Bigger than Gosnell  (en español)

By Deirdre A. McQuade

May 24, 2013

On May 13, West Philadelphia abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of 237 crimes. Among his convictions were three counts of first-degree murder of infants born alive during attempted late-term abortions, one count of infanticide, and the involuntary manslaughter of a patient who died from complications of anesthesia administered by an unlicensed nurse. The following day, Dr. Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison.

Dr. Gosnell’s convictions have drawn national attention to the brutality of abortion.  Like the partial-birth abortion debate that began in the mid-1990’s, Dr. Gosnell’s trial is another eye-opening moment. Support for the unlimited abortion license has been declining since then – partly because people came to understand how gruesome abortion is.

The abhorrent events at Dr. Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” are, of course, the tip of the iceberg. Both pro-life and self-described pro-choice folks know it. Abortion advocates publicly welcomed his convictions, trying to distance themselves from the brutal reality of late-term abortion. Despite the attention given to his trial and convictions, the underlying issues are much bigger than Gosnell.

Clearly, “legal” does not mean “safe” when it comes to abortion. In addition to the loss of unborn lives, women’s lives were endangered in his ill-equipped, unsanitary facility. His patients were treated worse than animals in many veterinary clinics. Complications and deaths related to abortion occur at other disgusting facilities like his throughout the country.

The case and its aftermath raise many moral questions.  For example, why is it murderous to kill a child at the very point of leaving the womb, but considered legal ‘health care’ while he or she was still in the womb a moment before? That’s effectively class discrimination based on the arbitrary factor of a human being’s location: either inside or outside of his or her mother’s body. The reality is that abortion is not mainstream medicine – indeed, it is not medical care at all, as it treats no ailment but only takes a life. 

Moreover, if abortion in the second half of pregnancy is this inhumane, how should we think of earlier abortions? Are they any different morally because the victim is smaller, and less blood winds up on the sheets & clipboards? While Dr. Gosnell’s facility was particularly horrific, there’s no medical disinfectant powerful enough to wipe away the evil perpetrated behind abortion clinic doors. Abortion at every stage of development is a crime against the unborn – and an offense against motherhood.

May the Lord have mercy on Kermit Gosnell, and on all who assisted him in violence against women and their children. Since he was sentenced to life in prison, he now has time to repent from -- and express remorse for -- his heinous acts. Dare we hope that even he and his staff might become outspoken defenders of life? Think of St. Paul's conversion from persecuting Christians to devoting his whole life to proclaiming the Gospel to the world! God is merciful, loving and "big" enough to answer the boldest prayers.

In the meantime, let us convert our repulsion at Dr. Gosnell’s crimes into a groundswell of support for both pregnant women and their defenseless children.
Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Policy & Communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal O’Malley’s reaction to the Gosnell trial is posted at To learn about the Church’s confidential healing ministry to those who have been involved in abortion, visit or