“He just calmly watched and occasionally took notes with a vague hint of a smile on his face from time to time.” Thus did a reporter describe Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s demeanor in court at his trial. The imperturbable Mr. Gosnell was referred to trial by a grand jury after law enforcement officers had raided his office on a complaint that the doctor had engaged in drug dealing, and what the officers found on arrival shocked them. More than forty fetal bodies were stuffed in “bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons, and even cat food containers.” Some were found frozen in an office refrigerator, and Mr. Gosnell maintained “rows of jars” containing several baby feet.
The Grand Jury found that Mr. Gosnell was possessed of a macabre sense of humor, joking that one of the corpses found at his abortion clinic– Baby A, weighing 6 pounds – was so large that he could “walk me to the bus stop.” After Mr. Gosnell had snipped the baby’s spine with a scissors, the method preferred by Mr. Gosnell to dispatch babies born alive after botched abortions – baby A’s remains were stuffed into a shoebox, its arms and legs trailing out. Another child, Baby C, was deposited on a countertop while Mr. Gosnell attended to the child’s mother. It lay for 20 minutes calmly breathing and waving its arms before an assistant snipped its neck.
The Grand Jury found that Mr. Gosnell had during his long career snipped the necks of hundreds of babies. The fates of Babies A and C “were not even the worst cases.” Many late term abortions were performed by Mr. Gosnell and his wife on Sundays, when no staff was on the premises to bear witness. These case files Mr. Gosnell prudently destroyed at his home. “We may never know,” the Grand Jury concluded, “the details of these cases.”
The expression “the banality of evil” was first coined by Hannah Arendt in a 1962 work entitled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” Her working thesis was that the great evils of history as a general rule were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who, for whatever reason, accept as normal the operative conditions of their state and time.
How else to account for Mr. Gosnell’s “crimes,” as viewed by the Grand Jury?
Mr. Gosnell’s almost weary smile says it all: Why am I here when you who now sit in judgment upon me have made everything I have done permissible and even necessary? To be sure, my office was a bit untidy. But I am performing a legal and necessary social service, a service very much in demand. So then, apart from the shoe boxes, what exactly is the problem?
In the minds of men who lack moral imagination, great evil is necessarily reduced to banality – a question of law rather than a question of ethics; and this is especially true in times and places in which it is assumed that ethics is a product of the law, for in that case, everything that is legally permissible must also be morally right. Such moral dissonance is essential in the understanding of both Eichmann and Gosnell.
When some of Mr. Gosnell’s adult victims went to Planned Parenthood to complain of Mr. Gosnell’s house of horrors, they were told by staff to write a letter if they had not enjoyed Mr. Gosnell’s unsanitary – not to mention murderous – abortion factory.
Coincident with the prosecution of Mr. Gosnell, President Barack Obama, never one to retreat an inch in a battle in which he is leading from the front, bestowed at a conference in Washington some kind words upon Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States. Mr. Obama’s views on abortion while a U.S. Senator and president are consistent enough to have earned him a 100% approval vote from NARAL: He voted against a ban on partial birth abortion in 2007, proposed a born-alive treatment law in 2008 and blocked a Born-Alive Infant Protection Act.
Continuing a theme stressed during his last presidential election, Mr. Obama told the group that the Republican “war on women” is still in full flower. "The fact is, after decades of progress, there's (sic) still those who want to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century. And they've been involved in an orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women's health."
Mr. Gosnell’s post-third trimester abortion factory had not had a public inspection for 17 years before the grand jury returned indictments against him, one of the reasons his war on born infants continued so long without interruption. A 281 page report on Mr. Gosnell’s house of horrors concluded, “We have no idea how many facilities like Gosnell's have remained out of sight, out of mind of DOH for decades," because “ "officials [from the Philadelphia Department of Health had “concluded that inspections would be 'putting a barrier up to women' seeking abortions."
One may wonder whether Mr. Obama, at the rick of receiving a less than 100% rating from NARAL, would consider frequent inspections of abortion facilities as part of an unfortunate return to the 1950s, a time when the birth of the future president and staunch advocate of Planned parenthood was ten years short of a glint in his daddy’s eye.