Gosnell Trial Highlights Media and Regulatory Failure to React to Abortion Abuses


Kermit Gosnell
Kermit Gosnell (photo: Wikipedia)

Editor's Note:  On Register Radio April 19, Jeanette De Melo spoke with Register blogger and correspondent Matt Archbold, who has covered the Gosnell Trial.  The show airs Fridays at 2 pm Eastern on EWTN Radio stations with encores at 7pm Eastern on Saturdays and 11am Eastern on Sundays.  Listen online here.

PHILADELPHIA — Body parts in orange juice cartons and cat food tins. Jars of severed baby feet in the closet. Bags of medical waste, seeping blood and a foul stench. Foot stirrups caked in dried blood. Dirty and unsanitary medical instruments.

Most horrifying of all, hundreds of newborns with their throats slit, their skulls crushed and their spines cut from their heads with scissors. And government officials, inspectors and proponents of abortion rights were all aware that something was terribly wrong, but did nothing.

This is not a description of a Third World war zone. This is evidence from the ongoing trial of Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist charged with the murder of a 41-year-old woman and seven newborn infants at the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia.

Besides being the tale of a bloody house of horrors, pro-life observers say, it is a damning indictment of government-regulated abortion on demand in America today, as well as a case study of media inattention to the grave harm caused by the abortion industry.

As the Gosnell trial entered its fifth week Monday, after an outpouring of criticism for failing to report its appalling testimony, mainstream media began filling the reserved press gallery that had sat empty for the first month of the trial.

J.D. Mullane, a reporter with PhillyBurbs.com, commented about the de facto national media blackout of the first part of Gosnell’s trial in an April 14 commentary titled “What I Saw at the Gosnell Trial.”

Describing the situation the previous Thursday, Mullane noted that even though court staff had set aside three rows of seats to accommodate up to 40 reporters, he was the only reporter seated there. Several local journalists were present elsewhere in the courtroom, but the only national media presence came by way of brief appearances by reporters from The Associated Press and The New York Times.

“The lack of daily media coverage for the most sensational abortion trial angers pro-lifers who said there is a ‘media black out’ on the Gosnell trial,” Mullane commented. “I asked one of the court staff why so few are interested. ‘If you’re pro-choice, do you really want anybody to know about this?’ he said, motioning to the filthy medical equipment set up in the courtroom.

“It’s a good point,” Mullane continued. “As saturation coverage of the Sandy Hook elementary school coverage has caused Americans to reconsider the limits of the Second Amendment, saturation coverage of Kermit Gosnell’s clinic would likely cause the same reconsideration of abortion rights. The details are that horrifying.”

Any trial so sensational would ordinarily get ample national coverage, other observers noted, as criticism of the lack of media attention widened beyond Philadelphia.

“Its real news value lies in what it says about the artificial lines we draw in the name of protecting a woman’s ‘right to privacy,’” commented an April 14 editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader. “It is okay to forcibly, brutally end one baby’s life, but not another’s. This trial provokes the obvious question: Why? For too many reporters, it is a question they don’t want to think about.”


A Scary Picture

Gosnell himself had not yet taken the stand as this article was published, but the picture emerging of the 72-year-old Philadelphia native is scary. The criminal investigation that resulted in the murder charges stemmed from allegations of improperly prescribing highly addictive mood-altering drugs like Oxycontin; Gosnell operated his abortion business mostly in the evening, showing up sometimes as late as 10pm to do abortions.

The abortionist took in an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 a night, charging mainly poor women fees of $1,600 to $3,000 for illegal late abortions. He reserved the latest-term abortions for Sundays, when the only staff member present was his third wife, Pearl Gosnell.

The first weeks of the trial included testimonies from former employees of Gosnell, eight of whom have pled guilty to charges and another who will be tried separately. Steven Edward Massof, a graduate of a medical school in Grenada who was not licensed to practice medicine in Pennsylvania but worked at Gosnell’s abortion facility between 2003 and 2008, described his job to the court last week.

He would insert needles into the women’s abdomens, attempting to pierce their unborn babies’ hearts with the heart medication digoxin. It was a “good shot” if the heart stopped beating. The women were given drugs to induce labor, and the rest of the time he spent monitoring “precipitous births” — a term staff used for babies delivered prematurely. Sometimes, Massof said, the facility was so busy “it was raining fetuses.”

“I felt like a fireman in hell. I couldn’t put out all the fires,” Massof told the court. “I would run around with scissors.” The scissors were for cutting umbilical cords and the babies’ spines at the fleshy part of their necks. “We call it a trans-section, but it’s literally a beheading, because you’re separating the brain from the body,” he explained.

Sherry West, another Gosnell worker, recalled an 18- to 24-inch baby “screaming” during its live-birth abortion “like a little alien.”


Untrained and Unsupervised Staff

The 41-year-old murder victim is Karnamaya Mongar, a recent refugee to the United States from Nepal. When she went to the Women’s Medical Society in November 2009, Gosnell was not there, as usual, according to the grand jury report of the investigation into his misconduct.

