When, during the last presidential debate, Hillary Clinton defended all forms of abortion (the deliberate taking of an unborn, innocent human being’s life at any time in a woman’s pregnancy), she graphically illustrated her party’s position in this nation’s decades-long cultural war. Though the defenders of life have won some important battles, pro-abortion forces still occupy commanding positions on the battlefield. That truth is powerfully illustrated in Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer’s investigative treatise—Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer (Washington: Regency Publishing, c. 2017). Four things powerfully struck me while reading the book: 1) the sheer barbarity of the late-term abortions performed by Kermit Gosnell, M.D., in his Philadelphia Women’s Medical Society clinic wherein an estimated “40 percent of the babies aborted . . . were over the gestational age limit for legal abortion in Pennsylvania” (#2318); 2) the utter indifference and dereliction of state officials required to inspect and regulate abortion clinics; 3) the lock-step commitment of the nation’s media to ignore, obscure, or at least minimize Gosnell’s crimes; and, 4) the irony of some abortions (late-term) qualifying as murder whereas others (the million or so done yearly in Planned Parenthood facilities) have absolute legal protection. As Kirstin Powers said, ‘“whether Gosnell was killing the infants one second after they left the womb instead of partially inside or completely inside the womb—as in routine late-term abortion—is merely a matter of geography. That one is murder and the other is a legal procedure is morally irreconcilable’” (#157).
McElhinney and McAleer are Irish journalists who were drawn to the story by its intrinsic merit rather than because of any pro-life convictions. Indeed, Anne McElhinney had “never trusted or liked pro-life activists” (#127). Then, as she began covering Gosnell’s trial, she realized that “pro-abortion advocates tend to avoid any actual talk of how an abortion is done and what exactly it is that is being aborted.” But now she knows! And she also now knows that “what is aborted is a person, with little hands and and a face that from the earliest times has expression. The humanity in all the pictures is unmistakable, the pictures of the babies that were shown as evidence in the Gosnell trial—first, second, and third trimester babies, in all their innocence and perfection” (#140). While researching and writing she “wept at my computer. I have said the Our Father sitting at my desk. I am no holy roller—I hadn’t prayed in years—but at times” she could do nothing else. Even more profoundly, she sensed “the presence of evil,” the sheer lack of conscience, pervading the pro-abortion establishment.
The Gosnell case began with a drug investigation launched by a Philadelphia undercover narcotics investigator, Jim Wood, who was getting drug peddlers to reveal the sources of illegal prescriptions for drugs like OxyContin. A tangled web of informants led Wood to Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who turned out to be “one of the biggest suppliers in the entire state of Pennsylvania,” operating out of his Women’s Medical Society clinic (#302). Therein investigators discovered far more than a drug emporium! They found “a filthy, flea-infested, excrement-covered” abortion clinic almost impossible to describe. Urine and blood discolored the floors; trash, cat excrement and hair littered the facility. They found “semi-conscious women moaning in the waiting room. The clinic’s two surgical procedure rooms were filthy and unsanitary,” featuring rusty equipment and non-sterile instruments (#452). Unqualified, unlicensed staff members had administered sedatives and cared for the patients—one worker had an eighth-grade education and a phlebotomy certificate! Another liked being paid in cash (and given free Xanax, Oxy-Contin, Percocet, etc.) because it enabled her to continue drawing fraudulent disability benefits from the Veterans Administration. “The basement was filled with bags of fetal remains that reached the ceiling” (#527). In a cupboard there were jars filled with little baby feet—apparently something of a fetish for Gosnell. Dead babies were found in various containers, stored in refrigerators and freezers. “Investigators found the remains of forty-seven babies in all” (#632). It was truly a house of horrors!
Evidence collected from the clinic and Gosnell’s house, as well as testimony from his staff and patients, was presented to a grand jury, which spent a year combing through it. “The final report, published on January 14, 2011, is a complete page-turner, a chronicle of how America’s biggest serial killer got away with murder for more than thirty years. In its gruesome 261 pages, the grand jury named and shamed—and in some cases recommended charging—the doctor, his wife, and most of this staff, along with officials in numerous state government agencies, all the way up to the governor” (#798). Indeed, it became clear that multiple complaints had been filed against the clinic for 30 years and “the incompetents in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital, knew or should have known that, even by their own lax rules, Gosnell should not have been carrying out abortions—but they didn’t care” (#1201). Their dereliction was facilitated by the 1995 election of a “pro-abortion Catholic Republican,” Tom Ridge, whose policies proved “catastrophic for the many women and the hundreds of live babies who were injured and killed in Gosnell’s clinic” (#1473). To one Philadelphia-area reporter, Ridge was “‘Gosnell’s chief enabler’” (#1480).
