You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know. –William Wilberforce
Abortion makes us uncomfortable. It’s not something we like to talk about. When we think about the staggering statistics — over 50 million babies aborted in this country since 1973 — we’re tempted to become hopeless. The problem is too big. Things will never change.
And so, too many of us look the other way. We know it happens, but we just hope it happens somewhere else. Somewhere far away.
An American Tragedy
For the last five years, I’ve been working on a documentary called 3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy about the infamous Kermit Gosnell case. Gosnell was an abortion provider in West Philadelphia. In 2010, the police raided his clinic because they suspected that he was selling prescription drugs illegally. However, what they found upon entering his clinic was unthinkable. A feral cat roaming the hallways. Blood on the floors and walls. A row of jars containing severed babies’ feet.
Investigators quickly learned that Gosnell was performing late-term abortions. He called his method “snipping.” Gosnell would provide his patients with drugs that induced labor. A live baby would be born, and then Gosnell would kill the baby by snipping his or her spinal cord with scissors.
Stephen Massof, one of Gosnell’s employees who helped with the procedure, testified that it was “literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.” All the while, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania looked the other way while babies died and women were brutalized.
Over the course of the last five years, my team interviewed many of Gosnell’s victims. Three are featured in the film. Desiree was facing a crisis pregnancy at age sixteen and went to Gosnell for an abortion. What happened at Gosnell’s clinic will haunt her for the rest of her life. As I think of these women, I’m reminded of how Christ loved me. He didn’t pass judgment on me. He didn’t look the other way. Rather, he loved me. He showed me compassion and mercy.
How can we, as believers, love the Desirees among us?
Four Failures to Act
Gosnell didn’t operate out of a back alley. His clinic was on a busy street in West Philadelphia, just a stone’s throw away from Drexel University. And the raid in 2010 wasn’t the first time that authorities had heard about Gosnell. According to the grand jury’s report, authorities looked the other way for more than twenty years.
In 1996, the Department of Health learned that patients were contracting trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted parasite, at Gosnell’s clinic. But they didn’t conduct any inspections in response to the complaint.
In 1999, one of Gosnell’s employees filed a detailed written complaint with the Department of State. She informed investigators, among other things, that Gosnell used unlicensed workers to give anesthesia to patients and that he had performed abortions on underage children, against their will, if their mothers asked him to. The Department of State closed the employee’s case three years later without disciplining Gosnell, or even setting foot in his clinic.
In 2002, they were notified that a woman had died at Gosnell’s clinic following an abortion. A prosecuting attorney for the Department of State summarized the case and concluded, “Prosecution Not Warranted,” despite the fact that the woman’s autopsy had indicated perforation of cervix into uterus, resulting in sepsis and death.
In 1999, Gosnell applied to become a member of the National Abortion Federation, a professional association of 400 abortion providers nationwide. While it was the worst abortion clinic that the NAF evaluator had ever seen, they also failed to report the clinic’s abysmal conditions to any oversight agencies.
Why did these organizations fail to act? Why didn’t they intervene? Here’s what the grand jury’s report says: “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.”
It was politically incorrect to investigate an abortion clinic. It was a subject that was too uncomfortable to address. Women and babies died because people looked the other way.
Learning to Love Like Christ
We must stop looking the other way when it comes to abortion. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s awkward. Yes, people will get mad at us. But until we start talking about abortion and what it is and who it affects, we will never see change.
Until we learn to love the women who choose abortion, and the men who encourage abortion, and the babies who lose their lives to abortion — until we learn to love them the way Jesus loved us, we will never see change.
The lives of women and children are at stake. We cannot remain silent. We must love with Christ’s love, the love we have been shown. We cannot look the other way.
For more on the 3801 Lancaster story, and to find show times near you or host a screening, visit the documentary’s online home.