For two months last spring, as Kermit Gosnell stood trial for murder in a Philadelphia courtroom, the instruments of his work were on display: the rusty, bloody equipment he used on women who came to him for abortions.
Janet Morana, the executive director of Priests for Life, saw it when she attended the trial. She was not surprised when the jury decided on May 13, 2013, that Gosnell was guilty of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of infants — who were born alive when he tried to perform abortions — and one count of involuntary manslaughter of a woman who died after an overdose of anesthesia in 2009. Gosnell, now 73, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Morana also was not surprised to hear anecdotes of reporters and other people covering the trial who changed their minds about abortion and the abortion industry.
“What most people think about abortion is that it happens in the first trimester only,” Morana said. “It happens all nine months. It can happen to healthy babies and healthy moms. This raised awareness that late-term abortions are performed. It shone a bright light on what is really going on, and it is moving people in a pro-life direction.”
That doesn’t mean that everyone who hears about the Gosnell case, Catholics included, immediately falls in line with the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life, Morana said. A Gallup poll taken in the two weeks before the Gosnell verdict was released showed that, on balance, the proportion of Americans who think abortion should be banned in all circumstances has held nearly steady over the last 40 years at about 20 percent, while the proportion of those who believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances has held steady at about 25 percent. The majority, 52 percent, believe it should be legal in some, but not all circumstances.
An Investors Business Daily poll, also taken around the time of the verdict, found that 42 percent of respondents who followed the Gosnell trial said that, as a result, they now lean more toward pro-life views.
Unfortunately, there was a “media blackout,” said Arina Grossu, director for the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, with most media not covering the story until after pro-lifers protested.
Pro-life supporters said they were not surprised by the grand jury report on the clinic, which painted a grisly picture of conditions inside the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia, where staff members administered anesthesia, unsterilized instruments spread infections from patient to patient and Pennsylvania’s ban on abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy was often ignored.
“Scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains,” according to the grand jury report. “It was a baby charnel house.”
“Some of us, the local people who had been protesting here for years, heaved a sigh of relief” when Gosnell was convicted, said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League. “He absolutely hasn’t got a smidgen of concern. He had little to no regard for the mothers.”
The grand jury report and the subsequent trial exposed a system where babies are not the only victims, Brown said, because the people who perform abortions for profit are, by definition, valuing their bottom lines over human life.
“If you’ll kill a baby, you’ll do anything evil,” Brown said.
Groups that support abortion rights, such as NARAL, Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, also condemned Gosnell, Brown noted.
“They cannot afford to align themselves with practices like Gosnell’s,” Brown said.
Morana, who co-founded the Silent No More Awareness Campaign for men and women who mourn the children they lost to abortion, said many women speak of unsanitary conditions in the clinics where they had their abortions.
“In many cases, it’s confirming what they already knew,” Morana said. “If you read the testimonies of the women, the treatment they received was pretty horrific. Justice was brought to Gosnell, and hopefully, that’s put the others on notice.” More states have passed laws regulating clinics since Gosnell, and Morana said she has confidence more states will actually inspect clinics and enforce their own regulations — unlike what happened in the case of Gosnell’s clinic. “That’s the other positive thing to come out of this,” Morana said.
Dozens of states have passed more than 200 laws to regulate abortion clinics following the Gosnell case, Grossu said. As of the first quarter of 2014, another 303 provisions have been introduced in 38 states, three of which have been enacted.
“There’s definitely a lot of momentum in terms of passing new regulations,” she said.The new laws and regulations are designed to require clinics where abortions are performed to meet the same standards as other medical facilities, she said, or restrict abortion to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
While many newly enacted laws are facing court challenges, Grossu said, a law requiring doctors who perform abortions in Texas to have admitting privileges at a local hospital withstood a challenge in the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and has led to the closure of 19 abortion clinics in the state.
To keep the momentum going, pro-lifers should continue to use information about Gosnell and the Women’s Medical Society to expose the abortion industry. Morana encourages pro-life advocates to quote from and use the photos from the grand jury report, because that cannot be dismissed as pro-life propaganda. It is available in its entirety from the Philadelphia district attorney’s website.
“The last thing that the providers of abortion and the culture of death want is for the truth to be out there,” Brown said. “That is the long-term greatest aftermath of Gosnell: exposure.”
Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.