When “the Silent Scream” isn’t silent anymore

In 1984, former abortion doctor and NARAL founder Bernard Nathanson narrated the film The Silent Scream, which featured ultrasound footage of the abortion of an 11-week-old fetus. It culminates with a shot of the unborn baby opening its mouth in the “silent scream” that gave the film its name and much of its rhetorical punch.

This week we have reports of another tiny victim of abortion screaming—not silently this time:

A Delaware woman who worked for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell recalled hearing one child “screaming” after it was delivered during an abortion procedure at Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic.

Sherry West, of Bear, said she was loyal to Gosnell – who is now facing multiple counts of murder for allegedly killing children after they were delivered alive at his clinic – but said the incident “really freaked me out.”

When Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore pressed the 53-year-old West for specifics about the incident, West struggled to answer, clearly uncomfortable with the memory.

“I can’t describe it. It sounded like a little alien,” West testified, telling a judge and Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury that the body of the child was about 18 to 24 inches long and was one of the largest babies she had seen delivered during abortion procedures at Gosnell’s clinic.

West said she saw the child, whose face and features were not yet completely formed, lying on a glass tray on a shelf and she told a co-worker to call Gosnell about it and fled the room.

Testimony has been given by Gosnell’s former colleagues, who describe the doctor snipping the spinal cords of babies born alive and keeping the severed feet of aborted fetuses in specimen jars. This is in addition to the filthy condition in which the facility was kept—blood on the floors, bags of feces and other waste—without any interference from state health inspectors or regulators. In fact, it wasn’t until Gosnell was suspected of illegal drug sales that the disgusting realities of his medical practice became known to law enforcement.

How do we react to this story?

The normal, healthy reaction is horror. I know seasoned, not-easily-shocked pro-lifers who have lost sleep and been unable to eat after reading the accounts of the kind of “medical care” Dr. Gosnell and his employees dispensed for years at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia. It is possible for those who are pro-life and who fight to end abortion to become desensitized to the reality of the human lives that are snuffed out by abortion. The horrors perpetrated by Gosnell and overlooked by negligent health inspectors throws this reality into stark relief.

Another reaction to this story is to ignore it and hope it will go away. This seems to be the reaction of many in the national media. Kirsten Powers has a column in USA Today on the shameful media silence regarding the Gosnell trial:

A Lexis-Nexis search shows none of the news shows on the three major national television networks has mentioned the Gosnell trial in the last three months. The exception is when Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan hijacked a segment on Meet the Press meant to foment outrage over an anti-abortion rights law in some backward red state.

The Washington Post has not published original reporting on this during the trial and The New York Times saw fit to run one original story on A-17 on the trial’s first day. They’ve been silent ever since, despite headline-worthy testimony.

Let me state the obvious. This should be front page news. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria. The venerable NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams intoned, “A firestorm of outrage from women after a crude tirade from Rush Limbaugh,” as he teased a segment on the brouhaha. Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed — a major human rights story if there ever was one — doesn’t make the cut.

Why the almost-total media blackout? Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion suggests this is a problem of how the media frames abortion stories; that Gosnell doesn’t fit the narrative employed by most media outlets when they cover abortion in this country: “Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on whether reporters and editors should question their preferred frames if those frames require hiding reality.” Elizabeth Scalia is even blunter: “There is a saying in the news industry: ‘if it bleeds, it leads…’ … Perhaps the saying should be changed to, ‘if it bleeds and is politically expedient it leads, otherwise, it gets buried.’”

At NRO’s The Corner, Peter Kirsanow responds to the suggestion that the media’s indifference to the Gosnell trial may have something to do with the fact that most of his patients were women of color. In addition to being charged with the murder of seven babies, Gosnell is also being tried for the murder of Karnamaya Mongar, a 41-year-old Bhutanese refugee who didn’t speak English and who was given lethal doses of several medications after an abortion in Gosnell’s clinic. Would the media care more if his victims—born and unborn—were white? Kirsanow writes:

The elite media are rarely at a loss for highlighting racial disparities, whether real or imagined, in any story. But it’s hard to highlight racial disparities when you refuse to cover the story at all.

Also missing are the usual suspects who would rail against the responsible oversight authorities for their indifference to the plight of minorities. These usual suspects would normally ask — in this case perhaps justifiably — whether what allegedly happened in Gosnell’s clinic would be allowed to happen in a clinic largely patronized by whites. But again, as with the elite media, utter silence.

A hierarchy of priorities is thus revealed.

Interestingly, Gosnell himself seems to have thought he was safer mistreating women of color than he would be if they were white; a former medical assistant offered this testimony about Gosnell:

So [Gosnell] didn’t mind you medicating your African American girls, your Indian girl, but if you had a white girl from the suburbs, oh, you better not medicate her. You better wait until he go in and talk to her first. And one day I said something to him and he was like, that’s the way of the world.


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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.