You can't kill somebody who isn't alive. So perhaps Allen County Right to Life Executive Director Cathie Humbarger is right when she calls a Philadelphia abortionist's conviction on murder charges a victory in the pro-life movement's long struggle to make Americans “aware of the horror of abortion.”
Certainly testimony of one baby “big enough to walk to the bus” and another “swimming” in a toilet and “trying to get out” before having their spinal cords cut – ignored for most of the trial by many major news outlets – exposed an aspect of a “woman's right to choose” many defenders of abortion on demand work very hard to obscure.
As Humbarger noted, Kermit Gosnell “is not the exception. There are many more like him. And what's the difference between what he did and what happens to 10 to 12 babies in Fort Wayne every week?”
But there are differences between what happened at Gosnell's clinic and what goes on every Thursday just down the street from Humbarger's office on Inwood Drive. And even though legal and perceptual distinctions have little to do with the morality of abortion, they are bound to impede the great awakening Humbarger and others seek.
Gosnell, after all, was convicted not because he performed abortions but because he performed them after the 24th week of gestation allowed by Pennsylvania law. Perhaps even more damaging, he killed the sometimes-screaming babies after they had been born, resulting in blood-curdling and often tearful testimony from clinic employees who, presumably, had no qualms about “normal” abortion.
Gosnell was also convicted in connection with the death of an adult female patient. But had he done his grisly work inside the state's legal 24-week window, in the anonymity of the womb instead of after birth, it's doubtful the 72-year-old Gosnell would not be spending the rest of his life in prison.
But the babies would be just as dead.
If Humbarger is right, Americans will remember that baby vainly struggling for life in a toilet and conclude that the countless others whose lives are legally and quietly ended every day deserve a chance at life he or she never had.
But how many Americans know – or care – that an unborn baby's heart begins to beat after 21 days?
Or that limbs begin to form within 32 days?
Or that the brain is formed within 42 days?
Or that the baby is capable of feeling pain by the 20th week?
If Gosnell was able to operate without much scrutiny or opposition until he became too controversial to defend, will Americans really rise up and demand an end to something that normally happens legally and in the shadows?
“I have to hope people haven't become so hardened that they can't be persuaded,” Humbarger said. “Some women have chosen to believe a lie, and we want to help them. We won't rest until abortion is unthinkable if not illegal.”
She likened the Gosnell case to that of African-American Emmett Till, whose beating death at the age of 14 in 1955 exposed the true nature of Jim Crow and strengthened the civil-rights movement after his mother insisted that his battered body be publicly displayed.
Early results are mixed, however, possibly because few media outlets are willing to display photos of Gosnell's handiwork.
At least nine of the 12 jurors who convicted Gosnell identified themselves as pro-choice prior to the trial, and at least one reporter covering the case was won over to the pro-life side by what he hard and saw in court.
On the other hand, Planned Parenthood praised his conviction as a step toward protecting women but never mentioned the inconvenient newborn victims he was convicted of slaughtering.
But it is both fitting and ironic that Gosnell is going to jail after accepting several life sentences in exchange for prosecutors' willingness to forego the death penalty. Who knew the nation's most notorious abortionist was pro-life?
At least when his own neck is on the line.