A Powerful Movie with an Important Lesson

22773472_s.jpg

I knew the story well. I read the book when it was first released and contributed to the crowd funding campaign that helped launch the movie. I knew the details, knew the outcome, and knew what to expect in almost every scene. Nevertheless, my knowledge was insufficient to constrain my tears. At several points in the movie my eyes overflowed. Anger, disgust and sadness rose within me at the horror depicted and my emotions took over. The movie is Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.

The movie is powerful, and it may be the most important movie you have never heard about.

Gosnell was a gynecologist in Philadelphia who ran a private abortion clinic. He specialized in abortions other doctors wouldn’t do. Many of them shouldn’t have been done for legal reasons. Pennsylvania law, similar to the majority of states, prohibits abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the age at which many babies can survive outside the womb. Gosnell ignored the law and routinely provided late term abortions, including on babies at 30 weeks of gestation or more.

Term limitations for pregnancy terminations were not the only laws he held in contempt. He did not adhere to the most basic health and safety regulations. He reused instruments without cleaning them, allowed cats to wander through, and defecate, in the office, and had assistants with no medical education or training give IV sedation to patients when he was not in the building. He also made thousands of dollars illegally prescribing opioids.

While it was the selling of narcotic prescriptions to addicts and dealers that first led authorities to his clinic, it was his failure to appropriately medicate and monitor patients, combined with providing very late term abortions, that ultimately led to his undoing.

During the course of the narcotics probe investigators searched his facility. In addition to deplorable filth, non-functional equipment and unattended patients they found dozens of aborted fetuses in bags, milk cartons and jars. Several of them were clearly far beyond the 24 week limit. Clinic employees, aware of their own possible criminal liability, told the police about other horrors. They related tales of severe injuries to patients, including the recent death of a mother who had undergone a botched late term procedure. Perhaps most horrifying, they told of late-term patients being given drugs to induce abortion who ended up spontaneously and unintentionally delivering live babies. These viable babies could have survived with appropriate medical care. Dr. Gosnell‘ s common means of handling such cases was brutal. He would dispassionately take a pair of scissors and cut the spinal cord at the base of the skull, murdering the child. (He was charged for 7 such deaths in the movie. The grand jury report suggested he had similarly ended the lives of hundreds of babies in this fashion over the years.)

When I read the book and while I watched the movie I found myself wondering, “How could something like this happen?”

For Gosnell, it was clear that he was overcome with greed, deceit and hubris. Greed, because in illegal abortions he discovered a lucrative cash business. He did not need to deal with insurance billing, and as he dealt with poor and desperate patients he had little fear of being reported to the authorities. Deceit, as he told himself that their was nobility and honor in providing women with a service no one else would provide. Hubris, for he thought himself so noble that laws and regulations did not apply to him, and that the deaths that occurred on his watch and at his hands were not his fault. They were expected and appropriate.

Though astonishing, I find Gosnell’s individual evil something I can process and partially comprehend. I know there are evil people in the world, and I know there are bad doctors as well. There are over 950,000 physicians in the United States, and one would expect that there must be at least a few terrible individuals among their number. There is no such thing as perfect screening or perfect oversight, and some bad people are bound to slide through the medical admissions, education and training process.

While I can rationalize the existence of an evil individual, I cannot come to grips with the systemic evil that allowed Gosnell to do what he did. Grand jury and trial testimony revealed an astonishing truth. The Pennsylvania health department had declined to perform any quality inspections on the clinic for 17 years. While hospitals, surgical centers and even nail salons were regularly required to undergo mandatory inspections, process reviews, and quality checks, the governor had ordered that abortion clinics not be assessed at all. Multiple reports were submitted about Gosnell, including reports of patients infected with STD’s due to contaminated equipment, life-threatening injuries resulting in hysterectomies and intestinal damage, and at least two patient deaths. All were intentionally ignored.

The reasons behind the decision to not inspect were chillingly simple. The pro-choice governor feared that inspections might reveal that some abortion clinics were unsafe or dangerous, and that such reports could provide ammunition to pro-life advocates who might seize on such reports to push for limits on abortion. Simply put, those commissioned with protecting patients were more interested in protecting an agenda. The cause was more important than the people it was supposed to serve. A woman’s right to an abortion was more important than a woman’s safety.