Given the laws in Pennsylvania, to be charged with murder it was necessary to prove that some of the babies had been born alive and subsequently killed by Gosnell. The case before the grand also had to be made before an openly pro-abortion judge who “was keen to draw attention away from the abortion establishment closing ranks, protecting one of their own and protecting abortion, regardless of the harm done on the way” (#1685). Even the “partial-birth” procedure, whereby the baby’s head remained in the birth canal while the torso and legs were outside the mother, could not be labeled “murder” since the law allowed it. Gosnell’s staff, however, testified to seeing many babies born alive and then killed (snipping their necks with scissors) by the doctor. Importantly, for the trial, they had also taken some pictures of the slain babies that would provide vital evidence for the prosecution. Ultimately he would be “charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and two counts of infanticide, and conspiracy to commit murder. But from the evidence, it’s fair to assume that he murdered hundreds—perhaps thousands—over the course of his career” (#2684).
Refusing a plea deal that would have led to his incarceration but spared his wife, Gosnell stood trial confident that he would be found innocent of all charges. “His desire to appear as the smartest guy in the room overpowered all reason and good sense” (#2952), and he even fantasized serving as his own defense attorney! His attorney, considered by many the best in Philadelphia, portrayed him “as a hardworking, selfless man—a pillar of the community with a virtually unblemished record who ran afoul of an overzealous prosecutor” (#3308). Given a jury cleansed of pro-life persons and a pro-abortion judge who was a drinking companion with the defense attorney, Gosnell thought he could escape punishment by appealing to the pro-abortion ethos prevalent in progressive circles. Nevertheless, as the evidence was presented and the expert testimony given, showing graphically what takes place in “late term” abortions as well as the killing of born-alive infants, the jury concluded Gosnell was in fact guilty as charged and he would be sentenced to life in prison.
What the jury saw, however, went largely unreported by the nation’s media. “If it hadn’t been for a committed group of bloggers, new media journalists, pro-life activists, and Twitter users, the Kermit Gosnell trial very likely would not have made national news” (#3983). If a journalist mentioned the case it was usually to stress how virtually all other abortions were different from those performed in the Philadelphia clinic. But then Kirstin Powers wrote a piece for USA Today, harshly condemning the press for neglecting the trial. She’d found that none of the major TV networks mentioned the case during its first three months. Nor did President Obama, who had “worked against the Born-alive Infants Protection Act” while he was in the Illinois Senate, make any comments or face any questions dealing with his position on Gosnell. Only Fox News covered “the story from the beginning of the trial” (#4189). The book’s reception further illustrates the media’s pro-abortion bias. Within days of its release, it sold out on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, outselling all but three non-fiction titles. But the New York Times refused to put it on its best seller list, and no mainstream media reviewed it.
Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer have written a fully-documented, compelling treatise. They obviously read everything relevant to the case, sat day-after-day witnessing the trial procedures, and later interviewed Gosnell in prison. Though the surfeit of details—minutely describing the dead babies found in the clinic, investigating the police and prosecutors responsible for bringing the case to trial—may put off readers wanting a short synopsis, Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer merits the attention of everyone committed to the sacred “right to life” guaranteed by the Constitution as well as proclaimed in the Scriptures.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the name of Nature, human nature is being denied and degraded in many venues. Under the guidance of secular humanism, anti-human forces have been unleashed and radical “trans-human” proposals entertained. As an astute Mortimer Adler long ago predicted (in The Difference in Man and the Difference It Makes), once a clear distinction between human beings and the rest of creation is drawn, no reason remains for granting man any special standing (i.e. “human exceptionalism”). The Great Chain of Being has dissolved, leaving nothing but randomly scattered and essentially equal beings. For several decades Wesley J. Smith has researched and written about precisely this development, and in The War on Humans (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, c. 2014), he challenges some of the growing anti-human (misanthropic) currents in contemporary culture—most notably within an environmentalism “that is becoming increasingly nihilistic, anti-modern, and anti-human” (#107). This is clear when one confronts the philosophical aspects of the Deep Ecology Movement which serves for many as a “neo-Earth religion” that considers human beings as no more than technologically sophisticated, consumerist parasites destroying Mother Earth. Consequently, reducing the human population and giving other species unrestricted opportunities to thrive and multiply becomes the goal.
