Kermit Gosnell, an abortion provider in West Philadelphia, is on trial for first-degree murder in the deaths of seven babies and third-degree murder in the 2009 death of Karnamaya Mongar, a patient at his Women’s Medical Society abortion clinic. If convicted of first-degree murder charges, Gosnell could face the death penalty.
Dave Andrusko has been covering the release of the grand jury report and the trial for National Right to Life News, with a series of articles appearing in the site’s “News Today” section. He reported that Gosnell is alleged to have delivered alive seven late-term babies and severed their spinal cords with surgical scissors. Gosnell is also being prosecuted for the death of Mrs. Mongar, who was allegedly given a lethal amount of anesthetics and painkillers by clinic staff members while she awaited an abortion.
Since the trial began, Gosnell’s defence has argued that none of the babies in question were born alive, contrary to testimony in the grand jury report, and that Mrs. Mongar died from complications unrelated to the abortion.
According to their report, members of the grand jury believed that Gosnell snipped the spinal cords of hundreds of infants born alive and that he was responsible for the deaths of two women. Gosnell faces only eight charges because, as the report concluded, the records have been destroyed. He will be tried separately in September on charges stemming from the drug probe that led to the clinic raid.
For months before law enforcement officers raided the clinic on February 18, 2010, Gosnell and the clinic had been under investigation by the federal and local authorities because of reports he was illegally dispensing prescriptions. The suspicious nature of Mrs. Mongar’s death and the conditions at the clinic came to light during the investigation, and so officials from the Pennsylvania Department of State and the Pennsylvania Department of Health were invited to accompany the officers on the raid.
No one from these departments had visited the clinic since 1993, even after the Department of Health had been informed of Mrs. Mongar’s death months earlier and even though the Department’s records on Gosnell’s dangerous practices date back to the 1980s.
The raid revealed the building, furniture and washroom facilities were filthy and foul-smelling; instruments were not properly sterilized; many medications were past the expiration date; equipment was in poor condition and outdated; and medical waste and fetal remains were stored throughout the building rather than collected by a licensed medical waste disposal company. The Philadelphia medical examiner confirmed that, of the 45 fetuses whose remains were found at the clinic, at least two—and probably three—had been viable.
The Pennsylvania Board of Medicine suspended Gosnell’s medical licence on February 22, 2010, and the state Department of Health filed papers to begin shutting down the clinic on March 12, 2010. On May 4 of that year, the Philadelphia District Attorney submitted the case to the grand jury. The trial began this month.
According to Pennsylvania’s abortion regulations, abortion facilities are required to have at least one doctor certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology on staff or as a consultant, and physicians must provide counselling about the abortion procedure. Minors require the consent of their parents or a judge; all women must wait 24 hours after their first visit to a clinic before having an abortion. Abortions cannot be performed after 24 weeks’ gestation. Second- and third-trimester abortions must be reported to the state Department of Health, and tissue from late-term abortions must be sent to a pathologist to confirm fetuses were not viable or born alive.
As well, women in the recovery room must be under constant supervision by a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse under the direction of a registered nurse or a physician. Resuscitation equipment and drugs must be ready for use and clinics must have doors, elevators and passages that enable patients to be carried on stretchers to street level.
According to the grand jury report, Gosnell ignored all these requirements.
Moreover, although Gosnell was not a certified obstetrician or gynecologist, he was the only licensed physician at the clinic and generally came to work hours after patients began to arrive. He did not determine accurate gestational ages and falsified gestational ages. Gosnell had a reputation for being a doctor who would perform abortions at any stage and charged more for an abortion the further along a woman’s pregnancy was. He also performed abortions forced on patients by a partner or parents.
Gosnell’s untrained, unlicensed and unsupervised staff members performed ultrasounds and administered drugs—with no regard to patients’ weight, health or risk factors—to induce labour and keep patients sedated. Patients were generally left unattended and often delivered their babies hours before Gosnell arrived. Gosnell ensured “fetal demise” by snipping the infants’ spinal cords. His staff regularly discharged patients before they were fully alert or able to walk.
Gosnell had a bad reputation in Philadelphia; community organizations providing referrals and information on sexual health services would not recommend his clinic to women seeking abortions. And in January 2010, Gosnell’s request for admission to the National Abortion Federation (NAF) was denied because an evaluator deemed that his clinic could not be brought into compliance with NAF standards. The grand jury noted that, even though the NAF’s “stated mission is to ensure safe, legal, and acceptable abortion care, and to promote health and justice for women,” the NAF did not report Gosnell to the authorities.
In “Abortion ‘House of Horrors’ reflected pro-Choice views on ending life,” an article published by the National Post, reporter Barbara Kay noted that conditions at Gosnell’s clinic were no secret but that, partly owing to pressure from pro-choice lobby group NARAL, the Pennsylvania Department of Health had stopped inspecting abortion clinics because “officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women seeking abortions.’”