many of us have about the abortion debate and other issues is often used by media to determine the coverage. But that coverage has to be responsible and factual.
Part 2 of this series will address issues of competency and professionalism among doctors who provide abortions. In the meantime, no matter your position on abortion, at least consider that the Gosnell case was about crimes and not abortion. If you do a comprehensive online search, you will find that the case of Kermit Gosnell was thoroughly covered by the media.