But that’s giving away one of the punchlines of a very lengthy, gut-wrenching, soul-searching article in the Wall Street Journal the other day that, taken together with the commentaries and articles linked within it, is filled with punches to the gut. It may be the best handling of the worst abortion news we’ve heard publicly since the news that the Supreme Court made abortion legal with its Roe decision.

The headline on James Taranto’s article in the WSJ was succinct and apt: From Roe to Gosnell. There is a direct line if you follow the logic of abortion.

This pull quote pretty well sums up the article:

“The reductio ad absurdum of the pro-abortion side is Kermit Gosnell. That is why the Gosnell case has crystallized our view that the current regime of abortion on demand in America is a grave evil that ought to be abolished. It is murderous, if not categorically then at least in its extreme manifestations. Maintaining it requires an assault on language and logic that has taken on a totalitarian character. And it is politically poisonous.”

Don’t think this is some pro-life screed of triumphalism using the horrors committed by notorious Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell as a launching point to vent nearly 40 years worth of pent up angst over fighting the pro-abortion movement.

It’s an alarm bell set off by a former “pro-choice libertarian” journalist from what he himself calls “the mushy middle” on abortion issues. A journalist who’s been making the transition for many years from one position to another, although one who sees the full pro-life position as “a bridge too far” but found in the Gosnell case and subsequent trial the most damning evidence that Roe was really wrong all along.

Using the editorial ‘we’, he explains:

Our path was more cerebral and less visceral. It started with our education in constitutional law. Although we thought abortion on demand was a good policy, we knew how to read, and the Constitution had nothing to say about the matter. We came to view Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that declared otherwise, as a gross abuse of power by the Supreme Court, notwithstanding that it was in the service of a cause we agreed with.

A funny thing happens when you dissent from Roe v. Wade: You come to see that there’s not much else by way of intellectual content to the case for abortion on demand. Roe predates our own political consciousness, so we have to assume there were once stronger arguments. But these days the appeal to the authority of Roe is pretty much all there is apart from sloganeering, name-calling, appeals to self-interest and an emphasis on difficult and unusual cases such as pregnancy due to rape.

Among other things to get from this is the point that a former pro-choice libertarian is writing it and wrestling with the logic of abortion and the truth of following that logic through to its consequences.

When you dissent from Roe v. Wade, you notice that people committed to the pro-abortion side almost never acknowledge that the question of abortion poses a conflict of rights or of legitimate interests. Try to pin them down as to where they’d draw the line–at what point in fetal development does abortion become unacceptable? It’s pretty much impossible.

Right. That is true time and again.

Now here’s an important line that shouldn’t be missed:

Our own moral intuition is that an early-term abortion, or the use of an abortifacient to prevent implantation, is different in kind from a late-term abortion or infanticide.

This is an opening to a good discussion or debate, though Taranto is already open to that. But virtually nobody who considers themselves ‘pro-choice’ will talk honestly about abortifacients at all, much less their role and goal in preventing the implantation of the de facto beginning of a new human life already present at fertilization. Different in ‘kind’ from abortion or infanticide gets into a debate over the difference space and time make in the life of that unique, separate, whole, living human being already present at the moment of conception. Justifying it at one end extends to justifying it at some other end along the human continuum depending on cognitive ability and vulnerability and dependence, etc.

Taranto said as much.

But we concede that intuition is irreconcilable with the scientific fact that the difference between a zygote and an infant–or, for that matter, an adult–is one of degree: All are the same human being at different stages of development…

Any line one could draw between acceptable abortion and homicide would be an arbitrary one.

In fact, he goes on later to say…

The most jaw-dropping example of pro-abortion Orwellianism is the one we cited last week: the fierce objection to the assertion that life begins at fertilization. As we noted, that is a simple statement of scientific fact–a tautology.


We live in a free society. People have an absolute right to form opinions about matters of public concern, and a nearly absolute right to express those opinions, individually or in concert with others of like mind. “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Supreme Court, by interpreting (or misinterpreting) the Constitution, has the capacity to impose vast and sweeping changes in the law, as it did when it decided Roe v. Wade. What it cannot do–what it lacks not only the authority but the slightest ability to do–is control people’s thoughts.

The media and politicians and the abortion movement have done that over the decades since Roe. But they are losing their grip. The truth has been coming out. The old arguments aren’t working anymore.

One of the strongest practical arguments in favor of the Roe regime is that abortion has been around since time immemorial and outlawing it only drove it underground, leading women to endanger themselves by seeking out the services of back-alley quacks. The Philadelphia grand jurors recounted a powerful example from their own city’s history.

Pay attention to this.

It was called the Mother’s Day Massacre. A young Philadelphia doctor “offered to perform abortions on 15 poor women who were bused to his clinic from Chicago on Mother’s Day 1972, in their second trimester of pregnancy.” The women didn’t know that the doctor “planned to use an experimental device called a ‘super coil’ developed by a California man named Harvey Karman.”

A colleague of Karman’s Philadelphia collaborator described the contraption as “basically plastic razors that were formed into a ball. . . . They were coated into a gel, so that they would remain closed. These would be inserted into the woman’s uterus. And after several hours of body temperature, . . . the gel would melt and these . . . things would spring open, supposedly cutting up the fetus.”

Nine of the 15 Chicago women suffered serious complications. One of them needed a hysterectomy. The following year, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. It would be 37 more years before the Philadelphia doctor who carried out the Mother’s Day Massacre would go out of business. His name is Kermit Gosnell.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....