[Editor’s note: This article contains highly disturbing, graphic images. Please proceed with caution.]
Who is Dr. Kermit Gosnell?
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, age 72, ran an abortion clinic for over 20 years in Philadelphia, now dubbed as the ‘House of Horrors.’ Gosnell allegedly performed illegal, late-term abortions (past the 24-week limit permitted by law), cutting the spinal cords of countless aborted babies. Gosnell also employed unqualified staff, including teenagers and two other “doctors” who were merely medical school graduates without a license. Gosnell allegedly made millions of dollars over his 30-year career and lucrative cash-only abortion practice, as well as by running a “pill mill,” prescribing drugs to addicts and drug dealers.
His clinic was called the Woman’s Medical Society.
[Pictured above: “severed fetal feet” found in the clinic. As noted in the Grand Jury Report, Gosnell reportedly sometimes kept these, as well as photos of his patients’ genitalia. Photo courtesy of the Grand Jury Report]
What is the timeline?
February 18, 2010: After 20 years in practice with almost no inspection by officials, law enforcement raids the clinic to seize evidence of Gosnell’s illegal prescription drug business. That is when the fetuses and dazed patients are noticed. His home is also raided, finding $240,000 in cash.
February 22, 2010: The Pennsylvania Board of Medicine suspends Gosnell’s medical license.
March 12, 2010: The Department of Health files papers to begin the process of shutting down the clinic.
May 4, 2010: The Philadelphia District Attorney submits the case to a Grand Jury. (The jurors would go on to review thousands of pieces of evidence and hear testimony from 58 witnesses). The clinic is shut down a few weeks later.
January 14, 2011: The scathing 261-page Grand Jury Report dubs the clinic “a house of horrors.”
March 18, 2013: Gosnell’s trial begins in Philadephia
What are the charges against him?
Among other charges, Gosnell faces 8 counts of murder: 7 first-degree counts of murder regarding the deaths of seven babies, and one third-degree murder charge regarding the death of a female patient, a 41-year-old refugee from Bhutan named Karnamaya Mongar who was given a lethal overdose of anesthesia and painkillers during a 2009 abortion.
If convicted, he faces the death penalty or could be sentenced to up to 100 years in prison. He will also face federal charges involving alleged distribution of painkillers to drug dealers and addicts.
What are some of the highlights of the 2011 Grand Jury Report?
The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment – such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff – was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn’t used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains. It was a baby charnel house.
The people who ran this sham medical practice included no doctors other than Gosnell himself, and not even a single nurse. Two of his employees had been to medical school, but neither of them were licensed physicians. They just pretended to be. Everyone called them “Doctor,” even though they, and Gosnell, knew they weren’t. Among the rest of the staff, there was no one with any medical licensing or relevant certification at all. But that didn’t stop them from making diagnoses, performing procedures, administering drugs.
Because the real business of the “Women’s Medical Society” was not health; it was profit. There were two primary parts to the operation. By day it was a prescription mill; by night an abortion mill. A constant stream of “patients” came through during business hours and, for the proper payment, left with scripts for Oxycontin and other controlled substances, for themselves and their friends. Gosnell didn’t see these “patients”; he didn’t even show up at the office during the day. He just left behind blank, pre-signed prescription pads, and had his unskilled, unauthorized workers take care of the rest. The fake prescriptions brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But this drug-selling operation is the subject of separate investigation by federal authorities.
But the illegal abortion business also posed an additional dilemma. Babies that big are hard to get out. Gosnell’s approach, whenever possible, was to force full labor and delivery of premature infants on ill-informed women. The women would check in during the day, make payment, and take labor-inducing drugs. The doctor wouldn’t appear until evening, often 8:00, 9:00, or 10:00 p.m., and only then deal with any of the women who were ready to deliver. Many of them gave birth before he even got there. By maximizing the pain and danger for his patients, he minimized the work, and cost, for himself and his staff. The policy, in effect, was labor without labor.
There remained, however, a final difficulty. When you perform late-term “abortions” by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. By 24 weeks, most babies born prematurely will survive if they receive appropriate medical care. But that was not what the Women’s Medical Society was about. Gosnell had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered: he killed them. He didn’t call it that. He called it “ensuring fetal demise.” The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that “snipping.”
Over the years, there were hundreds of “snippings.” Sometimes, if Gosnell was unavailable, the “snipping” was done by one of his fake doctors, or even by one of the administrative staff. But all the employees of the Women’s Medical Society knew. Everyone there acted as if it wasn’t murder at all.
Most of these acts cannot be prosecuted, because Gosnell destroyed the files. Among the relatively few cases that could be specifically documented, one was Baby Boy A. His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant – seven and a half months – when labor was induced. An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds. He was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” Another, Baby Boy B, whose body was found at the clinic frozen in a one-gallon spring-water bottle, was at least 28 weeks of gestational age when he was killed. Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord, just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times.
And these were not even the worst cases. Gosnell made little effort to hide his illegal abortion practice. But there were some, “the really big ones,” that even he was afraid to perform in front of others. These abortions were scheduled for Sundays, a day when the clinic was closed and none of the regular employees were present. Only one person was allowed to assist with these special cases – Gosnell’s wife. The files for these patients were not kept at the office; Gosnell took them home with him and disposed of them. We may never know the details of these cases. We do know, however, that, during the rest of the week, Gosnell routinely aborted and killed babies in the sixth and seventh month of pregnancy. The Sunday babies must have been bigger still.
