Tears for Gosnell’s House of Horrors

I recently saw the documentary "3801 Lancaster: An American Tragedy." I went home and cried. I don’t mean tears of joy. No, I cried.

The last time I cried was when my dad died. The last time before that I can easily remember crying was when I was in the fifth grade and a friend was struck by a car and killed.

"3801 Lancaster" is about the work of physician Kermit Gosnell. Dr. Gosnell performed late-term abortions; the abortions that most other providers refused to do but for which they would refer clients to Gosnell. But it was not late-term abortions that led to the search warrant of Gosnell’s establishment, it was a drug investigation. The Philadelphia police who had seen a lot in their work on the streets had never seen anything like what they found at the address of 3801 Lancaster.

What they found was a filthy medical facility. For example, a cat roamed freely and there were uncleaned litter boxes through the building. There was nothing that even remotely approached sterile. Indeed only one pair of surgical scissors was found in the entire establishment. But the unsanitary conditions were just the beginning.

There were dozens of frozen human fetuses whose spinal cords had been severed by being cut with scissors. These were human babies who would have been able to survive outside the womb. Gosnell justified severing the spinal cords as doing so would end the pain the baby was experiencing. There were specimen jars with human feet saved in them, some of them labeled with the names of clients. One of Gosnell’s victims came to learn that her name was on one of these jars. Gosnell had saved the feet of her baby. Imagine the horror and shock of learning that! During the investigation it was also found that some women had died as a result of the procedures performed on them at Gosnell’s facility.

The documentary made me think of the book "Uncle Tom’s Cabin." Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote to persuade those who were "moderates" on the issue of slavery that slavery was evil. These moderates personally would not own slaves, wished it was not in their community, but thought that it was a necessary evil that could not be eliminated. Stowe wanted those readers to know that their refusal to oppose all slavery promoted the worst of slavery.

We have a parallel situation today. There are moderates who are uncomfortable with abortion, wish it were not in their community, but do not want to deny people access to abortion. While troubling, they think there is little wrong with first-trimester abortions done in ostensibly warm, fuzzy, clean clinics. However, the warm and fuzzy clinics supported Gosnell—referring many patients to him. Those who want to think of themselves as moderates are in league with the extremists. Anything less than support for the freedom of all was support for Simon LeGree—the brutal Louisiana plantation owner in Beecher Stowe’s classic. Anything less than support for the right to life is support for the Gosnells of the world.

Gosnell’s facility was able to operate for decades because the government of the state of Pennsylvania had a policy of not inspecting abortion facilities. The government officials believed that some facilities would fail inspections. Closing, or temporarily shutting down, abortion facilities would make it harder for some women to obtain abortions. Clearly these officials, such as Governor Tom Ridge, were not concerned with women’s health. Many of them were pro-abortion, wanting abortions to take place even in facilities that would fail inspection.

Many women and men have been victims of the abortion industry and suffer from guilt. Forgiveness can be obtained. For those who need help in finding forgiveness beyond the spiritual realm, I recommend calling your local crisis pregnancy center. They are staffed by caring people who will not judge. Most centers have people on their staff who have been through abortions and found forgiveness.

Healing and forgiveness can be found, even with tragedies like 3801 Lancaster.

— Dr. Joseph J. Horton is professor of psychology at Grove City College and the Working Group Coordinator for Marriage and Family with The Center for Vision & Values. He is also a researcher on Positive Youth Development.

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