White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday called the trial of a Pennsylvania abortion doctor accused of performing partial-birth abortions and killing one woman “unsettling,” but ducked follow-up questions over the administration’s views on the matter.
The White House “does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial,” Carney said, in the administration's first statements on the issue.
Gosnell has been charged with partially delivering seven babies that were 24 weeks or older, a crime in Pennsylvania. Prosecutors say the actual number is far higher. He is also charged with the death of one of the mothers, who went into cardiac arrest during a procedure.
Up until last week, the case, which began when the police raided Gosnell’s facility in early 2010, had failed to gain traction with the national media.
But the story exploded inside Washington last week after a group of Republican lawmakers brought it up on the House floor and urged their colleagues and the media to give the case their attention.
Conservatives have lashed out at the press, claiming a pervasive liberal bias has conspired to keep the story hidden because it would reignite a difficult debate over abortion that the left would prefer not to have.
Conservative pundits and bloggers pushed the story, and by the weekend the hashtag “Gosnell” was trending on Twitter.
Pressed on whether the president believed that the Gosnell case should lead to legislative changes on abortion policy, Carney repeatedly sidestepped questions, saying only that "the president's position on choice is clear" and echoing former President Clinton's statement that abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare."
Carney was asked if the trial should provoke Congress to consider legislation such as the Born Alive Act. Obama opposed a state version of the bill as an Illinois state senator.
“You’re asking for hypotheticals about legislation or proposed legislation that I haven’t seen,” Carney responded.
Pro-abortion-rights activists say the case proves that abortion clinics should be allowed to function legally, and that the failures of the Gosnell clinic — a lack of oversight and enforcement — is what women would routinely face if forced to seek out illegal abortions.
—This story was updated at 2:17 p.m.