These are not attempts to reduce abortions, Matthews assured his viewers. “They have given up on persuasion,” he said. “What they really want to do is humiliate people.” Matthews’ reasoning, he explained, is that women who want abortions will get in cars and drive hundreds of miles, if necessary, to have them. Knowing this, he said, Republican lawmakers, are “punishing” the women.

While he was talking, a graphic was displayed on the screen with the number 326 — the number of regulations proposed or enacted during the first three months of this year restricting abortions. That figure comes from the Guttmacher Institute, a rare organization that combines advocacy (it’s pro-choice) with reliable research data.

MSNBC’s graphic must have seemed unpersuasive to abortion opponents, who find a more salient number to be 50 million. That’s the number, also provided by the Guttmacher Institute, of abortions in this country between 1973 and 2008.

One of Matthews’ guests in that segment, in fact, was the Guttmacher Institute’s Elizabeth Nash. Despite her views, she pushed back a bit on the host’s whole rap about “humiliating” pregnant women. Nash was more inclined to think that these anti-abortion laws are designed to actually lessen the number of abortions.

“Well, when you can’t come up with the money and the time off of work at that moment when you’re pregnant,” she said, “your other option is to have a baby.”

So in the end, Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors exposed more than the grim reality of late-term abortion. It also revealed what happens when journalists act as though “sacred cows” are more important to us than our sacred duty to follow the story wherever it leads, irrespective of how uncomfortable it makes us — and regardless of the political fallout. Even in these polarized times, I hope this lesson will endure.