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.I have to say, it seems to me that in a civilized society, it would be clearly understood that someone who for twenty years made a career out of murdering infants would be executed. But the fact is, we don't live in a civilized society. Nor, even if Gosnell got the death penalty, would he be likely to ever be executed. Pleas would go back and forth. Politics would play out. Appeals would be filed. Circumstances would be appealed to. And Gosnell (already age seventy-two) would die of old age before ever seeing an executioner.
If our plea for mercy moves the heart of a man who cruelly murdered innocent babies, the angels in heaven will rejoice. But whether it produces that effect or not, we will have shown all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that our pro-life witness is truly a witness of love—love even of our enemies, even of those whose appalling crimes against innocent human beings we must oppose with all our hearts, minds, and strength. In a profoundly compelling way, we will have given testimony to our belief in the sanctity of all human life.
I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that. But even if the death penalty is justified in a case like Gosnell’s, mercy is nevertheless a legitimate option, especially where our plea for mercy would itself advance the cause of respect for human life by testifying to the power of mercy and love.
So I'll say this much in favor of mercy in Gosnell's case: Assigning him the death penalty would have little deterrent force, and would achieve nothing in making people safer from him. It would be unlikely to result in his actual execution, and it would cost far more money and time and drama and public angst than he is worth. While a just society would doubtless execute Gosnell, and facing the prospect of immanent execution might indeed be the only thing likely to bring him to something like repentance for his crimes, we are not such a society and we do not have such a justice system. So we should not sentence him to death.