Bill Murchison

So sad, so affecting -- the cases of various newborns whose lives a Philadelphia jury found Dr. Kermit Gosnell to have taken through quick, deft application of scissors. The district attorney called Gosnell "a monster. Any doctor who cuts into the necks, severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is a murderer and a monster." He kept jars full of baby body parts around his filthy clinic. He served, if you call it serving, a clientele of poor and minority-group women -- at least two of whom died from his ministrations. A judge last week sentenced him to three life terms in prison.

Yes, and so ... ? Having digested the charges and proof in a case closely watched across the land, by pro-life and pro-choice people alike, we ... what exactly? Besides tell the Gallup Poll that our views on abortion remain pretty much what they've been for years?

A "Children, cover your eyes!" moment looms. Let's hustle the little chicks and ourselves with them past a scene bereft of humanity and hope. To focus on what happened for years in Gosnell's abortion mills -- chiefly, filth and murder -- would be to look at abortion not as liberation but as horror.

We seem as a people not to want to do that. As Gallup reported a few days before Gosnell's conviction, "despite the news that Gosnell may have murdered newborns" -- "may have" nothing; he did -- in the course of performing late-term abortions, public attitudes on abortion are essentially unchanged."

To put it another way, 26 percent think abortion should be legal under all circumstances, whereas 20 percent would ban it under all circumstances. The remaining 52 percent, well, they're somewhere in between -- 38 percent favorable to letting abortion take place "in a few," unspecified circumstances, 13 percent favorable to legality "most" of the time. It's pretty much the same finding Gallup has reported since the century began, "except for a brief period between 2005 and 2006," when opinion titled toward the pro-choice side.

It would seem half of us continue ambivalent, to one degree or another, on the hardest moral question of our times. And no wonder: to look hard and unblinkingly at abortion -- no covering of eyes, no turning of heads -- is to see Dr. Harold Gosnell hard at work with his scissors.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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