It would not have bothered us if Philadelphia physician Kermit Gosnell had gotten the death penalty. We’ve called for execution in local cases of criminals who killed old couples in cold blood, who murdered people for hire, and who have slaughtered children in a spray of bullets meant for a gang rival.
Gosnell, who ran an abortion clinic that was roughly on par with back alley joints found in any big city 50 or 60 years ago, killed three babies who were born alive during botched abortions.
Gosnell did not conduct himself as a medical professional. He lied to some of his patients about how far along their pregnancies had gone. He showed far more concern for his clinic’s cash flow than his patients’ well-being. And the result was that one of those patients died from his mistreatment and he killed three babies who were born alive rather than provide emergency treatment and have them transferred to a hospital. One of those babies was so close to full term that he callously joked that it might be able to “walk to the bus” ... and then he killed him.
A Philadelphia jury found Gosnell guilty of three counts of murder, one count of manslaughter and 21 of 24 counts of performing illegal third-term abortions. He avoided the death penalty by waiving his right to appeal in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.
His days of malpractice and murder are over. His days of freedom are over. Whatever time he has left, Gosnell, now, 72, will spend behind bars.
But there is an irony in the Gosnell case: As abortion opponents succeed in making abortion more difficult and expensive for women who want an abortion in the early stages of their pregnancy, more Kermit Gosnells will be setting up shop.
Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. And, we would add, done as early as possible. That goal is best achieved when reputable clinics are permitted to operate under reasonable regulations.
As we have said before, the concept that abortion is evil is held by some organized religions, but not all. And in the United States there should not be a religion-specific test for whether something is criminal.
Any religion is free to preach to its faithful that a behavior is sinful, and the faithful within that religion accept or reject those teachings at their own peril.
A secular government should not become an arm of religion. The concept that murder should be illegal is nearly universal. The concept that abortion is murder, is strongly held by many, but is far from universal.
A woman who has been raised in one church or no church to believe that abortion is permissible should not be legally bound to a standard established by someone else’s religion. For that matter, a woman who has been raised in a religion that teaches that abortion is an abomination should not be legally bound to live by that belief.
What happened in Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic speaks volumes about his callous disregard for life on multiple levels. It says nothing about an American woman’s right to determine whether to carry her pregnancy to term or to have it terminated in a clean, safe environment by a medical professional.