Gosnell Conviction Leaves Looming Questions

The Gosnell verdict has finally been reached, the sentence laid. Months of controversy led up to a decision with which few would disagree, and the conservative blogosphere is actively celebrating the news – with good reason. I find the particulars of this case, which I cannot bring myself to repeat, rather disgusting on their face.

Pro-lifers and those on the political right have complained of what they call a “media blackout,” suggesting that the mainstream pro-choice are afraid of acknowledging the true horrors of abortion. The few honest responses from the left other than those ridiculously claiming the case as simply a “local crime story” (are not all crimes local?) have countered that, in fact, the case is an example of why safe and legal abortion is needed in order to avoid such abuses. Both sides have valid points. This type of public conversation is important, and we should be having it. So, by and large, why haven’t we?

With respect to the pro-life side, of which I am part, it is a bit hyperbolic to suggest this case is typical of abortion in general. Although I personally regard abortion as inherently horrific, I also realize that I’m not going to change the mind of a committed pro-choicer through such intellectually lazy and sensational comparisons, and I wish more on my side would also recognize this fact.

That said, the pro-choice left has some serious questions to answer here. There are plenty of possible reasons for the overwhelming and obvious blackout, and there is enough speculation to go around, but allow me to add mine briefly to the mix.

The Gosnell trial is uncomfortable for the mainstream public to discuss, not because it is a perfect archetype of the American abortion industry, but, because it forces us to confront uncomfortable questions that we’d rather ignore.

Many, many different functions of government and society in general require some sort of balancing in values of life. That’s just an uncomfortable fact. Whether one accepts that fact or regards it as immoral, it is rather blatantly obvious that things from war to medical decisions during pregnancy often leave a juggling act between lives and values. From where we derive these values is hardly defined or even discussed.

When does life begin? What makes one life more valuable than others, if anything?

And more directly to the Gosnell case and to abortion, at what level does acceptable choice to terminate a life become disgusting or brutal? A certain age? Level of violence? Level of presumed pain? Sterility?

Nearly a generation ago, the American public by and large was satisfied to let 9 jurists arbitrarily decide such uncomfortable questions, and since then, the question of abortion has largely remained a judicial one, not an ethical or scientific one. In typical American fashion, we have made this debate of laws, not men. And while it has certainly helped reach consensus and, for a sizable contingency of the population, served as a protection of what they see as basic rights, I’d argue that simply avoiding such looming ethical and moral questions is unfortunate and leads to a certain cognitive dissonance as seen on rather stark display during the Gosnell trial.

It is rather impossible to win a moral argument – and that goes for those who say abortion is wrong because God says so or because it takes life AND for those who say abortion restrictions are wrong because they take away the mother’s choice. Either side rests upon a bedrock normative judgment that the other side refuses to accept. In a sense, then, it is absolutely natural that a generally civilized society would rather avoid such open, head-to-head conflict

But in another sense, this societal head-turning is quite troubling. I have neither the time nor desire to argue for objective morality or even normative ethics. Perhaps those discussions are best left out of the realm of arguments, anyway. But these questions are so basic, so fundamental, that to ignore them, regardless of on what side of the fence one falls, is anti-reason, and ultimately unsustainable.

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