The Dr. Kermit Gosnell saga has come to a close, but the debate surrounding the case is far from over. The disturbing murder trial has reignited a culture war, putting pro-choice forces on the defensive.

Beyond the sociopolitical impact, the abortion doctor’s actions provide an unprecedented gut check – both an opportunity and a calling for Americans to explore the state of the nation’s moral and ethical fabric.

At its core, the case was a gruesome horror show — a legal battle so graphic, so unbelievable that anyone paying attention found themselves faced with some uncomfortable and patently difficult questions. Among them: When is it no longer a woman’s right to choose? What is the difference, morally speaking, between aborting a viable “fetus” in utero or snipping his or her spine after birth?

Kermit Gosnells Infanticide vs. Late Term Abortion: When Is It No Longer a Womans Right to Choose?

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is escorted to a waiting police van upon leaving the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, Monday, May 13, 2013, after being convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies who were delivered alive and then killed with scissors at his clinic. Credit: AP

While these curiosities are unpleasant, the realities surrounding Gosnell and late-term abortion in general force them upon us, as we are called to make sense of the revelations that Gosnell’s legal battle brought to light.

Rather than pointing to the doctor’s so-called “house of horrors” as the gold standard for the abortion industry, it’s important we have an honest discussion about the issues at hand. Are there other “Gosnells” out there who run similarly dirty and unsanitary clinics? It’s possible and, as recent investigations have shown, after-birth abortion (i.e. murder) may not be as uncommon as activists claim.

It’s important to note, though, that analyzing the morality associated with late-term abortion isn’t predicated upon finding dirty and murderous clinics that put women’s lives at risk. While these rogue institutions should be located and shuttered and their leaders prosecuted, there are deeper and more profound issues that deserve discussion and scrutiny.

Obviously, most rational human beings would admit that snipping the spines of babies born alive during abortions is a horrific and murderous action. This is what many pro-choice advocates and groups have, themselves, admitted in the wake of Gosnell’s guilty verdict.

Yet these same leaders and institutions virtually never speak out about viable babies that are terminated in utero – children that are, with the help of medical advances, able to live on their own outside of the mother’s body, if afforded the chance. In fact, some of these groups give the impression that they want unfettered access to abortion, regardless of the time-frame.

Like most Americans, I have intense personal views on the morality of these procedures, but also like most citizens, I rarely think about the procedure, especially the methods through which it is conducted in the second and third trimesters. Gosnell’s trial changed that for me.

As I sat in the courtroom alongside other journalists, I silently listened for hours on end, as witnesses shared hair-raising testimony and heart-wrenching details. Bouncing between sheer discomfort and utter horror, it was an experience I will never forget – one that gave me new-found insight and perspective on the national discussion surrounding late-term abortion.

Kermit Gosnells Infanticide vs. Late Term Abortion: When Is It No Longer a Womans Right to Choose?

Dr. Kermit Gosnell (Photo Credit: AP) 

On April 16, as I sat in the courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, an important revelation was delivered from an unexpected source. The moment came when Gosnell’s attorney, Jack McMahon, publicly echoed what pro-life advocates have long argued: That abortion is a violent (or “rough,” as he termed it) act, particularly when the unborn are further along in their development.

As I reported on TheBlaze at the time, in defending his client in front of the judge and jury, McMahon said of abortion, “The process itself is kind of rough. You go in with forceps [you may go in and pull out an arm, a leg].”

The quote, alone, dealt a stinging blow to my conscience, as I fought off the mental images that the attorney’s stunning admission conjured. Of the handful of days that I spent in the courtroom, this was the most jarring, thought-provoking and pivotal moment I encountered.

I left the courtroom that day considering the cognitive dissonance that some in the pro-choice lobby regularly tout and that our society willingly tolerates. Consider that it’s difficult to condemn, on moral grounds, terminating a viable baby outside of the mother’s womb if one supports the right to do so in utero. This is more rooted in logic than it is opinion.

After all, the difference between the two is merely the tactic used to ensure death, isn’t it?

If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we must ask – and attempt to answer – what the difference is between Gosnell’s actions and any and all forms of late-term abortion. Getting hung up on the method of termination and the physical location of the baby at the time it occurs is a distraction.

As I said, the Gosnell case requires that society ask itself the most uncomfortable question of all: When is it no longer a woman’s right to choose? As a journalist, I cannot definitively give an answer, but I can ask that, as a collective, we have the discussion and that we do so on realistic grounds.

No candy-coating. No avoidance of late-term abortion’s gruesome details. After all, our nation’s character and compassion hang in the balance.

This was originally published on The Washington Post.