The report read, “Office workers had her sign various forms that she could not read and then began doping her. She received repeated unmonitored, unrecorded intravenous injections of Demerol, a sedative seldom used in recent years because of its dangers. Gosnell liked it because it was cheap.”

Mongar died of a Demerol overdose.

Another witness called to the stand last week was Ashley Baldwin, whose mother worked for Gosnell and who was first hired by him when she was 15 years old to do paperwork. Investigators learned that Baldwin was soon “trained” like all of his other unqualified office workers to administer dangerous sedatives and drugs to induce labor.

It was teenaged Baldwin who hand-wrote a color-coded anesthesia chart in the waiting room. “Local,” “Heavy Twilight” and “Custom” were the choices, which offered increasing doses of narcotic drugs, according to the levels of unconsciousness patients wanted. “It will probably be best to pay the extra money and be more comfortable,” advised a pamphlet, especially if “your decision has been forced by your parents or partner.”

By the time she was 18 and still a full-time high-school student, Baldwin told investigators, she was working 50 hours a week at the clinic, sometimes until 2am or later, and many times alone, when up to 20 women were at the clinic “precipitating” babies and waiting for Gosnell. Asked who was in charge those evenings, she answered: “Me.”


Failure to Act

But the Gosnell story is not just about appalling practices at the abortion facility. It’s also about government employees who were repeatedly confronted with evidence — maimed girls in hospitals, late-term fetuses, sexually transmitted diseases, even deaths — but failed to act. Gosnell was only apprehended when police raided his offices to seize evidence of his illegal prescriptions.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams declared, “The complete regulatory collapse that occurred here is so inexcusable.”

Williams named names and catalogued the opportunities that these officials had to stop the carnage that was taking place in Gosnell’s facility.

“Worth special mention is Janice Staloski of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, who personally participated in the 1992 site visit, but decided to let Gosnell slide on the violations that were already evident then,” he said. “She eventually rose to become director of the division that was supposed to regulate abortion providers, but never looked at Gosnell, despite specific complaints from lawyers, a doctor and a medical examiner. After she was nonetheless promoted, her successor as division director, Cynthia Boyne, failed to order an investigation of the clinic, even when Karnamaya Mongar died there.”

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge’s pro-abortion politics were cited for halting abortion business inspections, which were seen as “‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased, even though, as Gosnell proved, that meant both women and babies would pay.”

A number of lawyers at the Pennsylvania Department of State are also named in the grand jury report for having dismissed a growing pile of evidence as immaterial “until the facts hit the fan” or, in the case of the agency’s head lawyer, Christine Dutton, allegedly brushing them off by saying, “People die.”


National Abortion Federation

Perhaps the most concrete of all the missed opportunities to stop Gosnell’s horrors was the inaction by the National Abortion Federation, an association of abortion providers. An unnamed “evaluator” from NAF spent two days in Gosnell’s facility in 2009, reviewing his operation when he sought membership in the organization. She noted numerous serious violations, including that unqualified personnel were administering dangerous drugs, and refused his application.

“It was the worst abortion clinic [the evaluator] had ever inspected,” the grand jury report said. “Of course, she rejected Gosnell’s application. She just never told anyone in authority about all the horrible, dangerous things she had seen.”

Last week, NAF issued a statement on Gosnell, saying his facility is “not typical of the high-quality abortion care provided by NAF members” and noting that his application was rejected. NAF did not mention, however, that its evaluator did not say a word to authorities after she had been granted the opportunity to assess the facility and had been alerted to the clear and present danger it posed to the impoverished women who went there to obtain abortions.

The grand jury report said the collective inaction by those who knew about the problems at Gosnell’s facility occurred “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.”

The report recommended the Pennsylvania Department of Health “plug the hole it has created for abortion clinics” and regulate them so they are “held to the same standards as all other outpatient procedure centers.”


Shifting the Blame

NAF declined to return phone calls or answer emails from the Register last week, but it clearly disagrees that inadequate regulation is a problem facing the abortion industry.

Even as the details of Gosnell’s horrors were being disclosed in court April 12, NAF's president. Vicky Saporta, complained on her blog about new regulations in Virginia requiring abortion businesses to meet the same safety regulations as other health providers.

“There is no evidence that unnecessary regulations like these do anything to improve patient safety,” Saporta said, adding that she was “disappointed” that state authorities had “succumbed to political pressure and once again placed political considerations ahead of women’s health and well-being.”

In an April 16 Weekly Standard blog post, Michael Warren commented about the collective refusal of abortion activists to acknowledge NAF’s failure to respond adequately after it learned about Gosnell’s unacceptable conduct.

“Undoubtedly, many or even most pro-choice activists are disgusted by the ghastly details of what Gosnell did over several years to young, poor women and their born-alive infants,” Warren said. “But it doesn’t serve their cause, nor does it reflect well on it, when they ignore the fact that a major pro-abortion organization failed to even try to alert the authorities about these atrocities.”

Celeste McGovern writes from Scotland.