This biased agenda was not limited to state agents and agencies. One would think that a trial involving 8 murder counts and over 200 other criminal charges against  a physician with a 30-year history in the community would have been front page news in Philadelphia. The trial was universally ignored. The empty courtroom seats revealed just how politically sensitive the abortion issue was.

It is still politically sensitive. Although the film is in wide release in over 670 theaters and likely to debut in the top 10 films at the box office, most newspapers have ignored it. The website MetaCritic lists only a single review (Another movie released into 248 theaters this week, “The Hate You Give”, has 34 reviews.) I have read some of the few reviews and articles about the movie that are available, and they say Gosnell is an “anti-abortion movie” intended for “conservative Christians.” While it is true that the Gosnell story may be used to bolster the arguments of those who are against abortion, these authors and critics appear to have a bias that prevents them from seeing the larger point of the movie. It is more about evil and its coverup than it is about abortion. Regardless of the issue, there is always a danger of putting an issue ahead of the people who are supposed to be served. When things become more important than people, terrible things happen.

(This loss of focus can be found on the pro-life side as well. The Catholic Church, perhaps the world’s loudest voice on behalf of unborn life, is currently embroiled in a massive abuse scandal. A grand jury in  the same state of Pennsylvania recently released its findings on the systematic coverup of sexual abuse by over 300 priests over several decades. Church leaders apparently decided protecting the church and her reputation was more important than protecting the children she claimed to serve.)

It is easy to sit in judgment of Kermit Gosnell and the state officials who turned a blind eye to his crimes, to bemoan the failings of the Catholic Church and its priests, and to tell ourselves we would never do such a thing. We need to be careful, to continually examine ourselves for any signs of such self-deceit. The story of Gosnell, in fact the story of all human history, reminds us that human beings have a profound capacity for self-justification and a remarkable ability to overlook evil when it serves our agenda.

We must be ever vigilant.

- Bart

I strongly encourage seeing the movie. It is extremely well done and manages to communicate the horrors of Gosnell without gore or offense.  

Planned Parenthood and Selling Body Parts, a Christian Doctor Responds

Baby parts are on sale. We just didn’t know it. The release of the Planned Parenthood videos revealed repulsive secrets about the organization and our society.

Many people reacted with shock and disgust to the hidden camera footage of a Planned Parenthood physician callously discussing getting reimbursed for the organs of aborted babies. In the conversations I have had and in the articles I have read there has been a common question, “How could they do such a thing?”

My answer has caught people by surprise- “Why wouldn’t they?”

The Planned Parenthood policy of selling aborted baby organs is the natural and expected outcome of the worldview and mindset of the organization. Planned Parenthood believes that unborn life has no inherent value apart from that given it by the mother. Regardless of the stage of pregnancy or level of development, it is only a “fetus”, just a blob of tissue until the mother declares it otherwise. Life is only life when it is wanted.

While Planned Parenthood denies the value or sanctity of unborn life it proudly proclaims its support for adult life. (The “rights of the woman” are its guiding value) If unborn life is not at all life and adult life is of supreme value, why wouldn’t you collect the end products of a medical procedure so they could be used for medical research? And since your work is noble and valuable, why not make a little profit while you were at it?

If Planned Parenthood gave any credence to the opinions of those disturbed by the revelation of their tissue procurement policies they wouldn’t be in the abortion business to begin with. Arguments about the dignity of life or the morality of the policy were dismissed long ago. In the minds of Planned Parenthood those who make such arguments are anti-women, anti-science, simple-minded religious fanatics. Planned Parenthood knows what they are doing is right, they know the tissue they are dealing with is not a baby and not yet human. They have to believe this in order to continue in business. Like so many monsters in history their evil deeds are justified by their determination of what is fully human and what is not.

When something or someone is determined to be less than human then it is not entitled to the legal protection or respect accorded to other human beings. The Jews under Nazi rule, slaves in early America and Christians in many Muslim nations all attest to the atrocities that come when men determine that other men are not fully man.

