A horrifying report from the Associated Press:
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 69, made millions of dollars over 30 years, performing as many illegal, late-term abortions as he could, prosecutors said. State regulators ignored complaints about him and failed to inspect his clinic since 1993, but no charges were warranted against them given time limits and existing law, District Attorney Seth Williams said. Nine of Gosnell's employees also were charged.
Gosnell "induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord," Williams said. [...]
Bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses "were scattered throughout the building," Williams said. "There were jars, lining shelves, with severed feet that he kept for no medical purpose."
The AP adds: "Abortions are legal up to 24 weeks gestation in Pennsylvania, although most doctors won't perform them after 20 weeks, prosecutors said."
The AP's reporting misses the point that Gosnell would not have been charged with murder of these seven babies if he had dismembered them prior to birth and filed the right paperwork.
While Pennsylvania does indeed have a law on the books prohibiting abortions after 24 weeks of gestation, the 1973 Supreme Court decision Doe v. Bolton (Roe's sister case) held that a doctor could decide to perform an abortion based on "all factors--physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age-relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health."
So Gosnell's problem--aside from being a murderer and a ghoul--as far as the (judicially-imposed) national law is concerned isn't that he performed late-term abortions, but that he didn't kill those seven babies before they were born. The partial-birth abortion ban doesn't prevent abortions after the baby has developed a certain amount of time--it bans abortions when the baby's head or "any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother."
The notion that late-term abortions may be effectively outlawed by the states is a common misconception--it's even been advanced by Barack Obama. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told a Christian magazine: "I think it's entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don't think that 'mental distress' qualifies as the health of the mother."
But as legal correspondent Jan Crawford explained, Obama's statement was fundamentally at odds with the Court's rulings:
there's no mistaking that Obama says he no longer will support what's long been a cornerstone of the abortion rights debate: The Court's insistence that laws banning abortions after the fetus is viable (now about 22 weeks) contain an exception to allow doctors to perform them if necessary to protect a pregnant woman's mental health.
Crawford noted that Obama then backtracked and said he supported a "rigorously" limited mental health exception, but he further misstated the law:
Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane, Obama said mental health exceptions-which are a real battleground issue in the abortion debate--can be "rigorously" limited to only those women with "serious clinical mental health diseases." He said mental health exceptions are not intended permit abortions when a woman simply "doesn't feel good."
"It is not just a matter of feeling blue," Obama said.
Here's the problem with that, and why Obama's remarks are so startling. Obama is trying to restrict abortions after 22 weeks to those women who have a serious disease or illness. But the law today also covers some women who are in "mental distress," those women who would suffer emotional and psychological harm without an abortion.
Despite Crawford's reporting, the rest of the national press never held Obama's feet to the fire on this issue. The fact is, almost 38 years to the day after the Supreme Court handed down the Roe and Doe decisions, abortion is legal in all 50 states, through all 9 months of pregnancy, for effectively any reason, so long as you can find a doctor willing to do it. Simply put, the only way states will have the right to ban abortions--late-term or earlier--is if a fifth constitutionalist joins Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito on the Court.
(Hat tip: Steven Ertelt)