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The key lesson of the Gosnell trial

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 15, 2013

What can we learn from the success of the Twitter campaign that finally shamed some mainstream media outlets into taking notice of the trial of Kermit Gosnell?

  • First, we see the power of Twitter, and of a radically decentralized system of conveying news. Kudos to the people who organized the Twitter campaign, and to the media critics like Mollie Hemingway who exposed the media blackout.
  • So we now know that if thousands and thousands of ordinary people call attention to a story, and demand media coverage, the media will respond. Eventually. But how do you alert people, so that they’ll know enough to demand coverage? We need a means of mass distribution for stories that the mainstream outlets won’t touch. And now we have that means, through the internet.
  • In other words, Twitter made it possible to prompt major-media coverage of the Gosnell trial. But ironically Twitter also made it less necessary to have major-media coverage, since the story was already being spread so effectively.

The moral of the story, I suggest, is that discerning readers should never rely on the mainstream media. It’s now quite easy to find internet outlets that cover the stories you consider most important; if you find the right outlets, you’re much more likely to find the stories you want to read. That the entire purpose of an operation like Catholic World News.

One kind reader, no doubt motivated by the Twitter campaign, wrote to ask whether CWN had posted any stories on the Gosnell scandal. Well yes, as a matter of fact, we have posted frequently on the  topic. We began calling the butchery in Philadelphia to our readers’ attention more than 2 years ago, and continued our coverage through the exposure of another unsafe abortuary in Delaware and the guilty pleas of Gosnell’s colleagues.

It’s true that CWN hasn’t offered day-to-day reports from Gosnell’s trial, with the grisly details that would ordinarily guarantee saturation coverage in the tabloids. We’ve already given the basic story; now we’re waiting for the court’s verdict.

Moreover, the gory details are not the most important aspect of this horrible story. The most important aspect was covered in a CWN report way back in January 2011:

“The Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all,” the grand jury report charged.

That’s why it was possible for Kermit Gosnell to run his butcher's shop: because state authorities, for political reasons, weren’t inspecting abortion clinics.* Some pro-lifers have compared the reported crimes of Kermit Gosnell with those of other mass-murderers. Any state oversight of abortion clinics would have made it impossible for Gosnell to thrive for years. But unlike other serial killers, Gosnell was assisted in his butchery by the willingness of public officials to look the other way. And Gosnell is probably not the only abortionist who has exploited the gaping regulatory loopholes. Throughout the US—not just in Pennsylvania—abortion clinics are virtually free from regulation, for political reasons.

Since Roe v. Wade the abortion lobby has done its utmost to preserve its practitioners from common-sense safety regulations, public disclosures, informed-consent requirements, and routine inspections. The convenience of abortionists has always trumped the safety of mothers (to say nothing of the doomed unborn children). The key question that should be raised by the Gosnell trial is whether Americans—even “pro-choice” Americans—will continue to accept the notion that abortion should be an unregulated industry, an industry policed only by the people who profit from it.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the mainstream media outlets to raise that question.


*- You probably know this already, but just in case: Gosnell was arrested only because of an FBI investigation, prompted by suspicion that he was issuing phony prescriptions. When the feds entered the building to look for evidence, they found conditions so appalling that they called in state prosecutors. Doctors who write illegal prescriptions are subject to investigation, you see. Abortionists who dismember live babies, use unsterile instruments, and leave half-conscious women bleeding under dirty blankets are not.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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