By Robert P. George
Late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell has been convicted of first degree murder for killing babies after delivering them alive.
The trial now moves into the penalty phase, and we wait to hear whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty. But Dr. Gosnell is only the front man; and the real trial has only just begun. The defendant is the abortion license in America. The Gosnell episode highlights the irrationality of the regime of law put into place by the Supreme Court in 1973 and fiercely protected by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the politicians they and other “pro-choice” advocacy groups help send to Washington and the state capitols.
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 something like that is the prevailing state of American law under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Its incoherence and indefensibility have been laid bare by the prosecution of Dr. Gosnell. Whatever now happens to him, it will no longer be possible to pretend that abortion and infanticide are radically different acts or practices.
If we are to condemn snipping the neck of a child delivered at, say, twenty-four or twenty-six weeks to kill him or her, how can we defend dismembering or poisoning a child in the womb at twenty-six, thirty, or even thirty-four weeks? And even more fundamentally, if we 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, or size, or stage of development or condition of dependency—if, in other words, we believe in the fundamental equality of human beings—how can a right to abortion (where “abortion” means performing an act whose purpose is to cause fetal death) be defended at all?
Robert P. George is an emeritus board member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. This blog post originally appeared on the First Thoughts blog at First Things.