The horrific story of a Pennsylvania abortion doctor accused of performing partial-birth abortions and killing one woman exploded inside Washington circles on Friday, in part due to a series of speeches on the House floor by a group of Republican lawmakers.
Republicans are hopeful the newfound attention will reignite debate on an issue they believe has been defined by trivial gaffes and media bias for too long.
Prosecutors say Dr. Kermit Gosnell of the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia was involved in dozens of illegal late-term abortions, forcing the live births of fetuses up to eight months old, and in some cases “snipping” the spines of the babies that survived the abortion attempts with scissors.
Media reports say some of the babies were born breathing and screaming, and that body parts were kept in jars around the blood-stained clinic. Gosnell has been charged with partially delivering seven babies that were 24 weeks or older, although 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.
Gosnell, whose attorney has argued that the babies would have died anyway from a drug he administered earlier in the process, could face the death penalty.
Anna Higgins, director for the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity, said she hopes the tragedy will rally conservatives to the anti-abortion rights cause the same way the Newtown massacre rallied Democrats to gun control.
“Of course, we would’ve hoped it wouldn’t come to this to provoke action by Congress,” she said.
Up until this week, the case, which began when the police raided Gosnell’s facility in early 2010, had failed to gain traction with the national media. Conservatives have been flummoxed, arguing that the horror-show aspect is something the national media would typically be clamoring to cover.
In floor speeches this week, Reps. Smith, Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), Scott GarrettScott GarrettHuizenga to chair influential subcommittee overseeing Wall Street Congress asserts itself The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-N.J.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and Scott Perry (R-Pa.) pleaded with their colleagues and the media to give the case a closer look.
Gohmert’s voice wavered on the House floor Friday as he read an article that substituted the word “puppies” for “babies” in a story about Gosnell’s practice. Gohmert argued that the former would have caused more outrage among lawmakers and the media.
“The reason the mainstream media has not reported this story and continues to refuse to report this story about little innocent puppies having their necks cut and killed after they’re born alive is because they’re not puppies, they’re human beings, they’re boys and girls and it doesn’t fit the agenda of the mainstream media,” he said. “They would for sure report if these were puppies, but they’re not.”
Gohmert also recounted the story of his daughter, who was born prematurely, and struggled to make it through the first hours of her life.
Other GOP lawmakers, Reps. Trent FranksTrent FranksLive coverage: House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill GOP lawmakers leave Trump White House with no deal Trump, GOP struggle to find healthcare votes MORE (R-Ariz.), Robert AderholtRobert AderholtGOP leaders seek healthcare votes from competing factions Trump, GOP struggle to find healthcare votes Trump storms Capitol with healthcare plan on the line MORE (R-Ala.), and John FlemingJohn FlemingCoast Guard suspends search for missing Ohio plane Freedom Caucus member to bring up bill on impeaching IRS chief GOP seeks to make it 52 MORE (R-La.) among them, voiced their opinions over Twitter, as did an army of conservative pundits and bloggers. By Friday, the hash-tag “Gosnell” was trending on twitter and the story was getting attention on cable news outlets.
Smith told The Hill he wasn’t certain what action – if any – lawmakers might take.
“We’re looking at options,” he said. “But right now the focus is on trying to get the national news media to pay attention to a preventable tragedy against women and babies every day. I think it’s important for humanitarian-oriented Americans to understand what goes on in abortion industry, and [Gosnell] is a microcosm of it.”
Perry argued that the U.S. attorney general should get involved because some patients travelled across state lines for the procedures.
“I wouldn’t hold my breath about that,” Smith said.
Higgins said Congress could immediately look at taxpayer funding for abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood, and could better enforce safety and inspections at existing abortion providers.
Pro-abortion rights activists say they’re happy to debate the Gosnell trial with conservatives. They argue 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.
If the case can sustain momentum among conservatives, it could quickly become an explosive political issue. Republicans have shown a willingness early on to say Democratic policies on abortion rights make them complicit in Gosnell’s crimes.
“I say this with absolute sadness,” Smith said. “President Obama is the abortion president and this administration, with every aspect of its domestic and foreign policy, supports abortion every day.”