This “green misanthropy” denies any moral difference between flora and fauna and human beings, whose numbers need reducing in order to enable other species to flourish. To Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, humans are the “AIDS of the Earth.” Only radical surgery, reducing man’s presence and activity on earth, can save the planet. Similarly, Eric R. Pianka, a biology professor at the University of Texas who was named the Distinguished Texas Scientist of 2006, suggested it would be good if an ebola pandemic would kill 90% of the human population. To Pianka: “Humans are no better than bacteria, in fact, we are just like them when it comes to using up resources. . . We are Homo the sap, not sapiens (stupid, not smart)’” (#318). Needless to say, such activists enthusiastically promote abortion, euthanasia, eugenics and genetic engineering.
Fortuitously, today’s green misanthropists have found in the hysteria regarding global warming (or climate change) a useful tool with which to promote their agenda. Smith claims no expertise in dealing with climate change claims, but he does clearly discern the anti-human tone permeating the discussion. He also notes that atmospheric carbon levels have steadily increased while there’s been no significant increase in world temperatures detected in 20 years. Fearsome predictions abound—as in former Vice President Al Gore’s feverish warnings— but minor changes have actually occurred. Polar bears still flourish, ice still forms in the arctic, snow still falls, crops still grow, hurricanes and earthquakes continue as usual—life on earth continues much as before.
Yet numbers of school children fear they will not live into adulthood! A U.S. senator introduced legislation to punish anyone daring to question the reality of climate change! NASA’s James Hansen urged “the jailing of oil executives for committing ‘crimes against nature’ for being global warming ‘deniers’” (#811). An editor at the Los Angeles Times says the paper will no longer print letters to the editor that doubt global warming! Something has happened. Vast numbers of folks have succumbed to green propaganda. “Illustrating just how wacky global warming Malthusianism can become, the Mother Nature Network published an article lauding Genghis Khan—the killer of millions of people—for wonderfully cooling the planet during his years of conquest” (#690). The author claimed that the Mongol invasions eliminated enough people (ca. 40 million) to keep 700 tons of carbon from fouling the atmosphere! So the planet cooled for a century and Khan’s genocide should be praised! To Smith: “Only when the new Earth religion reigns can a vicious barbarian like Khan be canonized a saint” (#697).
In 1974, Christopher Stone, a University of Southern California law professor published an article, “Should Trees Have Standing?—Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects,” arguing that trees, as well as humans, should enjoy legal standing. Subsequently, courts have increasingly granted environmentalists’ claims that legislation (most notably the Endangered Species Act) should be broadly construed so as to guarantee the preservation of all sorts of creatures and environments. So now we face a new Earth religion that insists all of Nature has inalienable rights, including the right to exist—i.e. to be respected, to procreate, to have access to water. Laws in nations such as Ecuador, Switzerland (with its “plant dignity” agenda), and New Zealand (declaring the Whanganui River to be a person), now protect such rights. “In the 1970s,” Smith says, summarizing his presentation, “the values of Deep Ecology were anathema to most. Ten years ago, granting ‘rights’ to nature would have been laughed off a a pipe dream.” Yet, as we have witnessed in the rapid acceptance such innovations as same-sex marriage, “in contemporary society very radical ideas often gain quick acceptance by a ruling elite growing ever more antithetical to human exceptionalism” (#1305). “The triumph of anti-humanism within environmental advocacy threatens a green theocratic tyranny. Like eugenics, the misanthropic agendas discussed in this book are all profoundly Utopian endeavors, meaning that the perceived all-important ends will come eventually to justify coercive means. Indeed, the convergence of human loathing, concentrated Malthusianism, and renewed advocacy for radical wealth redistribution—all of which are now respected views within the environmental movement, and each of which is dangerous in its own right—threatens calamity.