What is the Pennsylvania state law pertaining to abortions?
Pennsylvania bans third-term abortions (i.e., abortions past the 24th week) and requires a 24-hour waiting period. The law requires a measurement of gestational age, usually done by ultrasound. Minors must also have parental consent. According to the Grand Jury Report, Gosnell broke all these requirements (as for circumventing the ultrasound proof-of-age, Gosnell allegedly trained his staff on how to aim the ultrasound at an angle to make the fetus appear smaller).
But aren’t abortion clinics inspected? How did this go on for so long?
The clinic was first granted approval in 1979 by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The department did not conduct another site review until a decade later, in 1989. A few violations were noticed but Gosnell said he would fix them and was apparently given a pass. Reviews in 1992 and 1993? Same thing.
OK, but how about inspections after that? Surely if the Department of Health kept finding violations, even minor ones, it would have raised a red flag.
After 1993, any oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Health came to an end, due to pro-choice political pressure. As noted in the Grand Jury Report:
[The Department of Health] abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased, even though, as Gosnell proved, that meant both women and babies would pay.” Even when attorneys, representing women injured by Gosnell contacted the department, including complaints from a Philadelphia children’s hospital that patients came back from Gosnell with venereal disease, including when the Delaware County medical examiner informed the department that Gosnell had performed an abortion on an 14 year old, and including official notice of Karnamya Mongar’s death, the Department of Health did nothing. The Department of State, which regulates licenses and oversees the actual doctors, also did nothing. Only after the 2010 raid regarding Gosnell’s “pill mill,” was the clinic shut down.
The Grand Jury Report also notes the failure to act on the part of the National Abortion Federation:
So too with the National Abortion Federation. NAF is an association of abortion providers that upholds the strictest health and legal standards for its members. Gosnell, bizarrely, applied for admission shortly after Karnamaya Mongar’s death. Despite his various efforts to fool her, the evaluator from NAF readily noted that records were not properly kept, that risks were not explained, that patients were not monitored, that equipment was not available, that anesthesia was misused. It was the worst abortion clinic she had ever inspected. Of course, she rejected Gosnell’s application. She just never told anyone in authority about all the horrible, dangerous things she had seen.
What about the staffers involved? Are they charged, too?
Yes. Eight co-defendants have already pleaded guilty and most will – or have already – testified against Gosnell. Three pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. The only former clinic employee who did not plead guilty and is thus on trial with Gosnell is Eileen O’Neill, who allegedly presented herself as a doctor at the clinic when she, in fact, had no medical license.
[See pages 32 – 39 of the Grand Jury Report for a detailed summary of each of the staff members, as well as Section VII, beginning on page 219 of the Grand Jury Report]
What is some of the most noteworthy testimony thus far?
Ashley Baldwin began working at the clinic in 2006 when she was 15 years old (she is now 22) and routinely assisted Gosnell with abortions. She testified that, on five different occasions, she saw the aborted babies moving, breathing, or “screeching.”
Lynda Williams, another former employee, testified, along with Baldwin, that they were trained to sever the necks/spinal cords of the aborted babies. She testified that she witnessed Gosnell snipping the necks of more than 30 babies.
Adrienne Moton, a former medical assistant at the clinic from 2005 to 2008, testified that she cut the spines of at least 10 babies. She said Gosnell and another employee did the same. She cried as she recalled taking a photo with her cell phone of one baby left in her work area that she measured as being almost 30 weeks old that could have survived, given his large size and pinkish color. She added that Gosnell joked that the baby was so big he could have walked her to the bus stop. She also testified she once had to a kill a baby that was delivered in a toilet, by cutting its neck with scissors.
Just how unqualified were the staff?
The two other ‘doctors’ had no licenses. The female staffer applying anesthesia was a sixth-grade dropout who was barely literate. And a receptionist who also assisted in the abortions was a 15-year-old high school student.
What is Gosnell’s defense?
His lawyers argue that Gosnell did not in fact kill babies because they were already in the death throes from the abortion drug Gosnell had already administered. The lawyers claim the government cannot prove that the babies were born alive and that there is no physical evidence on five of the seven deaths. (Though prosecutors have a photo of the sixth baby – aborted at 30 weeks – and the body of a seventh, Gosnell’s lawyers argue that neither of those two was born alive.)
As for the woman who died, Gosnell’s lawyers claim she had other drugs in her system that did not come from the clinic, and that she also had unreported bronchial problems and died of complications relating to that condition.
His lawyers also claim racism, accusing officials of an “elitist, racist prosecution,” as the trial opened, and accusing city officials of a “prosecutorial lynching.”
How long will the trial go on? When can we expect a verdict?
Estimates say it is expected to last about six to eight weeks. If so, a verdict could be handed down as early as June.
[For photos of Gosnell’s late-term aborted babies, shown in the Grand Jury Report, click on pages 85, 102, and 115 of the report. Please proceed with caution, as these photos are highly disturbing.]
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