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What Ever Happened to “Safe, Legal, and Rare”?

The Clinton administration used to declare a desire to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare,” and the Obama administration has repeatedly affirmed that formula.1 By their account, abortion is regrettable but necessary, and it is important to keep the women who profess to need them out of the hands of “back-alley butchers.” But pro-lifers ask legitimately, “Why rare? If there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion, if it is done right, and if there are good reasons for it, then why not have more of them, until there are no longer any ‘unwanted’ children?”

The just concluded case of Philadelphia “doctor,” Kermit Gosnell, makes a mockery of the abortion culture’s proclaimed devotion to “safe, legal, and rare.” Indeed, it would suggest that they are perfectly content with its being “dangerous, felonious, and plenteous.” Their three-part conceit is worth reviewing in turn:

Safe: The grand jury report on Gosnell says that “the medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels—and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.”2

Legal: The report continues, “With abortion, as with prescriptions, Gosnell’s approach was simple: keep volume high, expenses low—and break the law.” He would induce illegal, late-term abortions, and when the babies were born alive, “he killed them. He didn’t call it that. He called it ‘ensuring fetal demise,’” which was effected “by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that ‘snipping.’”3 This, of course, is murder, duly recognized by the trial jury in their conviction.

Rare: Abortion enthusiasts characterize Gosnell as a rogue operator, but if that is true, he was a well-enabled, well-compensated one.4 State inspections were infrequent from the outset, but,

after 1993 . . . the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions.5

Furthermore, abortion doctors in states outlawing 24-week abortions referred “patients” to him—from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. He was “known as a doctor who would perform abortions at any stage, without regard for legal limits.”6 Eventually, when a woman died from malpractice in his clinic and he rushed to get a clean bill of health for his business from the National Abortion Federation, he was turned down. Still, though the NAF visitor called it “the worst abortion clinic she had ever inspected,” she “never told anyone in authority about all the horrible, dangerous things she had seen.”7 Perhaps it was a combination of professional courtesy and ideological solidarity.

The media were not much better. It took the crusading work of columnist and commentator Kirsten Powers (once a Clinton administration staffer) to bring to case to national consciousness.8 So, apparently, for all their vaunted concern to put the “back alley butcher” out of business, the “pro-choice” movement is perfectly content to shelter and nourish, for decades, a butcher operating in plain sight on the corner of 38th and Lancaster. Instead of crying, “Bloody murder!” they simply assured passersby, “Nothing to see here.”


Joel Gehrke, “Obama Echoes Clinton’s ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare’ in Roe vs. Wade Statement,” Washington Examiner, January 22, 2013, http://washingtonexaminer.com/obama-echoes-clintons-safe-legal-and-rare-in-roe-vs.-wade-statement/article/2519374 (accessed May20, 2013). Also, Katie Glueck, “President Obama ‘Familiar’ with Kermit Gosnell Trial,” Politico, April 17, 2013, http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/kermit-gosnell-trial-obama-familiar-with-case-90200.html (accessed May 20, 2013).


Report of the Grand Jury, Court of Common Pleas, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Criminal Trial Division, http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf, 1-2 (accessed May 20, 2013). The account continues:

The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment—such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff—was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn’t used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains. It was a baby charnel house.


Grand Jury Report, 3-4.


“We estimate that Gosnell took in as much as $10,000 to $15,000 a night, mostly in cash, for a few hours of work performing abortions.” Report, 23.


Report, 9


Report, 27


Report, 13


Kirsten Powers, “Abortion Rights Community Has Become the NRA of the Left,” Daily Beast, May 6, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/06/abortion-rights-community-has-become-the-nra-of-the-left.html (accessed May 20, 2013).