Despicable is too kind a word to describe Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
Some called him a cold-blooded killer. The state of Pennsylvania agreed with that description when they convicted the doctor on 3 counts of first-degree murder for slaughtering newborn babies and for the death of a woman who overdosed on painkillers following her abortion while under Gosnell’s care.
Gosnell catered to poor, immigrant, minority women in an impoverished section of West Philadelphia. He practiced his trade in disgusting conditions; his abortion clinic was described as a filthy, foul-smelling house of horrors. When authorities raided his clinic, they found jars of aborted fetuses scattered throughout the building as decorations, apparently serving no medical purpose. One jar contained a pair of severed feet. Another baby’s body was found frozen in a 1-gallon bottle of spring water. Cats were roaming freely in the office and the air was filled with the stench of cat urine. Blood stains freckled the furniture and blankets. Authorities additionally determined that medical instruments were not properly sterilized and that disposable medical supplies had been used repeatedly on different patients. Regulatory oversight agencies were blamed for a total collapse of their duties, as prosecutors proved that Gosnell’s clinic should have been shut down due to its horrific working conditions years before the tragedies occurred.
Dr. Gosnell’s wife, Pearl, a cosmetologist who helped her husband perform illegal abortions, was found guilty of assisting in deliveries of illegal late-term abortions and sentenced to 7 to 23 months in prison.
Gosnell got his MD from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and he was board certified in family practice. He began a residency in obstetrics/gynecology, but never finished the program. He was accused of performing abortions other doctors would not do—that is, late-term abortions. In the state of Pennsylvania, abortions are illegal after 24 weeks. Most doctors won’t perform them after 20 weeks because of the potential risks involved. In general, late-term abortions are grisly. Typically, the fetus is dismembered in the uterus and then removed in pieces. A less-common technique is the partial-birth abortion, in which case the fetus is partially extracted before being destroyed.
Most all the time, Dr. Gosnell used illegal late-term abortion techniques on women who were more than 24 weeks pregnant. He would first deliver a baby alive, still breathing, moving, whimpering, and squirming. He would then kill the still-viable baby by cutting into the back of its neck with a scissors, severing the spinal cord. Gosnell referred to his barbaric process as “snipping.” It was determined that Gosnell’s motivation was a simple matter of greed. He’d charge up to $3000 for illegal late-term abortions. Word got around the street, and desperate and despondent woman flocked to the doctor’s office; at its peak, the clinic was taking in $10,000 to $15,000 a day. In one instance, an abortion was performed on a 17-year-old woman who was nearly 7 months pregnant; labor was induced and the birth weight was close to 6 pounds. Gosnell heartlessly remarked that the baby was big enough to “walk me to the bus stop.”
First Accused of Operating a Drug Mill
But let’s take a step back for a moment. Incredibly, Gosnell’s illegal abortion practices were discovered during an unrelated investigation of Gosnell for prescription drug trafficking. Suspicions arose from the sheer volume of the frequently abused controlled substances Gosnell prescribed. You could have called Gosnell’s medical practice “drug addict central.” Gosnell’s clinic was smack in the middle of a poverty-stricken section of West Philadelphia and the location was no accident; Gosnell was a prolific prescriber of the addictive painkiller oxycodone. And business was brisk. Authorities alleged that his clinic, called Women’s Medical Society, was running a prescription pill mill. He allegedly engaged in an ongoing criminal enterprise where he would not only prescribe but also dispense fraudulent prescriptions for such often-abused drugs as Percocet® (acetaminophen and oxycodone), OxyContin® (oxycodone HCI), and Xanax® (alprazolam). He was accused of abusive and fraudulent prescriptions of frequently abused syrups such as Phenergan® (promethazine HCI) and promethazine with codeine. Gosnell and certain staff members were also accused of allowing patients to purchase multiple prescriptions of painkillers under different names. At the time, around 2008, the doctor was charging $115 for an office visit, and that fee escalated to $150 per visit by 2010. Coincidently, Gosnell and his staff wrote several hundred prescriptions a month during 2008, which increased to over 2300 prescriptions per month by 2010. In all, Gosnell’s clinic reportedly prescribed over 500,000 oxycodone pills, over 400,000 alprazolam pills, and over 19,000 ounces of codeine-laced cough syrup.
A joint investigation for illegal prescription drug distribution conducted by the DEA, Philadelphia Dangerous Drug-Offender Unit, FBI, and Philadelphia Police Department ensued. It was not until Dr. Gosnell’s office was raided by the FBI and Pennsylvania state troopers for his illegal prescription drug operation that evidence of his illegal abortion operation was first noted by authorities. His clinic would soon be the focal point of another investigation for routinely killing viable babies following illegal late-term abortions.
