Gosnell murder verdicts become fodder for both sides of abortion debate
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike applauded the jury verdicts for Kermit Gosnell but sharply disagreed on what should be learned from the convictions of the Philadelphia abortion doctor.
Pro-lifers said the case demonstrates the injustice of maintaining legalized abortion, as well as the need for stricter regulations on the practice. Pro-choicers said it shows the injustice of regulating abortion. And in making their case, leading abortion rights defenders failed to mention a whole class of victims in Gosnell's crimes: The children he killed.
A jury found Gosnell guilty Monday (May 13) of the first-degree murder of three babies who were alive outside the womb at his West Philadelphia abortion clinic. The 12-person jury, which had deliberated since April 30, acquitted the abortion doctor of first-degree murder in the case of one other child.
Those babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at a clinic described as filthy, according to a 281-page report issued by a grand jury in 2011. Gosnell, who destroyed the records in most of those deaths, or a co-worker typically killed the living children by a technique he called "snipping" -- jabbing scissors into the back of a baby's neck and cutting the spinal cord.
Jurors will begin the sentencing phase of Gosnell's trial May 21. With the first-degree murder convictions, Gosnell, 72, could receive either the death penalty or life in prison.
The panel also found Gosnell guilty of involuntary manslaughter, instead of third-degree murder, in the 2009 death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, after an abortion. In addition, the jury convicted Gosnell of 21 of 24 counts of violating a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy and of 210 of 227 counts of transgressing the state's 24-hour waiting period, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land joined other pro-life leaders in seeing Gosnell's crimes as more than isolated incidents.
"This verdict is one more step in the direction of an increasingly pro-life America affirming the personhood of the unborn," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The grotesque atmosphere of Dr. Gosnell's clinic stands as a graphic reminder of what is happening to our unborn and newly born citizens in similar clinics across America."
Christians "must renew our efforts to stop the wholesale sacrifice of our unborn children to the false gods of social convention, convenience and arbitrary standards of normality," Land told Baptist Press.
Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-life Union, was "elated," she told BP.
"Kermit Gosnell is a heinous killer of children, and I am so glad that the jury saw him for the murderer that he is," Gardner said, adding she hopes there will be "more regulations and restrictions in place [on abortion clinics] that will help to save the lives of children and women."
"Abortion clinics are horrible, bloody places that make money on high volume," Gardner said. "They shuffle women in and just as hurriedly shuffle them out."
Gardner, who sat in the courtroom two or three days a week for five weeks of the trial, had criticized Gosnell, also African American, for the way he took advantage of poor, minority women in his clinic. During the trial, she described him as "a racist of the worst kind" and "the poster boy for black-on-black crime."
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the "greatest tragedy" is Gosnell is "not alone."
"Exploitation of women and complete disregard for their health and well-being are problems endemic to the entire abortion industry," she said in a written statement.
"Abortion is a brutal, painful procedure, both for the child that it kills and the woman that it wounds," Dannenfelser said. "We must protect children both inside and outside the womb who experience unspeakable pain from abortion."
Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., commended the convictions, saying Gosnell's crimes "stand as a stark reminder that there is no such thing as a safe abortion."
Black is sponsoring legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would bar federal family planning funds from going to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and other abortion providers.
"While Gosnell's actions were especially egregious, we should remember this is what happens each time an abortion is performed -- a beating heart is stopped and an innocent human life is ended," Black said in a written statement. "Gosnell's crimes also are incredibly revealing about the true nature of the big abortion industry that profits daily off the murder of children and willfully even sacrifices women's health at the altar of choice."
PPFA and NARAL Pro-choice America -- two of the country's leading abortion rights organizations -- commended the jury's verdicts without commenting on the victims Gosnell was convicted of murdering.
Eric Ferrero, PPFA's vice president for communications, described Gosnell's crimes as "appalling," saying the verdict "will ensure that no woman is victimized by Kermit Gosnell ever again."
"This case has made clear that we must have and enforce laws that protect access to safe and legal abortion, and we must reject misguided laws that would limit women's options and force them to seek treatment from criminals like Kermit Gosnell," Ferrero said.
NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said justice "was served" in the verdicts and Gosnell "will pay the price for the atrocities he committed."
"Now, let's make sure these women are vindicated by delivering what all women deserve: access to the full range of health services including safe, high-quality and legal abortion care," Hogue said in a written release.
"We hope that the lessons of the trial do not fade with the verdict: Anti-choice politicians, and their unrelenting efforts to deny women access to safe and legal abortion care, will only drive more women to back-alley butchers like Kermit Gosnell," Hogue said.
The 2011 report by the grand jury, however, described a "regulatory collapse" by Pennsylvania and city agencies in monitoring Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic under the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion and state regulations. The state Department of Health provided only intermittent reviews from the time Gosnell's Women's Medical Society opened in 1979 until 1993. It totally halted inspections of abortion clinics for "political reasons" in 1993 under Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Republican, the grand jury reported in 2011.
A raid of Gosnell's clinic in an investigation of prescription drug trafficking in 2010 led to multiple charges and the closing of the facility.
In light of testimony in the Gosnell trial and other reports, Republicans in Congress are calling for investigations of abortion clinics and cooperation from states to prevent the kind of murderous and horrific practices described by former Gosnell employees and other witnesses.
GOP members of both the Senate and House of Representatives have called for Congress to investigate and remedy "abusive, unsanitary, and illegal abortion practices." Leaders of two House committees, meanwhile, have written attorneys general and health department officials seeking information on the regulation of abortion clinics in all 50 states.
The grand jury's 2011 report said federal and state authorities discovered the following during their 2010 raid of Gosnell's clinic:
--The remains of 45 babies stored in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons and cat-food containers, with some in a refrigerator and others in a freezer.
-- The severed feet of babies in jars.
-- "Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room...."
-- Conditions in the clinic that were "by far, the worst" the investigators had ever seen, with blood on the floor and on blankets covering dirty recliners, a "stench of urine," cat excrement on the stairs, "filthy and unsanitary" surgery rooms, dirty instruments and broken equipment.
At trial, Gosnell initially faced seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable babies outside the womb but Judge Jeffrey Minehart of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court dropped three of the counts after the prosecution rested its case.
The trial began March 18, and the prosecution closed its case April 18 after five weeks of testimony, much of it from former Gosnell employees who recounted the killings of babies struggling for life outside the womb and the horrible conditions at the clinic. Attorney Jack McMahon called no witnesses in Gosnell's defense.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).