Media silence lifted now Gosnell found guilty of murder

Now that Dr Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty of murder, the media silence surrounding this case has been lifted and the story is beginning to make headlines. Cranmer comments that this case once again raises serious questions about when life actually begins, noting that Pennsylvania and the UK are exceptional. He states “not everywhere has a 24-week limit… Across Europe, the upper limits are: France 12, Germany 12, Italy 12, Belgium 12, Bulgaria 12, Denmark 12, Czech Republic 12, Greece 12, Hungary 12, Luxembourg 12, the Netherlands 13, Poland 12, Slovakia 12 and Sweden, the most ‘liberal’, 18.”

Cranmer is quite right to raise these issues. He is equally correct in highlighting the moral inconsistency, pointed out by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, that asserts “the pregnant woman who smokes or drinks heavily is widely regarded as guilty of infringing the rights of her unborn child; yet at the same time, with no apparent sense of incongruity, there is discussion of the possibility of the liberty of the pregnant woman herself to perform the actions that will terminate a pregnancy.” Indeed, he is most likely correct that “the nation cries out for a latter-day Shaftsbury or Wilberforce in Parliament who will bang on about this barbarism ad nauseam, day after day, week after week, until something is done about it.”

I was struck by one particular comment in the Guardian. Having stated that both sides of the abortion debate “endorsed the verdict”, the paper offered statements from a pro-life organisation and a pro-choice group. Unsurprisingly, the pro-life spokesman endorsed the verdict and claimed the result “helped more people realize what abortion is really about” and went on to state that he hoped this would lead to further legislation reducing the number of terminations. So far, so expected.

However, the paper claimed “supporters of legalized abortion said the case foreshadows what poor, desperate young women could face if abortion is driven underground with more restrictive laws”. Whilst that comment may be unsurprising, the argument is woeful. Specifically, the argument fails because this did happen without “restrictive laws”. Indeed, this happened in a place with higher legal limits and more relaxed attitudes to abortion than much of Europe, and did so without driving anybody underground but to a known, community abortion clinic. This is not foreshadowing what could happen under tighter legislation but is the reality of what has happened under current legislation. Indeed, such was the work of Dr Gosnell that even the comparatively “liberal” Pennsylvanian abortion laws were flouted.

More interesting still, president of Naral pro-choice America  – Ilyse G Hogue – stated “Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty and will get what he deserves. 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”. This doesn’t sound like somebody who has “endorsed the verdict”. Indeed, her inference appears to be that Gosnell’s main crime – though, nevertheless, still a hideous one – was the poor care for the women at his clinic. However, the verdict found him guilty of the first-degree murder of three children and was not primarily a result of his lack of care for the women in his clinic. Whilst Gosnell’s lack of care for the women at his clinic was heinous indeed, it is not the primary atrocity. Ilyse Hogue passes no comment on the verdict of murder and sees vindication for these women as allowing further such abhorrent practices to occur, so long as it happens in a clean and safe environment.

Kermit Gosnell has now been found guilty of three charges of first-degree murder, infanticide, racketeering and more than 200 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s abortion laws by performing third-term abortions or failing to counsel women 24 hours in advance. He showed no regard for the life of the children he terminated, the women who came to his clinic, the employees working for him nor the authorities to whom he was subject. 

Whatever side of the abortion debate one falls, these particular crimes cannot be seen as anything other than horrific. Nor can they be couched in terms of what happens under restrictive legislation. Indeed, these crimes occurred in violation of existing legislation that, in comparison to much of Europe, is “liberal”. It may be a sign of what happens when legislation is poorly implemented, it may be what happens when legislation is not enforced or it may be what happens when legislation is too permissive. To be sure, there are many possible reasons and opposing sides of the debate are likely to cling to those that reinforce their predispositions. However, what this case most certainly does not show is this is what happens when restrictive laws are enforced.