Saunders: Seeing shades of gray in the abortion debate

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 17, 2013 

Abortion Clinic Investigation

In this March 8, 2010 photo, Dr. Kermit Gosnell is seen during an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News at his attorney's office in Philadelphia. Gosnell, an abortion doctor who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the Women's Medical Society, was charged Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011 with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said Wednesday.


You’ve got to be leery of anyone who takes his life’s philosophy from bumper stickers, but I saw one that summed up perfectly my attitude toward a contentious issue. It read: “If you’re opposed to abortions, don’t have one.”

That’s also how most Americans feel. A Gallup Poll released in January showed that fewer than 30 percent of us favor overturning Roe v. Wade. But the current case of the Philadelphia doctor accused of killing babies after they were born is enough to make some people blanch and could change minds.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell could turn out to be the unwitting star for anti-abortion activists. He is accused of murder in the deaths of one patient and of seven babies who were allegedly born alive. The medical examiner in Philadelphia said he couldn’t be sure whether any of the fetuses had been born alive, but witnesses have said some were and described horrible scenes in Gosnell’s now-shuttered clinic.

Here’s my question: Is it possible to be in favor of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body but still be horrified by what Gosnell is accused of doing, of essentially aborting a kid that’s almost ready for college?

I was thinking about abortions as much as I usually do – which is not at all – when I got an impassioned phone call Tuesday from former schoolmate the Rev. Patrick Wooden, pastor of Raleigh’s Upper Room Church of God in Christ.

Shouldn’t we be concerned?

He was incensed at the high percentage of young black women in his 27610 ZIP code who comprise the visitors to Gateway, a religious group that counsels women before they seek abortions. “I was told it’s 62 percent. I’m not going to sit back and watch this genocide,” he said, before telling me that his church is hosting a fundraiser for Gateway on Sunday.

Pat and I rarely see eye to eye on anything, but shouldn’t we all be concerned when it seems that abortions are being cavalierly used as a contraceptive – a late-term contraceptive – device?

Despite all of the various contraception available, with human nature being what it is, people will still make mistakes and get pregnant without meaning to. Or, even if they meant to, the woman may belatedly realize that the home slice with whom she laid down is no Heathcliff Huxtable or Ward Cleaver and will not make a good father.

For whatever reason she decides to end the pregnancy, the decision should be hers – although common sense and common decency should play a part in the decision. Does it really take 24 weeks – that’s six months – to determine whether you’re ready to be a mama?

Hey, I’m just asking.

Dreaded ‘slippery slope’

Neither side in the abortion debate is willing to concede anything, lest a concession lead to the dreaded “slippery slope” of caving in. For my measured, reasoned query, I suspect I’ll be called everything but a caramel-colored kumquat by people on both sides.

The indisputable truth is, though, that both sides harm their arguments when they refuse to see any shades of gray.

For instance, pro-birthers, y’all look like idiots when you equate taking the morning-after pill to murder. Pro-choicers? You appear complicit when you don’t strongly condemn actions like those of the gruesome Dr. Gosnell. (Have you actually heard anyone but his attorney defend him? Neither have I.)

I asked Wendy Banister, executive director of Life Care, a religious organization that works with Gateway, how often that organization’s counseling services succeed in dissuading women from having abortions.

“We’re not about the business of dissuading young women,” Banister said. “We’re about the business of giving accurate information,” including adoption options. “What we’ve found is that most girls who know what they are choosing are much happier with their choices. Choices that are made in ignorance or without understanding are not really choices; they’re just a knee-jerk reaction.

“Here’s what happens,” she said. “Many girls come in with their own conception of their pregnancy. Oftentimes, when a girl receives an education on fetal development and where she is in the pregnancy – many times, when they realize they’re carrying a 12-week-old baby and see that baby on the (ultrasound) screen, their decision becomes, ‘My goodness. I had no idea this was actually a living human being. I am not choosing abortion for this.’ ”

There is vigorous debate about whether a 12-week-old fetus is a baby. Heck, some people think a 12-minute-old fetus is a baby and should be carried to term.

There’s a word for those people, but my editor wouldn’t let me use it.

He did let me use the one I wanted for Dr. Gosnell’s alleged actions: ghoulish. or 919-836-2811

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