West Philly abortion doctor's murder trial today
By The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013, 7:54 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA — If pioneering physician Kermit Gosnell set out to offer women safe, legal abortions in the 1970s, that's far from what drug investigators say they found inside his West Philadelphia clinic in 2010.
By then, Gosnell had gone years without Health department inspections, perhaps because state officials preferred a hands-off approach to a political misstep in the abortion quagmire.
The result, according to a grand jury report, is that Gosnell's patients received the equivalent of the back-alley abortions that advocates of legalized abortion had hoped to eradicate.
Gosnell, now 72, goes on trial on Monday for murder in the deaths of a female patient and seven babies allegedly born alive. Eight clinic workers charged with him have pleaded guilty, including his wife, a beautician accused of helping him perform stealth third-term abortions on Sundays.
Grisly clinic conditions
The devastating 2011 grand jury report describes nearly unfathomable conditions: fetal body parts stored in glass jars and staff refrigerators; filthy, bloodstained operating areas; women and teenagers maimed as Gosnell perforated a uterus or colon.
“Anybody walking into that clinic should have known immediately that it should have been shut down,” said Bernard Smalley, a lawyer for the family of Karnamaya Mongar, a 41-year-old refugee who died after being given too much anesthesia and pain medication during a 2009 abortion.
Philadelphia prosecutors accuse state and local authorities of turning a blind eye to laws requiring regular inspections. And they say the occasional complaints that trickled in, one after an earlier patient death, went nowhere.
“Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. ... 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,” said the 2011 grand jury report, released by the district attorney.
The case drew national attention and prompted state lawmakers to tighten clinic regulations.
Pennsylvania abortion clinics now have to meet the same standards of care required by ambulatory surgical facilities, and other states are adopting that rule.
Planned Parenthood and other providers complain that the cost of updating facilities to meet ambulatory clinic rules can be prohibitive and further restricts women's access to abortions.
Pennsylvania has required parental or judicial consent for minors, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on abortions after 24 weeks gestation.
The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights and tracks women's health laws, believes abortion foes are capitalizing on the Gosnell case. Pennsylvania's 2012 changes to the law occurred under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who opposes abortion.
“They're using the Gosnell example in the argument to promote clinic regulations,” policy analyst Elizabeth Nash said. “But in the past couple of years, the heat has been turned up under abortion restrictions in general.”
Despite the rules, which took effect in June, nearly all of the state's abortion centers have remained open, state health officials said.
Mongar had fled Bhutan and spent 19 years in refugee camps, some in Nepal, before arriving in the United States in 2008 with her husband and three children.
When she discovered she was pregnant, she went to a clinic in Virginia, where she lived, but was referred to Gosnell because she was in her second trimester. She was 19 weeks pregnant when her adult daughter took her to Gosnell's Women's Medical Center.
The thin, 4-foot-11 Mongar, who spoke no English, was allegedly given a lethal dose of Demerol and other drugs before Gosnell, the only licensed doctor on staff, ever arrived.
“She was older, with grown children and grandchildren, and that clearly was the basis for her decision to ... terminate the pregnancy,” said Smalley, who filed the family's civil suits against Gosnell, city health officials and others.
“If it's legal, people have an opportunity to pursue it if they believe it's in their best interest and in the best interest of their family, especially for my client, given all they had been through before they ever got to this country,” Smalley said.
‘A left-hand turn'
Smalley grew up in the same West Philadelphia neighborhood as Gosnell and recalls the Gosnell family's good reputation.
Gosnell earned kudos by returning to the area after medical school, when he could have set up shop in the suburbs. He worked out of a storefront he bought in the run-down Mantua section.
Gosnell came to operate under the radar, relying on unlicensed medical school graduates, untrained clerical staff and even a teen working after school to administer anesthesia and help perform abortions, usually on poor and immigrant women paying a few hundred dollars in cash, the grand jury found.
“At some point, he made a left-hand turn,” Smalley said. “But somebody should have known about it long before my client died.”
Gosnell also ran what federal drug investigators call a pill mill, allegedly making millions of dollars over the years by selling prescription painkillers to addicts, drug dealers and others.
Federal drug charges await him after the murder trial, which is expected to last for six to eight weeks.
“Even though everything points back to Gosnell himself, to me it's a mystery why so many people that he hired on as staff would be complicit in what he was doing,” said Thomas Shaheen, vice president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which opposes abortion.
“He was the one profiting, but it puzzles me that during that whole time and that whole tragedy, no one blew the whistle.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PSU gift failed ‘gut check’ for top open records officer
- Stricter Right-to-Know Law may have helped in PSU case, advocates for transparency argue
- Stricter Right-to-Know Law may have helped in PSU case, advocates argue
- Penn State to add cameras at main campus to enhance security
- Worst of winter storm expected to miss Pittsburgh
- Amish shooter’s mother finds comfort in forgiveness
- Suit: Marine’s body sent home to Pa. without heart