WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
The only board I normally stand before is the cutting board. But Jill asked if I would say a few words before the august conclave of our large regional hospital on the fourth Tuesday in January. It was once again that time of year when the meeting is, by law, open to the public. And once again the community pro-life contingency would shuffle in and disgorge their five-minute index cards pleading for the unborn, and poker-faced powers-that-be would be glad when it’s over. This has been the drill for decades.
It gave me a chance to dust off my stack of yellow legal pads from an old WORLD assignment. Here was my five minutes’ worth, though not equal to what the Christian doctor and Nigerian and American pastors shared:
Thank you for the opportunity to address the board of this hospital. Five years ago my magazine assigned me to the Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia, from which I sent back daily dispatches. I sat directly behind Dr. Gosnell the first few weeks, which was easy to do because practically no one was there except a couple of lonely reporters from the Daily News and Philadelphia Magazine.
Later the world showed up. Everybody wanted Gosnell found guilty. The pro-lifers wanted him put away because he killed babies for a living. The pro-abortion crowd wanted him put away because they understood that a lot would come out about abortion, and it would look uncomfortably similar to what had occurred at 3801 Lancaster Avenue.
There are a finite number of these get-togethers, and every time you hear the facts it increases your culpability.
The prosecution’s first witness was an obstetrician from this hospital who does abortions. She was supposed to make Gosnell look bad. She was supposed to show the way a proper abortion is done. We learned many interesting things from her—such as the right way to measure a baby’s head before aborting so that we don’t violate the 24-week Pennsylvania law; such as the importance of having a good autoclave for sterilizing scissors used to cut up the baby’s hands and feet in order to get them out of the mother.
The D.A. had a tough row to hoe. He had to portray Gosnell as a “monster” without making all abortionists look like monsters. He did that by emphasizing the safety of hospital abortions for the mother. He did it by emphasizing the cleanliness of this hospital’s surgery units versus what he repeatedly called Gosnell’s “house of horrors” clinic. He did it by arguing that Gosnell aborted babies at 25 weeks, even though his obstetrician witness was fine with abortions at 23.5 weeks, and even though the defense showed us a photo of a “preemie” who survived a 23-week delivery. He did it by contending that it was cruel to snip the aborted baby’s spinal cord to hasten death (Gosnell’s method) but that it was compassionate to place the still-breathing baby under a blanket till it expires (this hospital’s method).
He had to make those differences seem like very big differences.
But arguing about details like that seems to me like arguing about the silverware on the Titanic.
In the end they all come out dead. In the Old Testament a city in Israel is under siege and people are starving, and the king comes upon two women arguing and asks what they are arguing about. What they are arguing about is whose turn it is to cook and eat their babies. The king tears his robes and dons sackcloth and ashes.
Or, as Mercutio said just before dying, to the warring Montagues and Capulets, “A pox on both your houses!”
This is a familiar dance we’re doing tonight—this charade where pro-lifers come here once a year and plead, and where you grin and bear it. But this won’t go on forever. There are a finite number of these get-togethers, and every time you hear the facts it increases your culpability. Then the Judge will come, and where will you be then, having forged your chain link by link, like Ebenezer’s partner Marley?
Today, while you have today, be courageous. Whatever you fear to lose from changing your policy—money, prestige—is rubbish. Take the adventure. As Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.”