Abortion is arguably the most contentious and divisive issue in American public life. Yet the reaction to the conviction of Dr. Kermit Gosnell for murder of babies in a rogue abortion facility in Philadelphia will be greeted with near unanimity: Good riddance.
Gosnell did illegal late-term abortions, although he was not certified to perform abortions. He operated in deplorable squalor; it was alleged that he snipped the spines of some of the babies born alive. It was truly a house of horrors.
This week, a jury of seven women and five men convicted Gosnell of three counts of first-degree murder. To avoid the death penalty, Gosnell dropped his right to appeal in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole.
There’s wide agreement that women are better off without Gosnell going about his illegal business. But the agreement ends at the point where the debate begins about what his conviction symbolizes.
To those who think all abortion is murder, it confirms their position, representing an extreme pole on an immoral continuum. But that absolutist position doesn’t fit the facts.
This was a renegade facility. It hadn’t been inspected since 1993 — a clear dereliction of state government oversight.
Late-term abortions, even when they are legal, are a small fraction of all abortions performed. In any event, if Gosnell had been held to the rules that apply to efficient and legal facilities, none of this would have happened.
That is the lesson to take away from the conviction of a monster — but it is not the lesson that has been learned. Pennsylvania only partially blamed its own bureaucracy, where the blame truly lay.
The state fired some officials, but it used the case as an excuse to punish abortion clinics that operate properly in allowing women to exercise a constitutional right. It required them to build unnecessary extras — hospital-grade elevators, parking lots — that had little to do with the Gosnell case, but everything to do with harassing clinics.
It is worth recalling a grand-jury conclusion in the case: “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.”
And if the political football keeps bouncing favorably for the extreme anti-abortion viewpoint, the back-alley days of abortion will return, and one house of horrors will be replaced by many.