Dear Dr. Gosnell,
It’s hard to know where to begin. I even struggled with the salutation. I wasn’t sure whether to call you a “doctor” or not. But then, it struck me that you really are a doctor: Kermit Gosnell, MD. That makes what you did worse—more confusing, more disgusting.
What I refuse to call you, or anyone who does the same work you do, is an “abortion doctor.” That phrase makes no sense to me. Doctors sustain life; they heal people; they cure disease. You treated human life like it was a disease, crushing the heads of tiny children and cutting their spines when your first attempt to snuff them out failed. An “abortion doctor” would aptly describe a physician who treated the victims of abortion—the mothers that churned through your nightmare to be doped up and billed by your untrained staff, and the fragile, innocent lives that you left to die on surgery tables, whose feet you kept in jars as if to record for posterity the sickness of your mind.
How did you get here? You were a hero, an advocate for the poor, the voiceless, and, especially, for women’s health. You yourself came from nothing—born into a black family in West Philadelphia in the days when segregation was still legal in most places. Such accomplishment; even an undergraduate degree was rare in those days, especially for people from your world, but you went on to earn a medical degree and serve the people of your community. You worked in halfway houses and eventually opened your clinic in West Philadelphia—back to your roots. You became a champion for “women’s health,” boldly providing late-term abortions after the term permitted by state law.
You must have felt personally vindicated when, in 1973, the Supreme Court discovered a mysterious zone of privacy in which a right to abortion was hiding all along. Only a year earlier, you starred in the macabre (and televised) “Mother’s Day Massacre” in which you and the medically insane Harvey Karman provided “super coil” abortions to 15 women. When most of the women had “complications” (read: when you and Karman injured them), Karman was charged with various forms of quackery and hackery, but you were spared, depicted as a clinician who may simply have been swept up in some nasty business. Since then, you’ve been serving the underserved—the people’s doctor, never mind that you made millions of dollars every year in this business of yours.
No wonder you seemed a little miffed by the verdict in your murder trial, convicting you of three murders and the reckless killing of an adult patient. Roe (along with its companion case Doe v. Bolton) was supposed to have settled the matter. Reproductive rights groups have been celebrating the end of the era of coat hangers and back-alley abortions. And no one has been providing more abortions to lower-income people than Dr. Kermit Gosnell at 38th and Lancaster. You even named your clinic the Women’s Medical Society—could you have been any clearer about your allegiances?
Where did all your friends go when the FBI raided your clinic and state authorities revoked your medical license? Abortion activists want nothing to do with you; operations like yours provide rhetorical fodder for opponents of Roe’s regime. Using your story for its emotional power was something you surely expected from prolifers, but the “choice” crowd was right behind them, pointing out that you are what we get with poorly designed or neglected regulation. In Casey (the 1992 Supreme Court case that some expected to overturn Roe, but which instead gave us the “undue burden” test in place of trimesters), the unusual jointly authored plurality urged “the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division” and accept the Court’s edict. Congratulations, Dr. Gosnell, you’ve accomplished what Justice Kennedy’s soaring rhetoric (and hubris) never could.
Your murder trial has given rise to a national conversation on abortion rights, restrictions on abortion providers, and media bias in covering stories that might impugn ideologies to which the press is largely sympathetic. But mostly it woke us up to the fact that most of that is a diversion. Liberal columnist Kirsten Powers pointed out that what you were accused of doing differs only as “a matter of geography” from routine, common, and generally legal late-term abortions. Abortion opponents have been pointing out for decades the line-drawing problem. It is obvious to us that there’s no moral difference between a baby in the womb and a baby outside the womb. The temporal difference is a matter of minutes. Killing thousands—tens of thousands—of the former made you a rich, well-respected man. Killing three of the latter has made you guilty of a capital offense!
When I started writing this post, you were waiting to be sentenced. As horrific as I find your actions, I could feel only sympathy when I thought of you waiting to learn your fate. Just a few years ago, you were a licensed medical doctor with a thriving practice in West Philadelphia, performing medical procedures that were mostly permitted by law, and perhaps sometimes waiting just a few minutes too long to do the exact same procedure. What kind of society has laws that make that a capital crime?
If you are a monster, you’re our monster. In Kermit Gosnell’s America, the difference between ignominy and acclaim is a few inches of cervix. We regard abortion as a policy trade-off between reproductive rights and some undefined interest in fetal life. And to a large extent our law puts a thumb on the scale of the former. As a matter of federal constitutional law, a woman may direct a physician to remove and destroy a perfectly healthy child that is inside her womb. The moment it passes through her cervix, however, it is a full legal person and District Attorneys start using words like “infanticide” and “first degree murder” instead of “reproductive choice.
Your trial tested our intuitions about abortion; we might even say, like Robert P. George, that your “abortion trial” becomes a metonymy for our national heartbreak. The tension has always been there—what we might call the “geography problem”—but it was always unclear what we would do when we were called on it. What would our judgment be when, instead of an about-to-be-born baby, we were dealing with a just-born baby? Would we, like some “ethicists,” ask rhetorically, “Why should the baby live?” It took 40 years and over 50 million aborted babies before the geography problem finally confronted us with the nightmare of our own creation—and, by the grace of God, we indicted you for murder and convicted you.
Underneath the seared surface of your conscience, you yourself know that no earthly punishment can satisfy your debt. Forty years ago, you told the media that you would never agree to an abortion of your own child. You called it your “child”—and you knew your child was valuable. Perhaps finally you will awaken to the horror of your long career.
If we put aside sanctimony, we can see that yours is the story of every Christian. Finally convinced of the truth of our own filthy unrighteousness, we wait in abject horror for the Judge to commit us to our eternal sentence. Our crimes may be more discreet or fewer in number than yours, or they may be worse—in either case, the difference is one of degree and not of kind. Then speaks One who has, impossibly, already served that sentence for us. How can this even be, when we know, in our rare moments of clarity, alone in the quiet, that our limited beings have grieved an infinite Power for which we can never make satisfaction? This Advocate, this Substitute, must Himself be of far greater value than we are.
The people of Pennsylvania decide the fate of the body they can seize. This same Advocate—His name is Jesus—stands before you today with the authority to say, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Almost no one can understand the sweet relief of those words better than you, Dr. Gosnell. Heed His words.
God works everything to His own glory, even what I pray you can soon agree is the darkness of your life’s work. Already, we can thank Him for turning us aside from completely embracing the destruction of innocent life; what might have been the result had this case happened after another 30 years of unmitigated abortion throughout the land? Is it possible that we should pray that God will redeem you from your blindness and add you to the number of the saints? Before the judgment of men, your crimes are worse than most. The lower the sinner is esteemed by humanity, though, the more his redemption glorifies God.
The value of the Substitute is indeed of greater value than us. It is actually infinite, large enough to comprehend our sins and yours—and those of all the generations of man. Throw yourself at the feet of Jesus Christ. He is your only hope. He is our only hope. He is the only hope.
My love for you is as impossible as the prospect of someone taking the punishment you deserve. Praise the Lord, then, for “what is impossible with men is possible with God.”
With impossible love and impossible hope,
S. L. Whitesell