Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:02

What the Case of Kermit Gosnell Says about Us

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What the Case of Kermit Gosnell Says about Us

Barry MacDonald - Editorial

We can tell a lot about a culture by what it chooses to overlook. Along a spectrum abortion practice in America has reached the extreme end, revealing American callousness to the point of inhumanity.

Kermit Gosnell, M.D., spent nearly four decades running his clinic, "The Women's Medical Society," in Philadelphia. The grand jury case against him states:

This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy - and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels - and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it. . . .
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. [Prosecutors have cited dozens of jars of severed baby feet-Philadelphia Inquirer.]

James Johnson is the common-law husband of Gosnell's wife's sister. He worked as a janitor, maintenance man, and plumber at the clinic. He testified at trial how he threatened to quit work, because when the staff flushed remains down the toilets (into Philadelphia's sewage system) the toilets would back up once or twice a week. He would open the outside clean out pipe to see babies' arms and other parts come spilling out. With a shovel he scooped up the baby parts, put them in bags, and took them to the basement.

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.
. . . 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. . . . The fake prescriptions brought in hundreds of thousand of dollars a year.
. . . As with abortion, as with prescriptions, Gosnell's approach was simple: keep volume high, expenses low - and break the law. That was his competitive edge.
. . . Gosnell catered to the women who couldn't get abortions elsewhere - because they were too pregnant. Most doctors won't perform late second-trimester abortions, from approximately the 20th week of pregnancy, because of the risks involved. And late-term abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy are flatly illegal. But for Dr. Gosnell, they were an opportunity. The bigger the baby, the more he charged.
. . . Babies that big are hard to get out. Gosnell's approach . . . was to force full labor and delivery of premature infants on ill-informed women. The women would check in during the day, make payments, and take labor-inducing drugs. The doctor wouldn't appear until evening. . . . 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. Most babies born prematurely will survive if they receive appropriate medical care. . . . Gosnell had a simple solution . . . he killed them . . . He called it "ensuring fetal demise." . . . by sticking scissors into the back of the baby's neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that "snipping."

On May 13 Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder of infants born alive, and one count of involuntary manslaughter of a woman, Karnamaya Mongar, who died of an overdose of anesthesia given by an unqualified assistant. He was also found guilty of conspiracy, of performing abortions beyond the legal limit in Pennsylvania, and over two hundred violations of the state's informed consent law. On May 14 Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison.

Also four former clinic employees have pleaded guilty to murder, and four more to other charges. They include Gosnell's wife, Pearl, who helped perform abortions.

As bad as Gosnell's conduct was, the evil goes beyond him. The grand jury reported several agencies responsible for oversight should have stopped Gosnell years ago. Gosnell was caught when police raided the clinic to stop the selling of illegal prescriptions. Police saw the revolting conditions, dazed patients, and baby parts.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) examined the "Women's Medical Society" when it opened in 1979. It didn't conduct a review again until 1989, ten years later. Violations were apparent but Gosnell promised to fix them. The PDH did reviews in 1992 and 1993 and again recorded violations, but failed again to enforce the law. After 1993 the clinic wasn't examined for 20 years. The grand jury found that:

. . . the Pennsylvania 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 [a pro-life Democrat] to Governor Ridge, [a pro-choice Republican], 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.

It is worth emphasizing that the PDH decided to institute a hands-off, "live-and-let-die" policy towards abortion clinics because a pro-choice Republican, Tom Ridge, who went on to serve in George W. Bush's cabinet, found it politically convenient.

Complaints about Gonsell were repeatedly overlooked.

* Several attorneys representing women injured by Gosnell alerted the PDH.
* A doctor from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia hand delivered a complaint about the numerous women he had referred to Gosnell who came back with the same venereal disease.
* The medical examiner of Delaware County told the department that Gosnell illegally aborted a 30-week-old baby from 14-year-old girl.
* The PDH received official notice of the death of Karnamaya Mongar, the woman about whom Gosnell was convicted of manslaughter.

Only after Gosnell was raided, charged, tried, and covered in the local media did the PDH close the clinic. In response to the grand jury investigation department officials "lawyered up," hiring an expensive law firm at taxpayer expense.

