Philadelphia trial agitates abortion debate
PHILADELPHIA — There was no shortage of red flags about what was allegedly going on in the three-story brick building on a bustling stretch of Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia.
A routine inspection of Kermit Gosnell's abortion clinic had turned up problems as early as 1989, according to official reports. More recently, hospital workers and attorneys had repeatedly contacted state health officials with disturbing reports about women who had contracted the same venereal disease after visiting the clinic; a 14-year-old girl who had had an illegal abortion at 30 weeks of pregnancy; and a 41-year-old Virginia woman who had died after an abortion.
But it wasn't until 2010, when authorities raided the clinic over its distribution of painkillers, that authorities uncovered evidence that led to Gosnell's capital murder trial, which started in March. Gosnell faces seven first-degree murder charges resulting from the deaths of babies whose spinal cords he allegedly severed after they were born alive. He is charged with third-degree murder in the death of the Virginia woman, Karnamaya Mongar.
The prosecution rested Thursday after weeks of testimony from former employees who reported seeing babies moving and breathing after they were delivered. Gosnell or other workers would then cut their necks, the witnesses said. Jurors also heard about the allegedly unsanitary conditions from Mongar's relatives.
A former clinic worker who grew up in Mt. Lebanon testified on Thursday that he routinely saw babies born and then killed with scissors in an inner-city Philadelphia clinic that catered to minorities, the poor and women with late-term pregnancies.
Unlicensed doctor Stephen Massof thought clinic owner Dr. Kermit Gosnell was trying to help vulnerable women seeking abortions.
Massof awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to third-degree murder for two infant deaths.
Gosnell's attorney has said that no live births took place and that Mongar suffered from respiratory problems. Gosnell could face the death penalty if convicted.
The case has captivated and repulsed a nation where back-alley abortion clinics have become a rarity since 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion. The catalogue of horrors delineated by prosecutors has raised questions about whether there is adequate inspection and regulation of the 1,800 facilities nationwide that provide abortions.
The rules governing abortion clinics vary widely by state and invariably become tangled in the issue's incendiary politics, with supporters of abortion rights often complaining they are too onerous and abortion foes calling for ever-stricter guidelines.
Abortion rights advocates note that Pennsylvania has strict laws governing abortion clinics but that they were not enforced. They say Gosnell's case is rare and that abortions are among the safest of medical procedures.
But abortion foes say the case has been a wake-up call about the lack of oversight and the potential for abuse in abortion facilities.
“This is our Sandy Hook,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, an antiabortion activist group, referring to the mass shooting in Connecticut that led to unprecedented calls for gun regulations. “Because of Gosnell, I am hoping and praying and working toward raising the public awareness that abortion mills need to be regulated, inspected, licensed, at the very least like your local breakfast place.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has called the lack of oversight by state officials “despicable.” He fired or suspended some workers for negligence after the grand jury investigation, and others have resigned. Corbett announced that abortion clinics throughout the state would be subject to annual inspections, as well as periodic unannounced visits.
Activists on both sides of the issue say the conditions inside Gosnell's clinic were the worst they've seen. He is accused of a litany of atrocities at the West Philadelphia Women's Medical Society, including his “snipping” technique, in which he allegedly severed the spines of babies who had been born during abortion procedures. Fetal remains apparently were stored in jugs and bags, and authorities described the clinic as filthy. Cats were permitted to roam freely inside.
About half of states — most Republican — have specific rules that apply to abortion clinics, while the rest hold abortion providers to the same standards as other medical professionals, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights think tank. Some states require providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Others have strict staffing and construction rules.
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.
- Propane, oil prices expected to be lower over winter
- Ex-coal CEO Blankenship talks safety in secretly recorded calls
- Stocks up before earnings reports
- Dell buying EMC in a transaction valued at about $67 billion
- Sagging inflation expected to rule out Social Security cost-of-living adjustment
- El Niño storms might not be savior for Calif.
- Half Moon Bay contest dubs 1,969-pound pumpkin the plumpest
- Army budget cuts stretch forces thin, threaten readiness, secretary says during conference
- Community lines streets as students return to class in Roseburg
- Drug overdose suspected in death of New York doctor found in lobby
- Damage from trillions of gallons of rain in week will cost S.C. over $1B