Commentary Magazine


Gosnell Verdict Isn’t the End of This Story

We can all breathe a little easier this evening knowing that justice triumphed at the trial of Kermit Gosnell. A Philadelphia jury found the abortionist guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for his killing of three infants who were born alive after botched abortions. He was also convicted of a count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of one of his patients as well as more than 200 other charges involving conducting illegal late-term abortions or not observing the mandatory waiting period before performing the procedure. The 71-year-old doctor will now face the sentencing phase of his trial, as the court will decide whether he gets the death penalty or a lengthy prison term.

The trial closes one chapter in the story of this one doctor and the butchery committed at the clinic he ran. But there is more to this controversy than the fate of one person convicted of monstrous crimes. The national media had to be shamed into covering a case that showed the country the dark side to abortion that has rarely been discussed in the decades since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. Abortion rights supporters have argued that this is an isolated case and demonstrates the need for support for better health care choices for women. But the question hanging over the country today is whether there are other places where doctors are performing dangerous late-term abortions resulting in similar atrocities.

While prosecutors brought evidence about seven murdered infants in the last several years, there is no telling how many might have died in the last 30 years during which the doctor masqueraded as a pillar of society. Pennsylvania’s failure to stop Gosnell is in a way similar to the media’s failure to pay sufficient attention to the issue until quite recently. Just as many journalists feared that highlighting Gosnell would boost the right-to-life movement, pro-choice governors of the state and other officials de-emphasized regulations of such clinics because they feared too much scrutiny of the abortion industry would be interpreted as an attempt to restrict women’s choices.

What we now need to know is whether this lack of scrutiny has enabled this industry to erase the line between early abortions that may have majority support and legal protection and late-term procedures that border on, if not cross over into, infanticide. That is especially true since medical science now makes it possible for premature infants to survive long after they would have been written off when Roe v. Wade was decided.

Supporters of abortion rights may regret the fact that Gosnell has given a new impetus to their pro-life opponents. But the reason that may be true is that perhaps for the first time since Roe, we have glimpsed a disturbing vision of what abortion can mean. Instead of being able to argue that legalization ended back-alley abortions where women were victimized by quacks, Gosnell has shown that Roe brought us exactly that situation, only this time with the imprimatur of the law up until just three years ago when agents investigating the sale of illegal drugs at the clinic (for which Gosnell will go on trial in the fall) stumbled into his house of horrors.

Let’s remember that a Planned Parenthood official testified in Florida earlier this year against a bill that would have required doctors to come to the assistance to babies born as the result of botched abortions and said the issue was one of choice rather than obligation. Gosnell seemed to think he was being paid to kill infants and remains puzzled as to what the fuss is about.

While it is unlikely that Gosnell will lead to a reversal of Roe, what it ought to do is to light a fire under health authorities across the nation to see what is going on at abortion clinics under their jurisdiction. We can hope that their efforts will show that Gosnell is an exception, but there is good reason to fear they will find he isn’t the only person making a living terminating pregnancies that have crossed the line into infanticide.