For 72-year-old Kermit Gosnell, convicted Monday of the first-degree murder of three babies born alive at his Philadelphia abortion facility, a new chapter of his life has begun, one that will likely end in prison or execution by lethal injection for the abortionist, whose jury returns next week to weigh evidence to determine if he should receive the death penalty.
For America, the Gosnell case has introduced a new chapter in the abortion debate. Pro-life leaders reacting to Monday’s verdict said the trial had succeeded in shining a light on gruesome abortion practices in the United States.
“Abortion is America’s little hidden secret. People still don’t talk about it,” Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, told me. “Girls aren’t sitting at the family dinner table saying, ‘I’m going to take off from school tomorrow because I’m going to get an abortion.’”
Tobias said the Gosnell trial is causing people who were content to ignore abortion to face the realities of the industry: “If Dr. Gosnell had killed these babies right before delivery, none of this would have come up, because it’s legal and it’s happening every day in this country. I think that’s shaking some people up.”
Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, said in a statement that the Gosnell verdict was a “victory for unborn babies around the world—and their mothers. … We hope and pray that this decision today will send a loud and clear message that abortion is wrong and it’s murder.”
Alveda King, the director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life and Gospel of Life Ministries—and the niece of Martin Luther King Jr.—called Monday’s verdict “landmark.”
“America is now, because of Kermit Gosnell, seeing abortion,” King told me in a phone interview. “Martin Luther King Jr. said America will not reject racism until America see racism. And when America saw racism, that’s when the hearts and consciences of America were stirred. I believe America’s conscience has been stirred now.”
King was in the courtroom the day Gosnell’s attorney, Jack McMahon, rested his defense without calling a single witness. Although McMahon had accused prosecutors of engaging in a “racist” pursuit of Gosnell, King said she “thought that was incredibly outrageous,” because Gosnell himself displayed racism by giving his white patients better treatment than African-American ones.
The evidence against Gosnell was clear, even though the judge in the case had removed all jurors opposed to abortion before the trial began.
“You had abortion advocates on that jury, and yet they came back with a guilty verdict for three of those babies,” King said.
The jury acquitted Gosnell of a murder charge in the death of another baby, known as “Baby E.” Out of the four baby deaths the jury weighed, Baby E was the only one lacking eyewitness testimony of his or her death.
Besides the three first-degree murder charges, the jury found Gosnell guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 41-year-old immigrant Karnamaya Mongar, who died of an overdose of painkiller while getting an abortion from Gosnell in 2009. They also found Gosnell guilty of 21 counts of performing illegal late-term abortions in Pennsylvania.
Pro-abortion groups responding to the verdict distanced themselves from Gosnell and blamed the crimes at his office on an alleged, broader lack of quality abortion service.
“Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty and will get what he deserves,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue. “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.”
In a similarly counterintuitive conclusion, Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the case proved “we must reject misguided laws that would limit women’s options and force them to seek treatment from criminals like Kermit Gosnell.”
But Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, said the Gosnell case highlighted the abortion industry’s disregard for women’s health and safety, and the unwillingness of state regulators to provide oversight of abortion facilities.
“The murders of babies and of at least one woman at the hands of Gosnell could have been prevented had the Pennsylvania health department inspected the Gosnell facility immediately after receiving numerous complaints,” Higgins said. “Instead, the department ignored the dangerous conditions for 17 years.
“For too long, abortion facilities have been allowed to self-regulate. Since these atrocities have been made public, other clinics, such as Planned Parenthood of Wilmington, Del., have had to shut their doors due to the discovery of unsafe and unsanitary conditions.”
Several members of Congress responded to Monday’s verdict.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said, “The crimes Gosnell committed against the most innocent and vulnerable among us are unconscionable and have shocked us to our core. We must ensure this never happens again.”
Goodlatte, along with Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, last week sent letters to all 50 state attorneys general asking them to report on their efforts to prevent infanticide and late-term abortion.
But even tightly regulated facilities and spruced up exam rooms won’t help unborn babies too young to be protected by state laws. In light of the Gosnell verdict, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., asked where the nation’s outrage was for the other millions of unborn victims: “Some abortionists may have cleaner sheets than Gosnell, and better sterilized equipment and better trained accomplices, but what they do—what Gosnell did—kill babies and hurt women—is the same.”