A second agency, the Pennsylvania Department of State (PDS), had the authority to stop Gosnell but did nothing in the face of repeated evidence of wrongdoing.

* Ten years ago a former employee of Gosnell's told the Board of Medicine about the clinic's entire operation: the filthy conditions, unqualified workers, unsupervised sedation, underage girls getting abortions, the illicit sale of drugs with high resale value on the street. An investigator was assigned and interviewed Gosnell - he didn't enter the clinic, didn't question employees, or review records. Department attorneys dismissed the complaint as "unconfirmed."
* The PDS heard about a 22-year-old woman who died of sepsis after Gosnell perforated her uterus; a civil suit against Gosnell was settled for nearly a million dollars, and the insurance company alerted the PDS: the department dismissed the complaint.
* Two more complaints about lawsuits were dismissed.
* Gosnell paid out damages to five different women whose internal organs he had punctured, but a department attorney saw no "pattern of conduct."

As with the PDH, so with the Pennsylvania Department of State: once Gosnell's clinic became big news (at least in Philadelphia) the department suspended Gosnell's license.

A third agency, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH), was complicit. PDPH employees regularly visited the clinic to retrieve blood samples for testing purposes. The grand jury praised one PDPH employee who discovered Gosnell was "scamming the program." She saw the terrible conditions, she asked questions, she filed detailed reports - she was the only regulator, city or state, who tried to stop Gosnell. Her report went "into a black hole."

Two hospitals in Gosnell's neighborhood, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, saw a succession of severely injured women (one "turned up virtually dead") in need of emergency surgery. It's the legal duty of these hospitals to report dangerous clinics. They didn't.

Why did these authorities fail in their duty? The grand jury found:

Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.

The grand jury calls out by name division directors and attorneys at the above agencies. Kenneth Brody, senior legal counsel of the Pennsylvania Department of Health insisted: "The department had no legal obligation to monitor abortion clinics"! The same agency's head lawyer, chief counsel, Christine Dutton, explained: "People die." Having no legal basis to charge these "public servants" the grand jury hopes they will be held accountable -but by whom?

In the wake of the national media coverage of Gosnell's case many similar horrors have come to light. Kirsten Powers reports in Delaware two Planned Parenthood nurses resigned in protest; said one: "It was just unsafe. I couldn't tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was." Maryland authorities closed three abortion clinics, two for failings in equipment and training. Officials in Ohio shut a clinic because of the misuse of pharmaceuticals. In Illinois some abortion clinics hadn't been inspected for ten to fifteen years.

Michigan lawmakers allege a conflict of interest between the state board of medicine and a Muskegon doctor, who is a convicted felon. Dr. Robert Alexander's abortion clinic was closed because of filthy conditions, and "blood on the floor and walls." The Michigan Board of Medicine received complaints of botched abortions, including a woman whose uterus was ruptured. The chairman of the board, Dr. George H. Shade, thought no investigation was necessary - Dr. Shade helped Dr. Alexander get his license back after Dr. Alexander went to prison for selling illegal prescriptions.

In Texas Dr. Douglas Karpen is being tried for killing babies in the third trimester. Four former employees accuse him of killing babies either by "snipping" spinal cords, "stabbing a surgical instrument into their heads," or "twisting their heads off their necks with his own bare hands." Dr. Karpen's ex-assistant, Deborah Edge said:

Sometimes he couldn't get the fetus out . . . he would yank pieces - piece by piece - when they were oversize . . . And I'm talking about the whole floor dirty. I'm talking about me drenched in blood.

A late term abortion cost between $4,000 and $5,000. Deborah Edge said, "We would always think he's so greedy." Deborah Edge didn't know what Dr. Karpen was doing was illegal.

National Review's reporter, Jillian Kay Melchior wrote a long, well-documented article, "Abortion's Underside," about an ever-changing group of people who are still running three clinics in Florida. This is a story of several doctors and their shameful conduct of injuring many women. There were malpractice suits and revoked medical licenses, and continued illegal behavior. There were fines and probation, but continued abuse. One doctor fled to Trinidad to escape prosecution. One fled to New York where he got his license to practice medicine back, after it was revoked in Florida. Despite his history of negligence and deceit the New York Department of Health's committee said he

. . . is a physician who provides excellent medical care to an inner city poor population. These patients should not be deprived of this valuable resource.

