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Gosnell and the Abortion License: Incoherence at Its Best

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Updated: May 23, 2013

Gosnell and the Abortion License: Incoherence at Its Best

Last Monday, a Philadelphia jury found abortionist Kermit Gosnell guilty on three counts of first-degree murder, one count of manslaughter and literally hundreds of lesser charges. The verdict came after nearly two months of testimony that described, in what the Washington Post called “gruesome detail,” the inhumanity and brutality of what can and does happen in American abortion clinics.

It also exposed the incoherence of the legal, moral and philosophical reasoning underlying the abortion regime.

Gosnell avoided a possible death sentencing by forgoing his right of appeal in exchange for life sentences.

The reactions to the verdicts ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said that “some abortionists may have cleaner sheets than Gosnell, and better sterilized equipment and better trained accomplices, but what they do ... is the same.”

For its part, Planned Parenthood praised the verdict and then bizarrely cited the Gosnell case as a reason to “reject misguided laws that would limit women’s options and force them to seek treatment from criminals like Kermit Gosnell.”

Huh? Gosnell is a criminal, but his crimes did not include running an illegal abortion clinic.

By far, the best reaction to the verdict came from Chuck Colson’s friend, Princeton professor Robert George. Writing for First Things, George called Gosnell a “front man” and added that “the real trial has only just begun.” In that trial, “the defendant is the abortion license in America.”

Among the many offenses of the “abortion license in America” is its incoherence and arbitrariness. Gosnell faced the death penalty for actions which, if they had been performed weeks or even minutes earlier, might not have even been a criminal offense.

As George wrote, “Something as morally arbitrary as a human being’s location — his or her being in or out of the womb — cannot determine whether killing him or her is an unconscionable act of premeditated homicide or the exercise of a fundamental liberty.”

Yet that is precisely what the “abortion license” dictates. George asks, “If we are to condemn snipping the neck of a child delivered at, say, 24 or 26 weeks to kill him or her, how can we defend dismembering or poisoning a child in the womb at 26, 30, or even 34 weeks?”

The answer is, of course, we can’t, at least not with any intellectual or moral integrity.

For all of his excesses — to put it charitably — George’s colleague at Princeton, pro-abortion philosopher Peter Singer, is at least consistent with his anti-human views and avoids the kind of arbitrary distinctions that pro-abortion groups cling to.

Singer denies George’s claim that human beings “are bearers of inviolable dignity and a basic right to life in virtue of our humanity, and not in virtue of accidental qualities such as age, size or stage of development or condition of dependency.”

But advocates of the “abortion license” want to have it both ways. They affirm the inviolable dignity of human beings, but when it comes to babies in utero, only if it doesn’t conflict with the mother’s so-called “fundamental liberty.”

They do this by “[pretending] that abortion and infanticide are radically different acts or practices.” But as the past two months in a Philadelphia court room have amply demonstrated, they are not.

When the difference between life and death for both the victims and their killers is a matter of inches, then the only radical thing about the distinction being made is its departure from reason and simple decency.

Last week on “BreakPoint This Week,” I interviewed Kirsten Powers, the USA Today reporter who was the first national journalist to cover this story — and who, by the way, shamed the rest of the national media into paying attention. It’s a great interview. Come to, click on this commentary, and I’ll link you to “BreakPoint This Week” and to Robby George’s First Things article.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: May 20, 2013

Gosnell and the Abortion License: Incoherence at Its Best