“Don’t say you weren’t warned” (#1380).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: the Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement (New York: Encounter Books, c. 2010), Wesley J. Smith carefully distinguishes between “animal welfare” (treating animals rightly) and “animal rights” (treating animals as man’s equal) and seeks to show the dangers posed by the latter. He writes to alert readers to the dangers posed by animal rights’ radicals who plant bombs, destroy property, burn buildings, condemn all medical research involving animals, urge rigorous forms of vegetarianism, and even justify murder. He also writes to inform us of the philosophical implications evident in statements such as Richard Dawkins’ declaration that we are not only like apes—“we are apes,” though differently evolved in minor ways!
Foundational to the animal rights movement is Peter Singer’s 1975 book, Animal Liberation, wherein the first chapter is titled “All Animals Are Equal.” Fifteen years later he could boast to having launched “a worldwide movement” that would continue to shape men’s minds, extending the rights of “personhood” to whales and dolphins, dogs and cats, cattle and sheep. He’d launched a movement! Millions now embrace his assumptions and promote his objectives—“rescuing” various animals, halting animal research, throwing paint on fur coats, etc. “Meanwhile, tens of millions of human beings would be stripped of legal personhood, including newborn human infants, people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, or other severe cognitive disabilities—since Singer claims they are not self-conscious or rational—along with animals that do not exhibit sufficient cognitive capacity to earn the highest value, such as fish and birds.” Working out the implications of his position, Singer concluded: “‘Since neither a newborn infant nor a fish is a person the wrongness of killing such beings is not as great as the wrongness of killing a person’” (p. 28). Contending newborn infants are not yet persons, he notoriously justifies infanticide until the baby attains “personhood” as he defines it.
Though Singer speaks more plainly, many other distinguished academics and activists share his opposition to “speciesism,” the notion that humans are intrinsically superior to other forms of creation. Thus they suggest that “Animals Are People Too,” positing “a moral equality between humans and animals,” making it “immoral for humans to make any instrumental use of animals” (p. 35). All creatures capable of feeling pain are declared full-fledged members of the moral community. Thus the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) once orchestrated a campaign “called ‘Holocaust on your Plate,’ which compared eating meat to the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews” (p. 36).
Ever alert to the opportunity of pushing their agenda through the judicial system, animal-rights activists work relentlessly to establish the “personhood” of animals in the courts. Steven M. Wise, a law professor who heads the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights, contends “that all animals capable of exercising what he calls ‘practical autonomy’ are entitled to ‘personhood and basic liberty rights,’ based on mere ‘consciousness’ and ‘sentience’” (p. 62). Cass Sunstein, one of the regulations “czars” appointed by President Obama, thinks animals should be granted legal standing, and Harvard Law School’s Professor Lawrence Tribe (one of Obama’s instructors) “has spoken in support of enabling animals to bring lawsuits” (p. 67). To this point, the main success enjoyed in the courts has been in cases restricting or halting medical research using monkeys or on behalf of “endangered species” such as the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. But there is a powerful movement pushing our legal system to grant full equality to all creatures, great and small.
In addition to the courts, animal-rights advocates are working to proselytize children, primarily through the public schools. Given their childish affection for bunnies and puppies, children easily respond to emotional appeals on behalf of mistreated animals. PETA comics portray hunters and fishermen as evil people in publications such as “Your Daddy KILLS Animals!” Young readers are then warned: “‘Until your daddy learns that it’s not ‘fun’ to kill, keep your doggies and kitties away from him. He’s so hooked on killing defenseless animals that they could be next!’” (p. 104). PETA provides teachers with free curriculum materials and guest speakers espousing vegetarianism as well as condemning all forms of animal mistreatment. High school students are promised legal assistance should they refuse to dissect frogs or dead animals in biology classes. One organization, Farm Sanctuary, provides schools with materials promoting the “rescue” of animals imprisoned in “factory farms.”
Smith makes his case by citing an impressive number of sources and presenting arresting illustrations, alerting us to the problems posed by the animal-rights movement. He also rightly emphasizes “the importance of being human,” rightly caring for animals without elevating them to a sacred status.