The clinics are operated by a mother, her daughter, another woman, and by the men who come in and out of their lives. The women don't have the medical training necessary to perform abortions themselves, but they manage the organization, and stay one step ahead of the law. The similarities to Gosnell's case are stark: the motive is money, the pregnant women are poor, uneducated, and of color. Equipment was (is?) unavailable or broken, the care given was (is?) criminally negligent, conditions were (are?) bloody, many women were (are?) severely injured, and babies were (are?) killed.

The most poignant part of Melchior's article is when she interviews the former Hialeah deputy police chief concerning the death of a baby:

. . . it's the symptom of the bigger issue, and the bigger issue is the state statutes and what [the law] supports. Whether [the doctor] is running it or not, does it matter? The state supports what they did. Even as horrific an event as it was . . . the law supports what they did that day.

The baby in this case was just below Florida's legal limit for gestational age, which is vaguely defined. Prosecutors were reluctant to go to trial.

We should note the complicity of the mass media who are sympathetic to abortion rights, even at the extreme end of the spectrum. Broadcast commentators and print journalist were slow to cover the Gosnell case. One Washington Post reporter called it only a "local story." They were shamed into paying attention by Kirsten Powers, a well-known, well-respected, proud, honest, liberal journalist. She wrote:

You don't have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent, or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." It's about basic human rights. . . . The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.

The American Left has staked out an extreme position on abortion. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has infamously said on the Senate floor that a baby acquires a right to life only "when you bring your baby home" - in other words if a family decides to keep the baby, otherwise it may be killed. A Planned Parenthood lobbyist, Alisa LaPott Snow, recently suggested in testimony before the Florida government that even if a baby survives a botched abortion the child's fate remains a woman's right to choose.

While Barack Obama was Illinois state senator he voted against the "Born Alive Bill," a bill that required doctors to give care to babies who survive abortions. He was speaking about such a baby in the Illinois Senate, he said:

. . . that if that fetus, or child, however you want to describe it, is now outside of the mother's womb . . . (it's a "fetus" outside the womb!)

These attitudes have life and death consequences.

Addressing a Planned Parenthood conference (an essential piece of the abortion industry), in the midst of the national news coverage of Kermit Gosnell's trial, President Barack Obama referred to his political opponents:

. . . those who want to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century. And they've been involved in an orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women's health.

It is apparent that the real "war on women" the Obama administration so often invokes in political rhetoric is not being advanced by Republican or conservative men against women - it's being waged by heartless liberals who are willing to sacrifice the lives of women and babies for the purpose of protecting "a woman's right to choose." The women sacrificed are often poor, uneducated, and of color - the very people liberals profess to protect.

Too many Republican politicians, for example, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, are afraid of being called an "extremist" by vicious people, like President Barack Obama. Too many Republicans, politicians and ordinary citizens, have been cowed into silence, with the result being the nation-wide proliferation of abortion mills where babies are murdered and women are severely injured and sometimes killed by "doctors" who are greedy for money.

If one political party exerts maximum effort (as Democrats have on the abortion issue) while the weak party practices strategic silence, the strong party will have its way. At the same time the weak party not only fails to stand up for itself, it gives potential supporters no reason to give their respect or allegiance. The sad irony is that liberal politicians get away with calling Republicans "extremists."

Roe v. Wade was defended on the basis that restrictive laws on abortion forced women to turn to back-alley hacks. Obviously legal access to abortion in America hasn't saved poor women from back-alley hacks. Some commentators have concluded we need to redouble our efforts, provide easier access to abortion, dedicate more public money to the abortion industry, give earlier, better sex education in our schools. What is lacking on the Left is humility, and an appreciation of the sacredness of life.

Republican politicians have a golden opportunity to advance the cause of crisis pregnancy centers: they already exist nationwide. Why not expand them instead of the abortion industry? They work with pregnant women, providing ultrasound services, parental counseling, life management counseling, help with the needs of mother and child. Unwanted pregnancies cause loneliness, fear, and hopelessness, and for poor women there is a lack of information: crisis pregnancy centers can deal with women's hopelessness.

