An ultrasound of a baby in a mother's womb.
An ultrasound of a baby in a mother's womb.

The so-called expertise of experts at the Gosnell trial


PHILADELPHIA—Here's another Hollywood reflection on the murder trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell.

In Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, our protagonist is standing in a movie queue with Annie, as a man behind him pontificates loudly to his date on the writings of Marshall McLuhan. Annoyed, Allen muses, “What I wouldn’t give for a large sock with horse manure in it.”

The pontificator hears Allen’s mocking and starts to defend himself, telling his critic that, for his information, he teaches a course at Columbia University on “TV, Media, and Culture.” The two argue until Allen reaches behind a wall and brings the real Marshall McLuhan into the picture! McLuhan addresses the professor: “I heard what you were saying. … You know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course on anything is totally amazing.” Allen’s aside to the audience is: “Boy, if life were only like this.”

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Indeed. A lot of what went on at the Gosnell trail was predicated on the so-called expertise of so-called experts. Experts are the geniuses behind the 24-week gestational cut-off date for abortions. (The cut-off is different in other states, which presumably have their own experts.) These are the medical wizards on whose every word the lawmakers base their laws. And now I will unveil a quote I have been saving, a comment I overheard from the prosecutor, tossed off cavalierly to the defense during a break in early April:

“You can get an expert witness to say anything you want.”

Consider, for example, the experts’ view of when an unborn baby feels pain? Are their views to be taken as fixed anchors upon which to base life-and-death legislation? Judge for yourself: After the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, many states tried to erect their own speed bumps to abortion. Arkansas, Georgia, and Minnesota required doctors to tell their patients that a 20-week-old unborn child can feel pain during the abortion procedure.

But later, other “experts” disagreed and said unborn babies only feel pain when they are much older. (As I recall the prosecution’s cynical statement, I can’t help wondering who “got to” those experts, to make them move the marker.) They were now saying that a baby couldn’t feel pain until the 28th week because it hasn’t yet formed the necessary nerve pathways. Mark Rosen of the University of California, San Francisco, said that until the third trimester, “The wiring at the point where you feel pain, such as the skin, doesn’t reach the emotional part where you feel pain, in the brain.”

If you were a Gosnell trial watcher, see if the following pontification from Rosen doesn’t sound oddly familiar: “If you see a fetus in utero react to needle stimulation, then the common conclusion is that it must feel. … [But] that’s a reflex that’s mediated by the spinal cord; that’s not a conscious reaction.”

We heard that kind of language a lot in court—the constantly debated question of whether the slight arm movements and leg movements observed by various Gosnell staffers were indications of a living baby or were merely “reflexes” and “spasms.” Isn’t it interesting that when it suits the pro-abortion faction, fetal movement is merely what Rosen calls a “reflex”—but the same faction will hypocritically join pro-lifers in contending against Gosnell that the movements of expelled babies were signs of real life?

We do not know what “experts” will tell us next year, or in 10 years, about the onset of an unborn child’s capacity to know pain. But the problem is that the only experts not able to weigh in on the topic are the babies themselves. As long as a baby is a demographic that cannot speak up for him- or herself, the world will be full of college degreed know-it-alls like the media expert in Annie Hall. He felt free to mouth off about Marshall McLuhan because he knew it was safe to say whatever he pleased when there was no danger of being contradicted by the only real expert in the room.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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