Has Gosnell Murder Case Made Partial Birth Abortion Horrors Harder to Spin Away?

Despite being largely ignored by the national press, has the murder trial against Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell effected a permanent change on the debate over abortion? Yes, argues Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, one of several major pro-life groups. Now that the gruesome reality of partial birth abortions have been revealed in a court of law by the government itself, things will never be the same, Dannenfelser argues.

“It will be very difficult from here on out to talk about at least post-viability abortions without remembering those images and that there are two sets of rights involved here,” she told NewsBusters in a interview.

The Gosnell case has also been important to SBAL as well since it marks the first time that the organization has shown photographs of the consequences of abortion. During its lobbying efforts, the group has shown a documentary about Gosnell’s alleged crimes called “3801 Lancaster” on Capitol Hill. As it turned out, showing the film in the Capitol was too much for some Republican strategists who complained about Dannenfelser supposedly going over-the-top for showing images of abortions.

Needless to say, Dannenfelser has some sharp words for these Republicans. She also chastizes the Republican leadership generally for not standing up enough to protect the rights of the unborn, particularly since Gosnell was indicted more than two years ago. The following is a shortened transcript of our conversation. Below it is a copy of the film which you can watch for yourself.


MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Your organization, the Susan B. Anthony List, is currently running a radio ad against Terry McAuliffe stating that he does not protect women’s health because he is against applying basic safety standards to abortion clinics. Why do liberals like to regulate everything in existence except for abortion clinics?

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Liberals who otherwise would regulate down to the very dotting of I’s and the crossing of T’s in contracts or in any sort of service provision, they are having to counter their own instincts. And the reason they have to counter their own instincts in the case of abortion clinics is either 1) they are afraid of the pushback from the abortion lobby or 2) they’re so ideologically attached to “abortion rights” that they don’t want to do anything or be perceived as getting in the way of them.

Now I think also that Pennsylvania is a great example in the Gosnell case because Tom Ridge, who is pro-choice, has admitted that he was not going to enforce the clinic regulations because he didn’t want to be perceived as getting in the way of abortion rights. Ironically, it was the pro-life Democrat governor, Bob Casey, was the one who put them in there in the first place.


Another interesting aspect of this is that, as a pro-lifer, it’s not really fun to get into the regulation of abortion clinics. It’s not joy but it’s holding other side accountable to actually have some integrity when it comes to caring for women or at the very least for the remains of unborn children. So there’s no fun there at all.

And in the case of Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, the regulations that he is charged with enforcing, that he is very much supportive of, have been the subject of vicious attacks from the very well-organized pro-choice movement in Virginia. And this has been going on for a very long time, these attacks on him just happened to culminate on him at the moment where the Gosnell clinic horror has come to the fore so it has actually put the issue in the appropriate context. So what McAuliffe thought was a negative before for Ken is now turning out to be a positive and a real problem for McAuliffe himself.

SHEFFIELD: After ignoring the case for such a long time, as we’ve documented at NewsBusters, the case got some coverage but then it’s kind of faded away again. What do you think is the reason that there is such reluctance to cover it?

DANNENFELSER: I think NewsBusters has been some of the best people to explain it. There was a lot of self-analysis, which of course the media loves to do about ‘Why have we not reported this?’ So there was a lot of reporting of the reporting. Now there’s some reporting on the reporting of the reporting. Because even though they had some self-analysis, they’ve explained some of the reasons but then they’ve stopped reporting it on the scale that it deserves. I mean there is some reporting but it is certainly not above-the-fold anywhere and this is a serial murder trial.

I think that what it is—and I don’t like to be overly fair to the other side, but I will be fair—even some of our side does not want to look at this. We recoil at it. But that’s not the job of a journalist. The job of a journalist is to go into the heart of darkness and report it. That is their job. But I think because of the bias combined with that natural recoil, they didn’t cover it. I mean some of them have said it themselves. It’s because they’re so attached to so-called abortion rights that anything that is even perceived as undermining it (or in reality undermines it), they’re disinclined to report it. Now that is the definition of bad journalism right there. You don’t get to be disgusted and walk away as a reporter. You’re supposed to be disgusted and ask questions, how did this happen? And in this case, it is ideology and recoil that has overwhelmed the journalistic instinct.

