Gosnell and the Under-appreciation of Motherhood

The setting: A “clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely.  Furniture and blankets…stained with blood.  Instruments…not properly sterilized.  Disposable medical supplies…not disposed of, [instead] reused, over and over again. The emergency exit was padlocked shut.”

“Among the relatively few cases that could be specifically documented, one was Baby A. His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant – seven and a half months—when labor was induced. An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds. He was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” Another, Baby Boy B, whose body was found at the clinic frozen in a one-gallon spring-water bottle, was at least 28 weeks of gestational age when he was killed. Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord, just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times.”

Graphic excerpts from a horror novel? If only. The above are excerpts from a 2011 Report of the Grand Jury to the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania’s Criminal Trial Division. On Monday, May 13, Philadelphia abortionist, Kermit Gosnell, was convicted for the first-degree murder of three infants born alive during abortion procedures.  He was also convicted on one count of infanticide, the involuntary manslaughter of patient Karnamaya Mongar, and 208 violations of informed-consent law.

To make matters worse, however, media coverage of what many are saying have the elements of “the trial of the century,” was scandalously scarce.  And on a campus that boasts a rather strong activist culture, I heard nothing but silence with regards to the Gosnell murders.

The trials, which began in April, reveal a media section with only one journalist present, reflecting that what would otherwise be an event of national significance was ignored by the (broadly speaking) liberal media.   David Weigel from Slate attributes the lack of reporting to an existing media “bubble” that remains impervious to more socially conservative causes.  In an April 12 piece, he stated:

“Let’s just state the obvious: National political reporters are, by and large, socially liberal. We are more likely to know a gay couple than to know someone who owns an “assault weapon.” We are, generally, pro-choice…There is a bubble. Horror stories of abortionists are less likely to permeate that bubble than, say, a story about a right-wing pundit attacking an abortionist who then claims to have gotten death threats.”

Never mind that Karnamaya Mongar, an underprivileged Nepalese refugee, was made to sign forms, which, according to the grand-jury report, she could not even read prior to having “received repeated unmonitored, unrecorded intravenous injections of Demerol, a sedative seldom used in recent years because of its dangers.”  Never mind that Gosnell did not give her the same level of attention that he did to a more privileged white woman, which he justified by saying it was “the way of the world.” Never mind that his lack of attention resulted in her death despite paramedics’ efforts to revive her.  The Gosnell trials reek of problems deemed not only classically conservative, but liberal as well.

But the root of the problem lies not along ideological lines, with pro-life, anti-Gosnell conservatives pitted against pro-choice, Gosnell-indifferent liberals, as many have chosen to describe this debacle.  Rather, one of the underlying causes of the disappointing lack of public outrage with the Gosnell murders is our general under-appreciation of motherhood.

What exactly do I mean? Our societal appreciation for women has indeed increased in recent decades with women advancing in business, the sciences, in government and politics, etc.  But our appreciation for women is incomplete in the sense that while we promote increased opportunities for women, we fail to promote her natural fertility, her motherhood.  For example, we talk about *balancing *work and family—particularly for women—as if the two are necessarily incompatible.  Sarah Elizabeth Richards of the Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed entitled, “Why I Froze My Eggs and You Should Too,” arguing that “the ability to control when we have children” is perhaps “the most powerful gender equalizer,” especially “amid all the talk of ‘leaning in’ and ‘having it all.’”  This presupposes an attitude that motherhood *prevents *the equality of genders, as if motherhood inhibits women from achieving fulfillment in society.

We provide abortion on-demand, framing it as an issue of choice, when in fact, for many women, it has become their *only *choice amidst a lack of a supportive environment in which they feel they *can *raise children.

With regards to the Gosnell murders, in addition to asking the question, “How could we have allowed Gosnell to kill these babies and harm these women?” perhaps we should also be asking, “Why are these women going to Gosnell in the first place?” What are the institutions that drove hundreds of women every year to Gosnell for abortions at the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy? Why did they feel that this man and his “house of horrors” was their only option to avoid carrying their pregnancies to term? Why did they feel that they could not be the mothers of the children they were carrying?

I write this in the days following Mother’s Day, a day we have set aside to celebrate the women our lives who have made so many sacrifices for our well-being.  Let us extend the appreciation we give to them on this day into our everyday lives.  Only then will we be able to appreciate mothers not just in theory, but in practice, and the victims of men like Kermit Gosnell will be fewer in number.

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