New Year, New Dates; Not-so-New Challenges

January 25, 2011 • Posted in Blog

Unlike people, all dates are not “created equal.”   My young nephew who was born on September 11th is learning by association that actions have consequences.  On the January date a friend of mine blows out his birthday candles, our nation will mark a wedge that has divided us for nearly four decades.  Since the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973, approximately 52 million embryos and fetuses have been “chosen” not to be born.  Our nation alone has aborted 52 million future citizens.

In some macabre way it seems fitting that abortion is in the news this week, although the details are gruesome.  A physician in Philadelphia has been arrested for murdering seven infants and one woman. Dr. Kermit Gosnell opened the “Women’s Medical Society” in 1979.  One news account reports that, Gosnell typically worked weeknights, arriving hours after his unskilled staff administered anesthesia and drugs to induce labor. He then “forced  the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies . . .” (Philadelphia District Attorney Seth)Williams said.. . . He didn’t advertise, but word got around. They paid $325 for first-trimester abortions and $1,600 to $3,000 for abortions up to 30 weeks. The clinic took in up to $15,000 a day, authorities said. (

According to USA TODAY, Gosnell is board certified in family practice, and apparently began, but did not complete, an obstetrics and gynecology residency (  In addition to Gosnell, four of his employees have been charged with murder; five others, with lesser crimes.

“We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities and because the subject was the political football of abortion,” the grand jury wrote. (  It isn’t abortion with which the doctor is accused, however:  “A doctor who with scissors cuts into the necks, severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies who would survive with proper medical attention commits murder under the law,” (Seth Williams) said. “Regardless of one’s feelings about abortion, whatever one’s beliefs, that is the law.” (

Using scissors at the base of the skull to allow the fetal brain to be suctioned out is a description of a partial-birth abortion.  The procedure was permitted in the United States until 2003, but  in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld an effort to ban it by law. (Gonzales v. Carhart; available at ).  Finally our national disregard for embryonic and fetal life met an obstacle, although it may only be a “bump in the road.”  Consider these chilling words from Peter Singer, bioethics chair at Princeton University:

Regarding newborn infants as replaceable, as we now regard fetuses, would have considerable advantages over prenatal diagnosis followed by abortion. Prenatal diagnosis still cannot detect all major disabilities. Some disabilities, in fact, are not present before birth; they may be the result of extremely pre- mature birth, or of something going wrong in the birth process itself. At present parents can choose to keep or destroy their disabled offspring only if the disability happens to be detected during pregnancy. There is no logical basis for restricting parents’ choice to these particular disabilities. If disabled newborn infants were not regarded as having a right to life until, say, a week or a month after birth it would allow parents, in consultation with their doctors, to choose on the basis of far greater knowledge of the infant’s condition than is possible before birth. (Peter Singer, “Taking Life:  Humans,” Excerpted from Practical Ethics, 2nd edition, Cambridge, 1993, pp. 175-217.  Available at—-.htm ).

What reportedly happened in Philadelphia is an outgrowth of our nation’s preoccupation with the invention of the “rights” of adults to choose to treat our offspring with lethal disregard while in the womb.   The utilitarian calculus of Peter Singer, however unattractive it may be, provides us with a window into our future unless we change course.  We are a nation of Ladies Macbeth, and it will take more than soap and water to cleanse the stain.

D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.