The defenders of abortion “rights” are quick to decry comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust as irrational, morally monstrous and dangerous invitations to violence against abortion providers. Yet Gosnell’s house of horrors has a distinctly Auschwitzian feel about it. Baby’s feet collected in jars, dying babies flailing in toilets, playing with newborns before “snipping” their necks. When the world didn’t know what took place behind the doors of the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia, abortion rights proponents would have been inclined to defend Kermit Gosnell as a noble health care provider heroically delivering needed services to immigrants and the poor. Yet now that we have seen behind those doors, the shadow of Mengele is not far off.
The whole thing is horrific. The babies who were murdered, the women whose bodies were ravaged, the coworkers who took part or looked the other way, everyone at every level of government and crime prevention who failed to respond to tips and signs and hard evidence of murderous malpractice. I’m also horrified by a culture that encouraged everyone to look the other way, that explicitly provided Gosnell’s rationalizations for his crimes, and that then responds to the trial with silence and then indifference. After the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the mainstream media launched into nationwide apoplexy over the “climate of hate” – and especially pointed the finger at conservative rhetoric. Yet there’s no evidence whatsoever that Loughner was influenced by any of this, and abundant evidence that he was driven directly by his own deranged fantasies. Now we have a case where an educated, otherwise-sane person very clearly took comfort in the rhetoric of the far Left, even as he was engaging in systematic murder, and there’s no parallel concern over the “climate of inhumanity” perpetuated by extreme pro-choicers when it comes to unwanted babies.
If you say – as Barack Obama overtly did in unrepudiated remarks and stances he took as an Illinois State Senator – that babies who survive attempted abortions and make it outside the womb should still be put to death, then you are saying that what differentiates legal abortion from illegal murder is nothing more than the mother’s desire to keep or kill the baby. That’s an extremely dangerous position to take. And, if accepted, it provides blanket coverage for Kermit Gosnell. As long as the mothers wanted to get rid of the babies, he might have objected, what does it matter how or where it’s done?
See, America’s abortion laws are so irrational that the abortion defender is typically put in the awkward position of saying that a couple inches makes the difference. If the baby is still inside the womb, even partly, you can puncture its skull and vacuum out its brains. Bring it outside the womb, and then doing the exact same thing would be infanticide/murder. But if State Senator Obama were right, as long as you intended an abortion, you could still put the baby to death outside the womb. So some enterprising reporter should ask the President: “If the views you expressed as a State Senator had become law, would Gosnell’s actions have been criminal in Illinois? Or where exactly do you draw the line, Mr President, between abortion and infanticide?”
Now Gosnell has been declared guilty for three murders. Good. Now justice is being served (amongst other things) for the babies who died. Good. Gosnell stands condemned. Good. Now let’s save his life.
I served for three years (first as an intern and then as a volunteer) in chaplaincy for a maximum security prison in Trenton, New Jersey. The prison drew the worst of the worst in the New Jersey penal system. We had gangsters and kingpins, multiple murderers and major drug traffickers. Most were in for 20-to-life. There was one gentleman there (I’ll keep his name to myself) who had been raised by a mother who frequently resorted to prostitution to provide for her boys and for her drug habit. At one point she married and their lives got better; her husband died in a car crash and again she hit the streets. She contracted HIV. This was in the late 80s, when AIDS was a death sentence. This young man, still a boy, cared for his mother while she withered away and died in agony.
Then he began to build a life for himself. He married, had a daughter, worked a respectable job. But all the while he was also carrying on an affair. When he discovered that his mistress had AIDS, he assumed he had passed the virus on to his wife and child. Beside himself with fear, out of his mind, unwilling to watch his family die in the same way his mother had, he took the lives of his mother and baby child. He attempted to take his own life, but was revived. His wife and daughter were dead; he was not. So he was convicted for double murder — and discovered during the trial that he had miraculously never contracted HIV/AIDS from his mistress. Sentenced, imprisoned, in the depths of his despair, he heard the gospel of Jesus Christ from a Christian in the prison. His life — slowly, deeply, and often painfully — was transformed. By the time I met him, he was dancing with the choir every Sunday morning, smiling and singing God’s praises at the top of his voice.
That’s the reason I’ve never supported the death penalty: I have hope in the gospel that anyone can be redeemed. If this man had been put to death, he may never have heard the gospel, and he certainly could not have been a joyous member of the congregation within those walls. There are thriving ministries in many prisons, and men (and women) coming to Christ every day. Give them time.
I’m not saying that pro-lifers are only “pro-life until birth.” That’s a bumper sticker, not an argument. You can be pro-life and pro-death-penalty. There’s nothing illogical in defending the innocent unborn but putting to death the guilty murderer. I understand that many feel they’re protecting the sanctity of life by putting the worst violators of that sanctity to death. I get that. The death penalty, in some cases, is just.
But I believe in something higher than justice. My conviction of the sanctity of life is inextricably bound up with my conviction that God’s grace can reach anyone anywhere. As Robert George put it in First Things:
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 state would be within its rights to put Kermit Gosnell to death. That would be just. And the state is empowered to deliver justice. But Christians like myself can cry out for mercy. For all of us, mercy has the final word. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Let’s make that present today.
Fundamentally, I want Kermit Gosnell to stay alive so that he will have every opportunity to receive the grace of God for his forgiveness, and then to become a witness to the power of the cross. I want Gosnell, like “Roe” before him, to become a powerful critic of the practices he once engaged in. It isn’t likely, of course. It seems impossible. But doesn’t God love to do the impossible?
We have rightly denounced Kermit Gosnell and now he is rightly condemned. What more powerful witness can we give to our love of life and mercy and our hope in the gospel than to ask now that he be saved from death?