Burying Truth: Holocaust Denial, Kermit Gosnell, and Heartbeat Legislation

Image via Greater Binghamton Daily Photo

Yesterday, the National Catholic Register blew up over Simcha’s article about how Traditionalists should try to distance themselves from the Holocaust deniers/belittlers in their midst. The subject of Traditionalists and Holocaust-denial is not one I want to touch, but I was fascinated that one objection kept coming up in the comment box. It was asked in a number of ways by a number of commenters, but what it boiled down to was this:

What’s wrong with denying the Holocaust or questioning the official reports? It’s not a matter of doctrine!

I think there is a grave danger in denial of the Holocaust that is particularly  relevant to our current culture. People who attempt to deny the Holocaust, who search out dubious “sources” that refute the mountains of factual evidence that exist, people who attempt to somehow discredit the countless testimonies of those who lived through the Holocaust…those people must have a reason for it. There must be some motivation, be it political, religious, personal, whatever, for trying to find a way to refute an established historical event. Why else would you ignore history books and photographs and archeological evidence and personal testimony and cold, hard, proven facts? For some reason, they want it not to be true, and so they try and find a way to make it so. It may be that they aren’t even aware of that motivation, but it flies so much in the face of reason that I can’t see how anyone could embark on a “questioning the Holocaust” crusade without some sort of internal motivation.

It may be that questioning the Holocaust itself isn’t a sin against anything except common sense and rationality, but I suspect that the motivations behind such questioning might be less than virtuous, perhaps sinful, perhaps dangerously so.

Which brings us to Kermit Gosnell and the media blackout of his trial.

To re-cap, this doctor killed hundreds of babies by inducing delivery and cutting their spinal cords with scissors. He also grossly neglected the women who came to his clinic, infecting them with STI’s from unsterilized equipment, letting untrained staff give them dangerous medication, perforating bowels and uteruses, killing some, maiming others, terrifying and mistreating all of them. He kept baby feet in jars. He took white women to a clean office and treated them himself, and let black, Asian, and any other non-white woman be treated by his untrained staff in squalid conditions. Bloody blankets, bloody operating tables, rusting speculums and scissors. Dead babies, as old as 30 weeks, kept in paper bags in the refrigerator. Numerous complaints and health violations were filed against him. All of them went either ignored or swept under the rug, even after officials had visited the clinic and seen the conditions themselves.

The mainstream media has almost totally ignored this case. It’s been national news since February of 2010, when the clinic was finally closed. Pro-life websites have been reporting on it since then. I have been aware of it since then. Yet the majority of the mainstream media has totally ignored the case, with notable exceptions from USA Today and The Atlantic.

There’s no question that the people who ignored the violations had some motivation to do so. I’m certain that motivation was that Gosnell’s clinic catered to poor women of color, and that the clinic offered abortions.

I’m also certain that the media, the women’s rights advocates, and the general public is ignoring this story because the setting is an abortion clinic.

There is hard evidence of gross medical malpractice motivated largely by racism. There is hard evidence of blatant and extreme violations of the rights of women and simple human dignity. It should be horrifying to everyone that this story is being almost totally blacked out because the story also includes dead babies and the word “abortion.”

When human beings begin to view reality through the lens of a certain agenda, truth is abandoned. That goes for the right as well as the left.

Several months ago, when the story of Savita Halappanavar broke, Adam Lee and I began exchanging emails. He pointed out to me something that I found, and still find, appalling. In El Salvador, where abortion is illegal, the laws are constructed around the fetal heartbeat. It’s called “heartbeat legislation”, and to my shame I was not aware of it until Adam showed me this link.

“A policy that criminalizes all abortions has a flip side. It appears to mandate that the full force of the medical team must tend toward saving the fetus under any circumstances. This notion can lead to some dangerous practices. Consider an ectopic pregnancy, a condition that occurs when a microscopic fertilized egg moves down the fallopian tube — which is no bigger around than a pencil — and gets stuck there (or sometimes in the abdomen). Unattended, the stuck fetus grows until the organ containing it ruptures. A simple operation can remove the fetus before the organ bursts. After a rupture, though, the situation can turn into a medical emergency.

According to Sara Valdés, the director of the Hospital de Maternidad, women coming to her hospital with ectopic pregnancies cannot be operated on until fetal death or a rupture of the fallopian tube. “That is our policy,” Valdés told me. She was plainly in torment about the subject. “That is the law,” she said. “The D.A.’s office told us that this was the law.” Valdés estimated that her hospital treated more than a hundred ectopic pregnancies each year. She described the hospital’s practice. “Once we determine that they have an ectopic pregnancy, we make sure they stay in the hospital,” she said. The women are sent to the dispensary, where they receive a daily ultrasound to check the fetus. “If it’s dead, we can operate,” she said. “Before that, we can’t.” If there is a persistent fetal heartbeat, then they have to wait for the fallopian tube to rupture. If they are able to persuade the patient to stay, though, doctors can operate the minute any signs of early rupturing are detected. Even a few drops of blood seeping from a fallopian tube will “irritate the abdominal wall and cause pain,” Valdés explained. By operating at the earliest signs of a potential rupture, she said, her doctors are able to minimize the risk to the woman.”

