From Sanger to Gosnell: Bad ideas have horrible consequences

Emily Hannaman Administrative Assistant, Family Research Council
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It may come as a shock to some to see recent articles citing an unremorseful, “spiritually innocent,” Kermit Gosnell as he serves his life sentence for killing babies born alive in botched abortions. He’s even writing awful poems to defend himself. But when one looks back at the history that made Kermit Gosnell (and others like him) possible, his lack of remorse becomes plausible; an ugly but logical extension of a twisted ideology.

In a recent interview with Steve Volk of Philadelphia Magazine, Gosnell stated that he believes that his “services” were necessary for women. In essence, he believed that he was saving women and these babies from inevitable poverty. “In an ideal world,” he said, “we’d have no need for abortion. But bringing a child into the world when it cannot be provided for, that there are not sufficient systems to support, is a greater sin.”

His statement is disturbingly similar to what Margaret Sanger said 60 years earlier. Sanger was the founder of the largest abortion provider in the country, Planned Parenthood. In a 1957 interview with Mike Wallace, Sanger stated, “I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world, that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being, practically; delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they’re born. That to me is the greatest sin people can commit.”

The problem with Sanger’s assertion, echoed by Gosnell, is the underlying belief that people born in poverty cannot rise above their circumstances and create a different and better future, that they are somehow less valuable citizens than those born into privilege. But this belief shows the real poverty – a poverty of charity, of imagination, of belief in the innate Imago Dei of every human being. It is a grave violation of basic human rights to deprive a person of their life based on the assumption that they will not be able to rise above the circumstances of their birth.

As Americans, we have the great privilege of being born in a country founded on the principle “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” of “life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All men and women are responsible for who they are and what they become. We are encouraged to try to exceed what our parents achieved, to always reach higher, and to make ourselves better.

From her beginnings, America has been known as “the land of opportunity,” and immigrants from around the world came to try to improve their situations. On a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty standing in New York Harbor, a poem welcomes these immigrants, reading, “Give me your tired, your poor [emphasis added], your huddle masses yearning to breathe free…” Any tired, poor, and oppressed individual will also associate with and lean on family and local community, but he or she begins existing as an individual, regardless of economic status.

A person’s future cannot possibly be pre-determined by the circumstances of his birth. Some of the most successful men and women in our history began their lives in poverty and hardship. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was born to a poor family of Scottish immigrants. Madeline Albright fled the communists taking over Czechoslovakia in hopes of a better life and later became the first woman to become Secretary of State. George Washington Carver, born a slave, went on to make significant contributions to agricultural sciences. Sadly, because of the ideology and practices implemented by Sanger and Gosnell, we will never know what over 55 million lives might have become.

A philosophy that justifies killing someone because they might be born into poverty has an inevitable outcome: Death to those the powerful deem unfit. It is to assign to the dominant the power of life and death, a power God reserves for himself.

Emily Hannaman works in the executive office at the Family Research Council.