The doctor was charged with 8 counts of murder: 7 counts of first-degree murder for killing 7 babies born alive, and 1 count of third-degree murder for the death of a 41-year-old refugee woman from Bhutan, who died of an overdose of painkillers following her abortion while still under Gosnell’s care. In addition, Gosnell was charged with 21 felony counts for illegal late-term abortions, and over 200 counts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law.During the trial, staff members testified that they witnessed or assisted Dr. Gosnell as he delivered numerous babies “born alive,” and that they saw the babies move and cry after a complete birth as Dr. Gosnell proceeded to snip the back of their necks to sever their spines, thus terminating the newborns’ lives. This testimony confirmed that the doctor violated the fetus rights and “born alive” laws that protect babies immediately upon being born alive, which therefore made Gosnell’s baby killings unlawful, constituting murder.
Dr. Gosnell’s case drew much attention from both anti-abortion activists as well as abortion rights groups. Both sides wanted to use the case to prove their points. The anti-abortion camp wanted to illustrate the immorality of all abortions, which they view as murder; and secondly, they wanted to illustrate the need for stricter control and regulation of abortion clinics. Meanwhile, the abortion rights camp wanted to show that abortion must be treated as a public health issue and not a religious issue, and that it must be made more readily available, cost should not be an issue, and patient safety should be paramount. They pointed out that if these changes didn’t occur, more desperate women would be driven to “back-alley” practitioners such as Dr. Gosnell; they argued that such action would put people like Gosnell out of business.
The doctor’s attorney unsuccessfully argued that Gosnell snipped through the necks of fetuses that were already dead. Gosnell’s lawyer also unsuccessfully asserted that Karnamaya Mongar, the woman who died of a drug overdose, had additional drugs in her system that did not come from Gosnell’s clinic, and it was those drugs that were the cause of her death, not an overdose of the potent painkiller Gosnell gave her post-abortion. Additionally, the FBI charged Gosnell and 7 members of his staff with drug conspiracy for the clinic’s illegal prescription painkiller practices.
Gosnell abused the medical system for some 32 years before he was stopped. During that time, at least 46 lawsuits were filed against him but he continued to practice and flourish. It was duly noted that there was a complete failure by Pennsylvania regulators who overlooked repeated concerns brought to their attention. The trial brought to light the clinic’s unsanitary operations, which made any type of treatment dangerous for patients; the use of untrained, unlicensed staff; the illegal prescribing and dispensing of powerful drugs without proper medical supervision and control; and murder in the first degree. Very little evidence existed and many charges couldn’t stick because Gosnell had destroyed most of his files before the raid on his Women’s Medical Society; therefore, most of the case focused on testimony from former staff members.
Here are just some of the horrors the trial revealed:
- Women’s Medical Society was nothing short of an abortion mill
- For decades, hundreds of “snippings” occurred at the clinic, not only the ones performed by Dr. Gosnell but also some performed by untrained staff, including administrators who operated with the doctor’s blessing in his absence
- One clinic employee testified that he alone had snipped the spines of more than 100 infants after they had been born alive, and that this was considered standard procedure at the clinic
- Anesthesia was frequently dispensed by employees who were neither legally permitted nor trained to do so, including a 15-year-old high school student who worked at the clinic
- One baby was moving and breathing for 20 minutes after its birth before an assistant came in and cut its spinal cord
- A civil lawsuit was filed against the doctor in 2000. The child of one patient called the clinic the day after an abortion to report heavy bleeding; the woman died 3 days later of a perforated uterus and a bloodstream infection. Gosnell failed to tell the woman to return to the clinic for treatment or to seek immediate emergency medical care; Gosnell settled out of court for $900,000
Gosnell was found guilty of murdering 3 babies born alive in his abortion clinic. In addition, Gosnell was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Karmamaya Mongar. Facing execution, Gosnell copped a plea bargain that waived his right to appeal the first-degree murder convictions, and he avoided the death penalty. Dr. Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Percocet, Oxycontin, Xanax, and Phenergan are registered trademarks of their respective manufacturers.
- Doctor Kermit Gosnell found guilty of murdering infants in late-term abortions. Fox News website. May 13, 2013. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/05/13/jury-split-on-2-counts-in-trial-abortion-doctor-kermit-gosnell.
- Friedersdorf C. Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s trial should be a front-page story. The Atlantic website. April 12, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/why-dr-kermit-gosnells-trial-should-be-a-front-page-story/274944.
- Gabriel T. Doctor avoids death penalty in murders at his clinic. New York Times website. May 14, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/us/doctor-avoids-death-penalty-in-murders-at-clinic.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes .
- Hurdle J. Doctor starts his life term in grisly abortion clinic case. New York Times website. May 15, 2013.http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/us/kermit-gosnell-abortion-doctor-gets-life-term.html?_r=0.