Five Reflections After the Conviction of Doctor Kermit Gosnell

Since Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder yesterday afternoon, I’ve been reading and reflecting on the news. There’s no way to make sense of human life taken in such a horrific way, but here are five thoughts that are resonating in my heart.

1) The juxtaposition of Mother’s Day and the verdict’s announcement Monday is powerful. Fr. Jim Martin on Facebook and Twitter captured this in a really striking way:

Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s conviction on murder comes the day after Mothers Day. Yesterday we honored those women who reverenced the gift of life. Today we read of a man who reviled that same gift, discarding as if it were somehow his to throw away.

Life and death. Blessing and curse. Our lives are lives of moral choices. Choose life.

This leads to my second thought:

2) Our consistent Catholic belief in the value of each and every human life needs to be at the heart of our advocacy in the public square. Both pro-choice and pro-life advocates were hoping for Gosnell to be convicted. Some pro-choicers have argued that the terrifying conditions at Gosnell’s clinic demonstrate the need for increased abortion funding and oversight. The Catholic pro-life response needs to articulate that the Gosnell story shines a light on our common tendency to devalue and commodify human life. This tendency was on grisly display during the Gosnell trial, but it’s on continual display at safer, cleaner clinics where human life is routinely destroyed.

Our unwavering commitment to the protection of all life led to our recent Justice For Immigrants Weekend here in the Diocese of Camden, and it also leads to thought no. 3:

3) The death penalty for Gosnell is not a good solution. Since our faith calls us to choose life, even in the most difficult circumstances, we are called to pray that Gosnell is spared the death penalty, and to pray and work for the abolition of both abortion and capital punishment. Both practices undermine the sanctity of life.

Princeton Professor Robert P. George puts it well:

Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.

The preciousness of all humans to God makes the following fact particularly concerning:

4) Poverty and abortion are linked. Gosnell’s patients were primarily women living in poverty. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization cited by people on all sides of the debate, the proportion of abortion patients who were living under the federal poverty line increased by almost 60% from 2000 to 2008—from 27% to 42%. If we want to protect human life, part of our effort must be to ensure that women have better choices than abortion, which must include access to healthcare, employment opportunities, hospitable churches, and more.

Good Counsel Homes, a network of homes for homeless pregnant women, welcomes women and their babies before and after birth. They provide wraparound counseling and healthcare services. Being pro-life means supporting places like Good Counsel Homes. It also means urging our lawmakers to place what the USCCB calls a “circle of protection” around programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty.

Because we believe that the tragic death of children must not be the end of the story, it’s time to…

5) Do something creative. Come to the Good Counsel Homes Walk-a-Thon on June 1. Call your representatives and urge them to protect programs that fight poverty. Gather a new-parents group at your parish and provide babysitting. There are so many creative things we can do to live our belief that all human life is worth celebrating and lifting up. I mean creative in two senses: first, as in fresh and new. Second, as in participating alongside God in the work of creating a more just and peaceful world. This is one of our ultimate vocations as Christians. It is in this type of creativity we can live the words of St. Paul to the Romans: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”

This interview is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.  You can also follow their work on facebook.