(Read the rest here, and yes, it’s heavily weighted in favor of pro-choice policies, but you should still read it and think about it nonetheless.)

This is horrible. I believe that a baby’s life should be protected, but it shouldn’t be elevated over the life of the mother. An ectopic pregnancy should not be left untreated, thereby greatly endangering the mother’s life. Removing the portion of the fallopian tube that the baby has implanted itself in would acknowledge the sad reality that biologically, the baby’s life cannot continue, without elevating the importance of the baby’s heartbeat over the life of the mother. Laws shouldn’t be constructed so that the mother’s life is  a secondary question. Both lives are precious. If one cannot be saved, the other should not also be forfeit.

I’m not going to tackle the question of how this could be done. The first step, I think, is admitting that maybe there are problems with some pro-life legislation, and maybe we should be willing to hear objections and self-examine. If we don’t, we risk becoming single-minded and intentionally blind to truth and reality.

If we are so afraid to hear anything that criticizes our most precious personal convictions that we, say, insist historical fact is fiction, or deliberately silence news about a racist murderer, or refuse to entertain the idea that in some cases, heartbeat legislation could be unjust, we’re no longer seeking truth. Truth will always stand up to examination. A just society is built on people seeking truth, with a good heart and an open mind. The fact that large groups of our population, on the left, right, and everywhere in between, deliberately seek to bury truth that doesn’t support their personal cause or conviction should scare us a whole hell of a lot more than it does.



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  • http://www.havingleftthealtar.com Katherine

    The way it would be handled from a Catholic perspective is the principle of double effect. It comes down to what is actually being done in the medical procedure. The intent isn’t to kill the baby but rather remove the life-threatening danger to the mother and the death of the baby is an unfortunate consequence of the means necessary to save the mother’s life. Another example would be uterine cancer. If the uterus has to be removed to save the mother, and she wants that, it can be removed and, unfortunately, the baby may die. It is a foreseen but not intended death of the baby and it is not the direct act of the procedure.

    • federoff11

      EXACTLY! Thats what we learned in Theology 101 at Franciscan University…. the principle of double effect was illustrated to us using the tubal pregnancy scenario, so it was the first thing I thought of, reading this post.

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  • Adam Lee

    Hey Calah, thanks for the mention!

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the mainstream media or women’s rights advocates have been ignoring this story. It was reported as early as two years ago by CBS, Time, the New York Times, and NPR. It was also extensively covered by feminists and women’s rights groups, who had every reason to want this ghastly place shut down for good, in Salon, Slate, RH Reality Check, The Nation, and other outlets.

    The only real question I have is why law enforcement didn’t shut down this butchering quack much sooner. It seems like part of the reason is that a lot of Gosnell’s victims were afraid to come forward and testify, as Katha Pollitt suggests:

    Brenda Green, executive director of CHOICE, a nonprofit that connects the underinsured and uninsured with health services, told me it tried to report complaints from clients, but the department wouldn’t accept them from a third party. Instead, the patients had to fill out a daunting five-page form, available only in English, that required them to reveal their identities upfront and be available to testify in Harrisburg. Even with CHOICE staffers there to help, only two women agreed to fill out the form, and both decided not to submit it.

    I agree that racism played a role in this horrible outcome, though maybe not in the same way you seem to be suggesting here. It’s not that women of color were being somehow targeted or lured in; it’s that women of color are disproportionately poor and lack good insurance, and they came to Gosnell because, for obvious reasons, he charged less than a legitimate doctor would.

  • AnnaLee

    This case shouldn’t have happened in Ireland. In the last referendum on the issue, there was a clause which the people voted in favour of, that anti-abortion laws should never put a woman’s life at risk. There is nothing in Catholic teaching or Irish law against hurrying on a miscarriage (*not* the same thing as an abortion) in a situation like this, even if there is a heartbeat and the baby will almost certainly die (the baby’s dying anyway).

    The fact is, Ireland has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. You’re far more likely to die in childbirth in the US than in Ireland (3 times more likely). There is no correlation between loose abortion laws and good pregnancy care.

    • AnnLee

      update: It turns out that this was nothing to do with Catholic teaching or Irish law. The doctor now admits that a crucial blood test was delayed/lost. Had she known the results, she would have terminated the pregnancy, heartbeat or no heartbeat. A sad and tragic death resulting from understaffing and management error. The reality is, many deaths occur because of hospital understaffing, and, like I said, this kind of occurance is 3 times more common in the US than in Ireland.

  • Ted Seeber

    The obvious replacement for heartbeat legislation, is triage legislation. A pregnant woman rightly is two patients, not one. No different than two accident victims coming into the ER. The doctors must save the one they are better able to save.

  • fats

    As an aside, i suspect that one of the biggest changes in media reporting is driven by the fact that conspiracy theories are now mainstreamed. If you dont think so, watch the “History” Channel for a few shows. It’s all about viewership, not facts or accurate reporting.

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