We have allowed Planned Parenthood to determine what and who is human and who is not. The videos reveal the natural outcome of their determination. As shameful as their practices are, the greater shame is that we have allowed these practices for so long. As a society we have ignored the truth about the atrocities of the abortion industry and pretended that barbaric providers were rare. We turned the other way when Kermit Gosnell preyed on poor women, we ignored the fact that abortion clinics are disproportionately located in minority neighborhoods, and we lied to ourselves and pretended that abortions after the first trimester were rare and in the best interests of the mother. Worst of all, we lied and said it was “just a fetus” or a lump of cells.

It is a sad reflection on the nature of man that when we deign to decide what is and is not human we do so in a way that elevates ourselves and devalues other life. A true and correct definition of life can only come from the God who gives it. 

- Bart

The drawing in the post is of a baby at 18 weeks of pregnancy. The first video released shows the Planned Parenthood doctor describe selectively crushing a child like this in order to harvest intact organs. 

UPDATE: I have received some appropriate questions which have correctly pointed out the legality of Planned Parenthood's actions and that the fees charged for the tissue were not all that great and profits were nominal. Objections were focused on the term "selling baby parts", if money is exchanged for the intact liver of a baby of 18 weeks gestation the term is every bit as accurate as the euphemistic "reimbursement for collection of fetal liver tissue." 

Feel free to comment or ask questions. You can subscribe to the blog by clicking on the subscribe button on the page. I can be followed on twitter @bartbarrettmd.

A Baby's Life Ends

It was clearly a baby on the screen. I could see its little arms wave and all of the fingers on his little hands. I watched his legs kick and his heart beat as I moved the ultrasound probe across the mother’s abdomen, gathering the measurements that would allow me to determine the stage of the pregnancy. As I did the machine’s built in calculator displayed the results on the screen- 23 weeks. Fully developed and just 2 weeks away from the age at which life outside of the womb was possible! As I always was I was awestruck at the miracle of life.

The mother wasn’t. She wanted the baby gone, dead, out of her body.

To this woman the image on the screen was not a baby, was not a life. It was a problem that needed to be disposed of. I tried to engage her in conversation, tried to get her to discuss options other than termination but she dismissed me with a wave of her hand. She wanted an abortion.

Within minutes the woman was gone. Within days, so was the baby.

There was nothing wrong with the baby, no medical condition that would have made it difficult to raise or care for. There was no diagnosis or problem that put the mother at risk, no medical reason that she could not have continued to term and given the child to a loving family. She simply did not want to be pregnant and in our society that was, and is, enough.

She went to the local doctor in town who served as the late term abortionist. He was happy to take care of her and perform the service. He is an enigma to me, a man with a passion for raising orchids who boasts of traveling the world to save rare species of flowers. He saves flowers but he has no qualms about ending the life of an unborn child just days away from viability outside the womb. The "service" he provided is one he has provided for many other women.

This woman’s story and her reason for terminating the life of her unborn child are not uncommon. Over the years I have encountered a number of women who wanted to similarly terminate a pregnancy. Like her, in the vast majority of cases the motivation was selfish and shallow. One woman who was particularly vain told me, “I will be due in August? There is no way I want to be fat during bikini season!” She was absolutely serious and she absolutely had an abortion to maintain her beach season figure.

I realize that there are times when woman face what seem to be incredibly difficult decisions, who feel as if they are being forced to choose between terrible options. I am not addressing them with this post as they are truly the rarer cases. For many women abortion is just another form of birth control and as such reveals a frightening reality about the world in which we live. When selfishness and convenience become dominant values, when things and circumstances matter more than life itself, we all suffer.

This is evident in our inner cities. Abortion rates for women in one demographic  are 5 times that of the lowest measured, a second demographic has abortion rates double that of the lowest. That this reflects a devaluation of life is evident by the murder rates for the various groups. Murder rates for demographic A are 18 times higher than that of the lowest, for demographic B the rate is almost 5 times higher. This is not a coincidence. When some lives don’t matter at all, all life decreases in value.

We need to reframe the issue. When discussing choice we need to remind others of what the choice is. There is more than one body involved. The choice is a decision about life and about which lives matter and when they do. The answer is simple. All lives matter, even the earliest and youngest ones.

-          Bart

To those who think I may have been heavy handed in this post I offer this explanation. I am the father of a wonderful young woman whose birth mother nearly terminated her life out of convenience 20 years ago. The woman missed the appointment that would have led to my daughter’s life ending. For us, this issue is deeply personal.