Kermit Gosnell and the Rest of Us (en español)      

By Richard M. Doerflinger

April 26, 2013

While they ignored it for months, many national media are now finally covering the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who for decades operated an abortion clinic in Philadelphia that the local district attorney calls “a house of horrors.” Elective abortions performed up to the last weeks of pregnancy, by untrained and unlicensed personnel, in filthy conditions that endangered women – this is the barest outline of a 261-page grand jury report filled with horrific details. Among many other violations, Gosnell is charged with causing a woman’s death from an overdose of sedatives, and murdering at least four children born alive during attempted late-term abortions by “snipping” their spinal cords while they struggled to survive. He called this “ensuring fetal demise,” and according to his own staff he did it hundreds of times.

At this writing the verdict and sentence for Gosnell are still pending. But another blame game has already begun, as people ask: What made someone like Kermit Gosnell possible?

Pro-abortion groups have a very creative but cynically dishonest answer: Blame it on pro-life Americans. People who oppose abortion drove it “underground,” refused to “integrate” it into standard medical practice, and opposed public funding that would have let women get free late-term abortions at safe and “reputable” clinics.

Abortion advocates’ attempt to transfer blame runs afoul of certain facts:
  1. The claim about public funding was disproved over three decades ago. When federal funding of abortion was stopped in the late 1970s, abortion advocates scoured the country looking for an increase in “unsafe” abortions – and instead found a reduction in overall abortions and abortion complications.
  2. The grand jury report on Gosnell squarely places blame on a series of pro-abortion administrations in Pennsylvania, which after 1993 stopped inspecting abortion clinics because they felt such scrutiny could compromise easy “access” to abortion.
  3. The grand jury also laid responsibility for Gosnell’s horrors at the door of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), trade association for “reputable” clinics, which had inspected his clinic and found numerous legal violations – but never reported them to authorities. Gosnell actually worked one day a week at an NAF clinic in Delaware, which sent women to his Philadelphia site for late-term abortions.
  4. The “reputable” clinics harm women too. Midtown Hospital of Atlanta, largest abortion facility in Georgia, was an NAF member that received referrals from Planned Parenthood. It was closed by a judge in 1998 due to what court documents call its “shocking disregard” for women. During a five-week period last year, three women were hospitalized following abortions at a single Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
  5. When policy makers in various states have discovered terrible conditions like those at Gosnell’s clinic, they have tried to pass new safety regulations – only to be vigorously opposed at every turn by powerful abortion advocacy groups, which have spent millions of dollars to stop such safeguards and even have them declared unconstitutional. The same has happened when lawmakers try to protect live children who are partly or completely born during abortions.
In short, unlimited “access” to abortion has become an end in itself, trumping all other considerations. A movement that once claimed to defend the rights of people who have been born no longer sees birth as the boundary that necessarily stops killing. An industry that justified its existence in terms of women’s “health” is showing disregard for women’s lives. And an agenda that claimed to embody “freedom of choice” for women now wants to force even pro-life women to assist in late-term abortions against their will. (On this last point, see nurse Cathy DeCarlo’s video testimony at

Gosnell is an especially egregious case. But he is also the tip of the iceberg. He is a wake-up call on the abortion agenda in our country, if enough Americans are open to hearing it.
Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more about the bishops’ pro-life activities see