Republican politicians should prepare for the rhetorical traps of reporters' questions by avoiding rigid standards. Republicans politicians should speak to women with unwanted pregnancies with empathy. They should simply express the sacredness of life, and point out the alternative of adoption.

People who are pro-life should recognize that protecting new life from conception is presently impossible to pass into law or to effectively enforce.

It is impossible to draw a line during gestation when abortion is "ok," that is not arbitrary. Abortion has inescapable moral consequences for the individuals involved - consequences not imposed by other people. Whatever decision is made is a turning point that has to be lived with.

Finally, to believe that abortion is only a women's issue is to diminish the responsibility of men. Do we really want to encourage men to become irrelevant? The Left in America is attempting - through "a women's right to choose" - to restrict men's natural role as fathers. What better way to marginalize men, as fathers, than to give them permission to take little responsibility in their sexual conduct, and then to exclude them from decisions about whether to keep or abort the baby? Overlooking the irresponsibility of men is seductive and effective, but what does it do to their basic humanity? Men need to be tamed and trained to shoulder their fair share of responsibility, or they will never learn to do their duty. *

We would like to thank the following people for their generous support of this journal (from 3/14/2013 to 5/25/2013): Mary Ellen Alt, George E. Andrews, William D. Andrews, A. D. Baggerley, David D. Barbee, James B. Black, Carl W. Borklund, Jason Botka, Robert P. Bringer, Patrick J. Buchanan, Price B. Burgess, Thomas M. Burt, John B. Charlton, Laurence Christenson, Thomas J. Ciotola, Tommy D. Clark, Bruce & Leigh Davey, Dianne C. DeBoest, Peter R. DeMarco, John H. Downs, Richard F. Doyle, Robert M. Ducey, Don Dyslin, Donald R. Eberle, Richard A. Edstrom, John B. Elko, Ronald E. Everett, Joseph C. Firey, Nansie Lou Follen, John Gallo, John B. Gardner, Jane F. Gelderman, Gary D. Gillespie, Tim Goeglein, Katharine A. Golden, Thad A. Goodwyn, Judith E. Haglund, Alene D. Haines, Weston N. Hammel, Elizabeth R. Harrigan, John H. Hearding, Daniel V. Hickey, Thomas Higgs, Gregory A. Hight, Thomas E. Humphreys, William Hutcheson, David Ihle, Arthur H. Ivey, Burleigh Jacobs, Louise Hinrichsen Jones, Fredric R. Joseph, Mary A. Kelley, Martin & Esther Kellogg, William H. Kelly, Lenore Kirkpatrick, Barbara M. Knox, Mary S. Kohler, Karen Kuhn, Bryon J. Kuntz, Leonard F. Leganza, William H. Lupton, Gregor MacDonald, George F. Manley, Howard S. Martin, Will K. McLain, Karen McNeil, Roberta R. McQuade, Eugene F. Meenagh, Woodbridge & Barbara R. Metcalf, Walter M. Moede, Ray D. Nelson, John M. Nickolaus, James P. O'Connell, Lester C. O'Quinn, King Odell, Harold K. Olson, Thomas L. Olson, Frederick D. Pfau, Gary Phillips, Gary J. Pressley, Melvin J. Ptacek, Linda R. Puzzio, Jack Rice, Mark Richter, Patrick L. Risch, David C. Robinson, Katherine Ross, Morris R. Scholz, Irene L. Schultz, Harry Richard Schumache, Richard L. Sega, Alvan I. Shane, William A. Shipley, David L. Smith, Paul Sopko, John R. Stevens, Carl G. Stevenson, Norman Stewart, Norman Swender, Paul B. Thompson, Frank Villani, Alan Rufus Waters, Eugene & Diane Watson, Jane L. Wegener, Joe Wentzky, James J. Whelan, Cedric White, Robert C. Whitten, Robert L. Wichterman, Gaylord T. Willett, Eric B. Wilson, David Winnes, Piers Woodriff, W. Raymond Worman, Chris Yunker.

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Timothy S. Goeglein

Timothy S. Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to “Helping Families Thrive.” Its web site is at
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