Jeffrey Goldberg. Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg
Jeffrey Goldberg. Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

A few years ago, I made the mistake of watching an Eli Roth horror film called “Hostel.” It is, technically, a successful movie, in that it achieves its purpose of making you feel both terrified and ill.

“Hostel,” which is categorized by people who do such categorizing as “torture porn,” concerns a criminal syndicate that provides victims to wealthy sadists for abuse and murder. It is filled with images that I would prefer to expel from my mind but can’t.

I’m reminded of “Hostel” because my mind is now filled with other images I wish I could expunge. Unfortunately, these are real-world images, contained in testimony about a series of atrocities at a Philadelphia abortion clinic. The clinic, the grandly named Women’s Medical Society, was run by Kermit Gosnell, who is now on trial for murder. According to testimony at the trial, the doctor trained his technicians -- unlicensed, usually -- to cut the spinal cords of babies who were born alive during late-term (extremely late-term) abortions.

According to William Saletan of Slate, one of the only journalists in the mainstream media to report on this horrific case as it developed, the Gosnell scandal broke open in 2010, when detectives and federal agents, investigating illegal drug sales, raided the clinic. They found “dirty surgical instruments, blood on the floor, cat excrement on the stairs, a stench of urine in the air, and operating facilities one agent compared to a bad gas station restroom.”

Fetal Remains

They also found -- brace yourselves -- fetal remains stored in milk jugs and cat-food containers. “Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room, where they sat on dirty recliners covered in blood-stained blankets. All the women had been sedated by unlicensed staff -- long before Gosnell arrived at the clinic -- and staff members could not accurately state what medications or dosages they had administered to the waiting patients.”

By any standard, this is a newsworthy trial. The question I had, when I first heard of it this week, is: Why is it just being discussed now? I only heard about it because Kirsten Powers, writing in USA Today, scolded the news media for ignoring what is quite obviously a hugely important story.

“Let me state the obvious,” Powers wrote. “This should be front page news. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria,” she continued. “Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed -- a major human rights story if there ever was one -- doesn’t make the cut. You don’t have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy.”

Powers is right: National news coverage of this case has been scarce to the point of nonexistence. In addition to the horror-movie aspects, the case touches on several national policy concerns, including regulation of abortion clinics and the morality of late-term abortions, just for starters.

Last year, I was one of many people in the new media who covered the controversy surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which had cut its funding to Planned Parenthood. There was outrage -- justifiable outrage, I think -- that Komen, a women’s health organization, would defund Planned Parenthood for what were quite obviously ideological reasons. I’m proud to say that the media covered that story assiduously.

Where is that same assiduousness on the Gosnell case, a case that shocks the conscience? This story -- which if nothing else suggests that live births do, in fact, happen during late-term abortions -- upsets a particular narrative about the reality of certain types of abortion, and that reality isn’t something some pro-choice absolutists want to discuss.

It’s too late now, though, to suppress coverage. Powers and others have shamed the media into paying attention, and the press is now on the case. It’s remarkable that it took this long.

(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for The Atlantic. The opinions expressed are his own. This is the second in a two-part series.)

To contact the writer of this article: Jeffrey Goldberg at goldberg.atlantic@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Timothy Lavin at tlavin1@bloomberg.net.