The thing is, Ross Douthat is writing so superlatively these days on everything that in a just world, he would win a Pulitzer Prize very soon. But nobody who writes so powerfully against abortion and the way the media cover it will ever win a Pulitzer Prize. Still, read his latest, and see what an American opinion journalist working at the top of his craft can produce. Excerpt:
What neither argument seems likely to do, however, is do much to persuade the many, many “pro-choice but …” people who aren’t already so committed, and whose support for abortion rights tends to waver most when they’re confronted with the reality of what abortion actually does to fetal life — in clean, well-funded facilities as well as filthy ones, and in the womb as much as on Gosnell’s operating tables. This is, of course, the central reason why the pro-life side assumes that mainstream reporters didn’t particularly want to cover the trial: Because the mainstream press leans pro-choice, because mainstream journalism is pitched to readers in the mushy middle on abortion, and because the practice of “after-birth abortion” makes fetal humanity manifest in ways that almost inevitably push that middle in a more pro-life direction.
And it’s this reality that the pro-choice commentary on the case, with its focus on making these procedures safer and more accessible (and keeping them in utero), has a very hard time addressing. If you’re one of the 28 percent of Americans who believe that abortion should be legal in all circumstances (or, to take a more specific Gallup question, one of the 14 percent who think that “all circumstances” should include the third trimester), then Carmon’s points, or Yglesias’s, will tend to confirm you in that position. But if you’re a typically-conflicted American — the kind of person for whom stories about neonates gasping for breath before their spines get severed makes you question whether abortion isn’t murder after all — then the insistence that Gosnell case just reveals the advantages of an “above-board competitive marketplace” in late-term abortion isn’t really much of a response.
Which brings us back to that Senior essay, because I think what you’re seeing from the pro-choice side of the Gosnell debate is exactly the dilemma she describes. To respond effectively to the doubts about abortion that fetal snipping summons up, pro-choice advocates would need arguments that (to rephrase Senior’s language) acknowledge and come to terms with the goriness of third-trimester abortions while simultaneously persuading the conflicted and uncommitted of their validity, and that somehow take ownership of the “violence” and “gruesomeness” of abortion (to borrow Harris’s words) without giving aid and comfort to the pro-life cause. And in the absence of such arguments, the pro-choice response to Gosnell feels either evasive and euphemistic, or else logically consistent in ways that tend to horrify the unconvinced — and in either case, inadequate to the challenge his case presents to the cause of abortion rights.
But of course it’s possible that those arguments are absent because they simply don’t exist.
In case you’ve forgotten what this is about, let this Washington Post report refresh your memory:
One former employee, Steven Massof, previously testified that he had seen scores of babies born alive who had their necks “snipped” by Gosnell to ensure their demise. Massof, who said he aided with abortions, said that during busy stretches, women given labor-inducing drugs would give birth so regularly that “it would rain fetuses.”
Another former employee, Lynda Williams, previously told the court that some women, heavily dosed on Cytotec and other drugs, aborted spontaneously in the clinic waiting room.
Last week, a woman named Ashley Baldwin testified about having an internship at Gosnell’s clinic as a 15-year-old high school sophomore interested in medicine. She began by answering phones and doing other administrative tasks and eventually assisted him in performing abortions. She told jurors she recalled seeing various babies squirming, breathing and in one instance “screeching” after late-term abortions.