A troubling but eye-opening murder trial

Posted Online: April 25, 2013, 3:03 pm
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By Jennifer A. Marshall and Sarah Torre
Melissa Ohden went through an abortion and lived to tell about it.

That might not sound noteworthy in an era when more than 3,000 women a day have an abortion. But Melissa was the baby, not the mother.

In 1977, at approximately seven months gestation, Melissa was the target of a saline infusion abortion. She wasn't supposed to survive. She did. Now a married mother with a master's degree in social work, she speaks about abortion from the child's perspective.

That perspective should have gotten much more media coverage recently as abortionist Kermit Gosnell went on trial for murder. For three decades, Gosnell conducted thousands of late-term abortions in squalid conditions at an address that should live in infamy: 3801 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, Pa.

Prosecutors and former clinic staff estimate that hundreds of these abortions -- some of them performed beyond Pennsylvania's 24-week limit -- did not achieve their desired end. They resulted instead in live births.

In the city that birthed a nation founded on the basic human right to life, Gosnell routinely denied life to these infants who survived botched abortions in his unsanitary clinic, prosecutors said.

He is accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of at least seven newborns. He and his employees used a gruesome technique to kill infants who survived late-term abortions, referring to it as a means to "ensure fetal demise," prosecutors said.

Gosnell's grisly practices expose the tenuous logic of "choice" pushed to its extreme.

That same shakiness was on display in March when a Planned Parenthood representative fumbled to respond to Florida lawmakers' questions. She had just testified against a state bill that would require abortion doctors to provide emergency care for infants born after a failed procedure.

"If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion," one legislator asked during the hearing, "what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?"

The Planned Parenthood official responded with an antiseptic party line: "We believe that any decision that's made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician," she said.

After public outcry at such tacit endorsement of infanticide, the local Planned Parenthood affiliate walked back the statement while downplaying the possibility of a child's surviving an abortion as merely a hypothetical.

"In the extremely unlikely event that the scenario presented by the panel of legislators should happen," reads the affiliate's statement, "of course Planned Parenthood would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant."

The criminal case against Gosnell suggests hundreds of instances of such an "extremely unlikely event" occurred in his clinic alone.

The lives of Melissa Ohden and hundreds of other men and women bear witness to the inconvenient reality confronting pro-choice activists. "It is not as rare as you might want to think," Ohden says, urging such activists to meet with her and other abortion survivors, "who could tell you how much more likely circumstances like ours are."

That's why, in 2002, bipartisan majorities in Congress passed the federal Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. The law extends legal protections to newborn babies, including those who survive botched abortions. Dozens of states have introduced (as in Florida) or enacted (as in Pennsylvania) similar measures.

Late-term abortions, especially of the kind that might result in live births, make Americans uneasy. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed generally oppose abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy; 80 percent oppose third-trimester abortions.

Even so, many activists seem blinded by an unquestioning allegiance to the "right to choose," unable to see any limits under any circumstance.

As an Illinois state senator, President Barack Obama repeatedly opposed state legislation patterned after the federal "born alive" law to protect infants born as a result of a failed abortion. In the 10 years since, we haven't heard much about that extreme view.

Nor have we heard much about Kermit Gosnell's house of horrors, even as the abortionist stood trial for murder in recent weeks. A near blackout of coverage in "mainstream" media -- amid a storm of horrified attention on social media -- has shown those news outlets to be out of sync with the views of mainstream America.

No question this is a difficult, troubling topic. How much more troubling for the conscience of our nation, however, if we failed to discuss it.
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, where Sarah Torre is a policy analyst; www.heritage.org.


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)