In May, reporter J.D. Mullane of the Bucks County Courier-Times described how covering the murder-manslaughter trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell changed his mind on abortion. He told Fox News, “You can’t sit there day after day and week after week and listen to that testimony and not be changed, and not have a change of heart, or at least reconsider your position.”
Pat Dowling and Charol Abram of Lifenews.com report that on October 15, Mullane “spoke to a packed hall at the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown” about his horror in the courtroom during the Gosnell trial:
Mullane told the crowd that his coverage of the Gosnell trial began somewhat unintentionally. He typically only covers local news stories for his newspapers, the Bucks County Courier Times, The Intelligencer, and the Burlington County (NJ) Times. But a light schedule one day back in April prompted Mullane to attend the trial in center-city Philadelphia. He was looking for a local angle, because some of the women who sought Gosnell’s later-term abortions were from his area.
Mullane called ahead to the Philadelphia courthouse for press credentials, but was told that he could just show up. Somewhat mystified by this lack of competition for a press seat, he was later surprised to see that almost all of the courtroom seats designated for the press were empty. He snapped a cell-phone photo of the empty seats and posted it on Twitter. The picture went viral, and only then did the media begin to pay a little more attention to the trial.
Mullane told the audience that, as the testimony unfolded, it was bad enough to hear descriptions of the routine practices in Gosnell’s abortion mill, how filthy it always was, and how he discriminated against ethnic women by providing even worse than the standard “care” for them.
Additional trial testimony and images were “beyond any Hollywood horror,” including the courtroom presence of one of the bloody chairs where women in late-term pregnancy waited for lethal doses of Gosnell’s drugs to kill their babies before delivery. These drugs were sometimes injected by an untrained 15-year-old girl!
Other grisly testimony included descriptions of the horrendous techniques for murdering born-alive babies after delivery if they survived the toxic drug-brew, and gruesome answers by Gosnell’s staff
Since he was convicted, Gosnell granted only one interview, to Steve Volk of Philadelphia magazine, who described him as smart, funny, warm....and "bent."
Up close, his story is worse than we knew—a lesson in how self-righteousness and cold rationalizations blur distinctions between man and monster. But the other source of my discomfort is that true crime stories don’t often intersect, so inextricably, with politics—let alone the most contentious subject in politics: abortion.
To be straight about it, I have always been comfortably pro choice—a moderate lefty content with Roe. But covering the Gosnell trial provoked a new unease.
I am not the only person who felt disturbed by the testimony on both illegal and legal abortion. Two jurors, Sarah Glinski and David Misko, told me that the testimony convinced them the legal limit for elective abortion should be rolled back from 24 weeks (the generally recognized point of viability outside the womb) to something earlier, perhaps even the beginning of the second trimester. Gosnell’s own defense attorney, Jack McMahon, told Fox’s Megyn Kelly (and repeated to me) that he now believes abortion should cease to be legal at 18 weeks. “The woman still gets a right to choose,” he told me, “but she needs to choose faster.”
The reasons they expressed these views differed. Glinski told me that, prior to the trial, she thought of the fetus as just an unformed collection of cells. “I never thought of anything as being killed,” she said.
When she heard testimony describing a legal abortion procedure, in which a lethal injection stops the fetus’s heart, she felt stunned.
McMahon’s reasoning is more legalistic. Estimates of gestational age, whether conducted manually or by ultrasound, can be inaccurate by up to two weeks or more. “If you push it back, you don’t have this question of ‘was it viable or not?’” he says.