Abortionist on Trial: Dr. Kermit Gosnell
The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which is charged with regulating healthcare facilities in the Commonwealth, had not inspected Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s clinic at 3801 Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia in more than fifteen years. News of the death of Karnamaya Mongar after a botched abortion at the facility led to no action. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Department of State, which regulates medicine and doctors within the Commonwealth, also failed to investigate Gosnell.
It required a drug investigation to uncover Gosnell’s grisly abortion practice. On February 18, 2010, the clinic was raided by a federal/state task force investigating the sales of prescriptions for OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, Phenergan, and Promethazine, which were originating from Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society. Law enforcement officers invited investigators from the Pennsylvania Departments of State and of Health to participate in the raid.
Officers entered the clinic and found “blood on the floor” and “cat feces on the stairs.” Semi-conscious women “were moaning in the waiting room or recovery room covered with blood-stained blankets and they had been sedated by unlicensed staff,” the Grand Jury Report stated. “Two surgical procedure rooms were filthy and unsanitary,” the report also claimed.
Fetal remains were everywhere: in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons, cat food containers, the refrigerator, and the freezer. Many of the bags were found completely full and piled high in the basement. Numerous jars contained severed baby feet. There was the smell of cat urine, as well as a more horrible stench, most likely from the exposed remains.
Gosnell was arrested in January 2011 and charged with a total of 258 counts that included the murder of seven live-born infants and the death of abortion patient, Karnamaya Mongar. Twenty-four of his charges were counts of performing late-term abortions and corrupting the morals of a minor, and 227 were of violating Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act by failing to follow the 24-hour waiting period law.
Most of Gosnell’s clinic staff, including his wife, were also charged with crimes, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for testimony against him.
The Philadelphia doctor performed late-term abortions for many years in a manner that sometimes resulted in live births. When a procedure resulted in a live birth, either Gosnell or a member of his staff would puncture a hole in the back of the newborn’s neck and then sever the spinal cord. The Grand Jury Report stated that Gosnell may be responsible for the deaths of many more live-born infants than the seven for which he was indicted.
Cheryl Sullenger attended the Gosnell trial for three non-consecutive weeks as a correspondent for Operation Rescue, one of the “leading pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation,” according to the group’s website. This Gazette reporter interviewed Sullenger, who also functions as a Senior Policy Advisor for Operation Rescue, and asked why Gosnell was only charged with the murders of seven babies if the grand jury believed he was responsible for many more. Sullenger explained that prosecutors only “took cases to trial that had the best evidence. Cases with a photo of the body or the body itself and witness testimony were [the ones] prosecutors used.” She added, “The problem of estimating fetal age also complicated matters.” While the initial raid of the abortion clinic yielded no fewer than 45 bodies, “other fetal remains in the clinic disappeared along with many of the patient files before officers came back for them,” she stated.
Testimony from Gosnell’s staff, including photos they took of larger babies and ultrasound images, as well as the Coroner’s examination of the 45 fetuses seized in the February 18th, 2010 raid, all proved crucial to the prosecution. The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act prohibits abortions after 24 weeks gestation. Gosnell performed hundreds of late-term abortions, with possibly as many as 20 percent being illegal.
From day one of the trial, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore informed the jury that abortion is legal in Pennsylvania until week 24 of the pregnancy, but that Gosnell specialized in “high-volume, high-profit” illegal late-term abortions that “almost guarantee a live birth.” She added, “If a baby is born alive, it’s alive and no one has the right to take some solution to kill it.”
The seven infants that Gosnell was charged with murdering were known only as Babies A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The judge ultimately ended up dropping some of these murder charges before the jury was to deliberate. Gosnell performed some abortions so late in the pregnancy that the baby could have survived independent of the mother.
Clinic employees Ashley Baldwin (a teenager) and Adrienne Moton were so startled by the size of Baby Boy A that they took pictures with their cell phones. He was estimated to be 29.4 weeks gestation. Baby C, at 25 weeks gestation, was breathing after the failed abortion attempt and employee Kareema Cross described the up and down chest movements she saw, which went on for 20 minutes, also noting that the baby moved its arm before fellow staff member Ms. Williams cut the baby’s spinal cord. Baby D was 12 to 15 inches long when he was delivered into a toilet. Cross testified that she saw the child use swimming motions in an attempt to get out of the toilet bowl. Moton cut the spinal cord as Gosnell had instructed her. When Baby E was delivered, Baldwin heard it cry and called Cross for help. Gosnell went into the room and came out with the baby, which now had an incision in the back of its neck. He tossed the infant into the waste bin.
One wonders at the state of mind of those who would continue to work for Gosnell. Sullenger reported what was proven in court about Gosnell’s employees: “They had a low educational level and two of Gosnell’s staff, Sherry West and Ms. Williams, had mental health issues.”
Besides killing infants, Gosnell also endangered his patients, the worst case being the previously mentioned Karnamaya Mongar, who died as a result of his reckless practices. Equipment legally required in an abortion clinic to save lives when a procedure goes awry had been broken for six years, according to one of Gosnell‘s employees. The halls were strewn with patient files and debris. When emergency medical professionals arrived for Mongar it took 20 minutes to get her out the emergency door because it was locked, and the fifteen-year-old girl who was looking after the patients in recovery could not find the key. Mongar died from an overdose of Demerol, an anesthetic medication administered by Gosnell’s untrained, unqualified staff, while the doctor wasn’t even present in the building. She might have been saved if the clinic had proper equipment and RNs in charge of patient care and recovery.
The grand jury reported several incidences of botched procedures where the patient was left alone and bleeding while Gosnell performed other abortions. Several endangered women were fortunate to be rescued by relatives. The report states that Gosnell botched abortions by perforating a woman’s bowel or uterus, by leaving fetal body parts inside the mother, and/or by sending women home without telling them they were injured or in danger.
On May 13, 2013, Gosnell was found guilty of the first-degree murder of three infants and the involuntary manslaughter of his patient Karnamaya Mongar. The jury also found Gosnell guilty of performing illegal abortions on fetuses of more than 24 weeks gestation, and of 210 counts of violating the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act’s
24-hour waiting period requirement.
The penalty phase of the case (the sentencing hearing) was slated to begin on May 21, 2013, where a new jury would determine whether the doctor would receive life in prison or the death penalty. However, on May 14, 2013, Gosnell struck a deal with the Philadelphia District Attorney to waive the right to appeal his case in return for three consecutive life sentences without parole instead of the death penalty. Given that Gosnell is 72, it is most likely that he would pass away in prison before exhausting all of his appeals, hence the deal, designed to save paperwork and taxpayer money. Gosnell will be spending the rest of his life at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center.