Kermit Gosnell is behind bars, and his little victims are long dead, but the case is still a fight about the dignity of life.
On Friday, July 19, several pro-life leaders demanded justice and burial for the bodies of 45 babies found in convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell's Philadelphia abortion clinic. They organized a prayer vigil outside the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office, and promised to risk arrest when the office barred its doors to their inquiries.
The speakers, including Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, Students for Life's Kristan Hawkins, Christian Defense Coalition's Rev. Patrick Mahoney, Stand True Ministries' Bryan Kemper, and Alliance Defending Freedom's Catherine Foster, endured the sweltering heat to deliver a letter requesting information about the remains.
The Medical Examiner's Office, which they say had agreed to meet with them just hours before, locked its doors and called the police as they approached.
Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, stressed to the MRC that the Medical Examiner's Office responded twice when he previously requested the babies' remains. While the office first considered his appeal, it later decided to withhold the bodies from all third parties - without explanation.
"Meanwhile," said Pavone, "we're doing two things: we're asking 'Why not?' and, 'What do you intend to do with these bodies?' The public has the right to know where these bodies are, what's going to be done with them."
Students for Life's Kristan Hawkins excoriated the office, telling the MRC, "We're here as citizens asking the city to let us bury these babies in the proper way." She suggested the Medical Examiner's conduct was aimed to dehumanize the babies. "This is the city of Philadelphia wanting to forget the ugly horrors of the Kermit Gosnell trial," Hawkins said.
Even now, according to Hawkins, the city is turning a blind eye to justice for the sake of obfuscating abortion's horrors: "Because if they - they're acknowledging that babies who were killed during an abortion were human beings, were persons, with rights. And that goes to the very heart of the abortion issue."
Fr. Pavone described the office's conduct as predictable and explained, "The problem that we're facing here this morning is indicative of what happens when a government allows the killing of these children in the first place."
The office had hinted that it had plans for the dead babies, but refused to reveal them. The speakers repeatedly cited the Medical Examiner's Office written policy, which says, "Anyone, including friends and neighbors, may claim a body three days after the date of pronouncement of death."
Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesman Jeff Moran announced in July to a local NBC affiliate that, "the remains have not yet been cremated" and "no time frame has been established" to determine the destination of the remains. For the three babies murdered at the hands of Gosnell, Moran clarified that their families will decide upon their future.
According to the grand jury assigned the Gosnell case, the Philadelphia medical examiner first received the remains of the 45 children after a February 2010 raid of Gosnell's Women's Medical Society, and "confirmed that at least two of them, and probably three, had been viable."
Gosnell was convicted in May of first-degree murder for the deaths of three babies born alive and involuntary manslaughter of a female patient. Earlier this month, he pled guilty to dealing almost a million pills of hazardous narcotics.
That pattern continued last week. Besides MRC, only Fox News attended the vigil as media. Fr. Pavone noticed the absence of media, but suggested the public influence the media, rather than vice versa, "The more the public becomes aware and begins rallying around a cause, at a certain point in order to present themselves as journalists with any integrity they have to pay attention to certain things."
Hawkins wasn't surprised by the lack of media at the vigil. The media "want to forget the entire Gosnell case because they know how it's really shaped the dialogue about abortion in our country," she said.
The attempt to get answers from the Medial Examiner's office failed. The Christian Defense Coalition's Rev. Patrick Mahoney expressed frustration with the city. "Now we know how Kermit Gosnell could exist in Philadelphia," he said. "They refuse to speak to us, they will not talk to us; they will not even take a letter."
But, Mahoney and the others aren't done. He said pro-life leaders now plan "a national call to come to Philadelphia." "We're inviting people of good will, people of compassion, people who care for the human rights to peacefully intervene," he implored, "and if we have to have these people prayerfully kneeling in front of this Medical Examiner's office, peacefully risking arrest, this invokes civil rights imagery."
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's office did not respond to inquiry.