Law, College of


Kermit Gosnell’s Babies: Abortion, Infanticide and Looking Beyond the Masks of the Law

Richard F. Duncan, University of Nebraska College of Law

Document Type Article

Copyright (c) 2015 Richard F. Duncan


If, as Laurence Tribe has observed, “all law tells a story,” this Article tells two stories occurring 40 years apart—the story of Justice Harry Blackmun and the unborn human beings he covered with the legal mask of “potential” lives in Roe v. Wade in 1973, and the story of Doctor Kermit Gosnell and the unmasked babies he was convicted of murdering in his Philadelphia abortion clinic in 2013. As Professor Tribe also observes, these stories amount to “a clash of absolutes, of life against liberty,” and therefore they are stories that must be told time and again, until we get them right. These stories also demonstrate how legal concepts can be used to mask reality, and how peeking beneath the masks of the law can blow away the fog of legal illusion and give society a starkly different perspective from which to view an old constitutional issue.