Pro-lifers waited with bated breath on Monday for the Philadelphia jury to issue its verdict on the trial of late term abortion provider Kermit Gosnell. In the end the jury found Gosnell guilty of three counts of first degree murder. It also found Gosnell guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of in the death of patient Karnamaya Mongar. Most pro-lifers were both pleased and relieved. The evidence and testimony against Gosnell was certainly both vivid and graphic. However, court cases involving abortion can often be unpredictable.
There are a number of valuable lessons that pro-lifers can learn from this trial. First is the importance of social media. In January 2012, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that they would sever their relationship with Planned Parenthood. Shortly thereafter, they backtracked – disappointing pro-life activists. A number of factors likely influenced the Komen Foundation’s decision to maintain Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for grants. However, one factor was certainly an intense and well-organized social media campaign spearheaded by supporters of legal abortion. Many felt that pro-lifers were simply outgunned. However 14 months later, pro-lifer activists Bryan Kemper and Andy Moore organized Gosnell tweet-fests which succeeded in drawing attention to the trial and generating some much needed mainstream media coverage.
There are political lessons as well. The Gosnell case this puts pro-lifers on much stronger ground. One of the problems that pro-lifers had in 2012 was that much of the dialogue about abortion policy involved hard cases like rape. However, the Gosnell trial has shifted public attention to late term abortions, which have very little public support. Indeed, three separate polls taken since early April all show slight, but consistent increases in support for the pro-life position. The current situation is similar to the 1990s and 2000s when pro-lifers wisely forced votes on the Partial Birth Abortion ban and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. These bills demonstrated the extreme nature of abortion policy in this country and the extreme positions held by many elected officials who support legal abortion.
The Gosnell trial also highlights the importance of vigilance at the local level. Abortion clinic regulations are now much more difficult to oppose. And many states have been active in passing clinic regulations and other types of pro-life laws. However, while signing ceremonies receive plenty of attention, local pro-lifers need to put pressure on public officials to insure that these laws are enforced. Pennsylvania actually had laws on the books that would have stopped Gosnell years ago. However, pro-choice Governor Tom Ridge made a political decision not to enforce these laws. Furthermore, just last month, an abortion provider in Birmingham, Alabama that was operating without a license was shut down due to public scrutiny and public protest. Pro-lifers, as always, would do well to be vigilant.
Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at The University of Michigan – Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.