US Catholic Faith in Real Life

How can we move forward after Kermit Gosnell?

By Kira Dault | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I am a news junkie. I spend my days consuming the news in various forms - on the radio, on paper, online.

But when Kermit Gosnell was arrested in January of 2011, I couldn't stand to hear about it. At the time, my daughter was a little over a year old, and I was freshly pregnant with my son. So I did not read anything about the case. When a story about Gosnell came on NPR, I turned the volume down. It was too heartbreaking and overwhelming for my pregnant and new-mother brain to comprehend.

But in this past week, as the trial neared its end, I started reading. Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder. The details of the case are grisly and gruesome. The report from the Grand Jury states that "The medical practice by which he [Gosnell] carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths."

This case, perhaps because of its grisly nature, has been picked up as a rhetorical tool on both sides of the abortion debate. The Grand Jury itself acknowledged that they knew the case would be "used by both sides." And it has been. NARAL issued a statement using the Gosnell case to call for safer, but available abortions while pro-life advocates use the Gosnell case to claim that the case revealed the truth about abortion. Both sides have claimed the verdict - in some measure - as a victory, and as a rallying cry for their cause.

But this trial and this verdict is a victory for no one. As David Gibson writes, in his analysis of the case, Gosnell is an equal opportunity icon - and equal opportunity monster. He is a man who took advantage of desperate women in desperate circumstances. He was an opportunistic, greedy, and seemingly heartless individual who broke laws left and right. The Grand Jury report states that the case was "about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants."

So then, can there be any takeaway - any lesson learned - from the Gosnell case? There is a question making its rounds on news sites and blogs: "Will the Gosnell verdict change the abortion debate?" My cynical side says that we'll all just continue screaming at each other while no concrete progress is made. However, my hope is that the conversation will begin to change. People who identify as pro-choice were as horrified by Gosnell's crimes as those who identify as pro-life.

Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to explore why it is that desperate women will risk their lives to avoid giving birth. Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to reignite a conversation about reducing the occurrence of abortion through better access to health care, adoption options, and sex education. But it is my hope and prayer that we can leave the Gosnell case behind, not picking it up as an example to prove a point on one side or the other. I hope that we can acknowledge that the gory nature of this case makes it particularly emotionally charged, and therefore unfit for rational and civil conversation.

Regardless of how we move forward from here, we can all at least breath a sigh of relief that the trial is over, and that Gosnell is behind bars.