You know what I think is happening though—there is actually (I hope), and this is with your help, there are a few that have been relentless and you’re one. I do believe that there is a slight ground-shift in discussing what is at stake here and that is because of the images and the visual argument that this clinic is about abortion. It will be very difficult from here on out to talk about at least post-viability abortions without remembering those images and that there are two sets of rights involved here.

SHEFFIELD: I think a lot of people are really unaware of the horror of a post-viability abortion and I think that explains a lot of the reluctance to cover it in my opinion.

DANNENFELSER: I think that’s so, I think you’re right.

And I had to really search my own conscience because we generally don’t put a horror picture, we usually show the beauty of the unborn child. But an actual photograph of an abortion, I don’t think we have ever shown and now we’re getting pushback from the Hill and other places and so-called Republican strategists that think that what we’re dealing with is over the top. Well, I’ve really looked at what should be done here and I really do believe that it is the equivalent of other civil rights movements.

At some point in time, it became appropriate for the rest of the country, beyond just the activists to actually see what we’re talking about, to see the visual argument. I’m reminded of the [2006] movie “Amazing Grace” where William Wilberforce brings the legislators over to the boat to look at the ship that the slaves have been in and it stinks and it’s horrible and they recoil to it. There are also all the pictures that went out during the discussion about child labor, fighting against child labor where the children are in the factories. I mean nobody wanted to see those either. But there just comes a point in movements where it would be malpractice to not give the visual argument when it gets to such a point as we are right now.

SHEFFIELD: Tell us a bit about “3801 Lancaster,” the documentary that you guys have been showing up on Capitol Hill.

DANNENFELSER: That particular documentary, they began selling it a couple of years ago. It lasts for 20 minutes. It is so well-done. It looks like it could be on “20/20” or “Nightline,” I mean it’s so professionally done, it’s so well-communicated.

What it does is that it takes the grand jury testimony—and you’ll like this given that you see the irony that liberals will regulate everything in the world but abortion. There’s the prosecuting attorney says ‘In Pennsylvania, we regulate hair and nail salons and enforce it more than we do abortion clinics. And now we’re seeing the results of it.’

So he, just doing his job is one of the best advocates that you can imagine for this issue. So the whole point of it was to explain how this whole thing happened, this whole process. Police got a report of a drug-related problem over at Gosnell’s clinic, illegal drug prescriptions, that’s why they went there. And then they saw this horrific situation and realized that this was violating all sorts of regulations. As the investigation went on, it just got worse and worse and worse. You should see it. It’s hard to watch but it’s—it’s almost like he was keeping the feet [of aborted babies] like trophies in tons of jars. Gosnell said it was if a woman was attacked that the feet would be DNA evidence but for a man who cares zero about women, that just doesn’t seem plausible.

One thing a lot of people don’t know about is that he had separate lines for basically black and white waiting rooms. He said basically ‘these are two different worlds’ and so he put the young white girls in one room and treated them well and then everybody else was put into the other room basically.

And they talk to two women who had been through there. And you can’t watch it and think that a woman goes through an abortion unchanged, especially around viability. One of the girls interviewed talks about how Gosnell started banging on her legs and screaming ‘stop being a baby, stop being a baby,’ and then all of a sudden she’s out cold.

SHEFFIELD: Now you mentioned earlier that some people did not take too kindly to you exhibiting this film.

DANNENFELSER: Now that’s the thing that I find most disturbing. Because it’s one thing to disagree—we’re trying to fight for the rights of unborn children while also taking care of the rights of women. And we have partners up on the Hill who believe it that but if you’re a Republican strategist, sometimes you have an extra piece of DNA which says that ‘Well I say I believe these things but I can’t actually follow through on it because the issue doesn’t win.’ Now anyone who says this issue is not a winning issue is living in a cave somewhere in the middle of DC. But the very idea of talking about it as if it were or were not a winning issue is ridiculous.

And I guess what happened is that a couple of people contacted The Hill [newspaper] and put out the story that this was over-the-top that we had put a picture up there. That and some one-minute speeches on the floor are the extent of the Republican leadership that we’ve seen so far and this has been more than two years since the Gosnell story has been out. I mean if this story were Solyndra or ACORN or anything else like that, you could not keep the leadership off the floor. I just wonder where they are. You don’t even have to be pro-life to say that it ends here, you just have to be human being.


Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013