Kermit Gosnell in the Cone of Silence

January-February 2018By Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the 17th century.

Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer.  By Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer. Regnery Publishing. 347 pages. $27.99.



In this account of the grand-jury investigation of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion practice and his subsequent trial for murder, authors Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer show how legions of doctors, health agencies, judges, lawyers, and reporters colluded to keep the case from doing any real damage to the abortion establishment. These professionals portrayed Gosnell as a “rogue” operator, for fear that women of color in inner cities might lack easy means to dispose of their offspring. But Gosnell was not a rogue abortionist; he was a very useful tool of today’s eugenicists who, following in the footsteps of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, want to prevent the “unfit” from breeding. An African American himself, Gosnell performed up to 1,000 abortions a year on women who were “local, minority, and poor.”

There are many abortionists just like Gosnell. They are the Judas goats of the stockyard who lead lambs to the slaughter while their own lives are spared. That is why there was a silent conspiracy among so many agents of the “culture of death” to protect Gosnell for three decades while he killed inner-city babies with impunity — a silence that would last to and through his indictment by a grand jury.

Gosnell’s abortion clinic in West Philadelphia was first raided on February 18, 2010, to “bust a prescription drug mill,” write McElhinney and McAleer. Gosnell would sign up to 200 scripts a night for his clients, some of whom were drug dealers and addicts. His main occupation, though, was to perform abortions.

During the drug investigation, it surfaced that Karnamaya Mongar, 41, had died in Gosnell’s clinic in 2009 from an overdose of Demerol and other pain killers. She had been given too much medication by untrained staff without a doctor present. Moreover, it took the paramedics 47 minutes to get her out of the building because the place was inaccessible to their stretcher and the emergency door was chained shut and blocked by furniture. The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) never followed up on the report of Mongar’s death.

Detectives involved in the drug raid were overwhelmed by the filthy “house of horrors” they found. Two flea-infested cats roamed freely even in the procedure room, using the entire building as their litter box. Clients sat in dirty, bloodstained recliners, and most of the equipment was old and broken. The blood-pressure monitor didn’t work; neither did the sterilizer for abortion instruments. A worker who had AIDS washed instruments by hand, and plastic curettes that cost about a dollar each were re-used for multiple abortions, spreading sexual diseases. It was learned later, during the grand-jury proceedings, that in 1997 a pediatrician had “hand-delivered a complaint” to the DOH regarding two girls he had referred to Gosnell for abortions who returned with a “sexually transmitted parasite” they hadn’t had before. The DOH ignored his complaint.

Uneducated, unlicensed staff members administered anesthesia before abortions, including medicines past their expiration dates. Toilets were backed up with fetal remains. More fetal remains were found in the garbage disposal of a sink. There were also refrigerators and freezers full of fetal remains. At Gosnell’s trial, however, the defense attorney argued that this is the industry norm for an inner-city abortion clinic. It soon became clear that Gosnell had been performing many, if not most, of his abortions past Pennsylvania’s legal limit of 23-and-a-half weeks. His workers explained that he manipulated ultrasounds to make babies look smaller and younger.

Renee Cardwell Hughes, the African-American judge who presided over the racially mixed grand jury, was “a passionate advocate for abortion.” She was determined that the grand jury’s report not indict the abortion industry. She made sure the report omitted the fact that an inspector from the National Abortion Federation called Gosnell’s clinic “the worst facility she had ever seen” — something the inspector didn’t report to the DOH or the Department of State (DOS).

During the grand-jury proceedings, there was a “near universal unwillingness” among doctors to assist the prosecutors. The doctors would hang up on them or curse them out. Planned Parenthood’s people knew all about Gosnell, but the topic was taboo in their circles because they feared the negative publicity would damage “unfettered access to abortion.” On January 14, 2011, the grand jury’s report came out, declaring that 47 babies aborted by Gosnell could have been killed after a live birth. Their brains were intact, so there had been no partial-birth abortion, but they had been stabbed in the nape to sever their spinal cords. Gosnell’s workers explained that he routinely induced live births and then he or one of his staff would use scissors to kill the babies. This amounted to serial infanticide. “Baby Boy A,” who was born on July 12, 2008, about ten weeks past the state’s legal abortion limit, lived for 20 minutes and curled up in a fetal position before he was killed. Impressed by his size, two workers had taken photos of him.

Kareema Cross, who worked for Gosnell from 2005 to 2009, said they aborted hundreds of babies who were past the legal limit and were seen to move and breathe outside the womb. The really “big ones” were aborted on Sundays, when only Gosnell and his wife were present, and they secretly disposed of their bodies. Gosnell could have been charged with several dozen murders if the files of the second-trimester abortions had not “disappeared.” In the end, the grand jury recommended that Gosnell be charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and with third-degree murder in the case of Karnamaya Mongar.

The grand jury’s report included “a scathing rebuke” of the local and state agencies that had “failed to do their jobs,” especially the DOH, which is funded by taxpayers to inspect and supervise abortion clinics. But they were not failing to do their job; they were, in fact, doing their job very well — providing protection for the abortion industry in one of its most treasured markets, the inner city.

Although Gosnell had not completed an ob-gyn residency and was working alone without a registered nurse, which is against the law, DOH inspectors had recommended that his license be renewed in 1989, 1992, and 1993. After 1994 inspections ceased for 17 years because Pennsylvania’s pro-abortion Republican governor Tom Ridge, a Catholic, had campaigned on the promise of not putting “more barriers to women seeking abortions.”

In 1996 and 1999 there were botched abortions at Gosnell’s abortuary but no DOH or DOS investigations. In 2001 a former worker reported the terrible conditions to the DOS, but, again, nothing was done. In 2002 and 2003 the family of Semika Shaw received a settlement of almost a million dollars because of her wrongful death in 2000 at the age of 22 following an abortion at Gosnell’s clinic. Even though the autopsy showed Gosnell was responsible — Semika died from infection and sepsis two days after Gosnell perforated her uterus and cervix — the DOH failed to investigate. In 2007 the medical examiner reported that a 14-year-old girl had had an abortion at Gosnell’s clinic — her baby was well over 30 weeks. Again, the DOH did nothing. In 2009 the DOH failed to investigate when a woman had her cervix, uterus, and bowel torn during an abortion at Gosnell’s clinic.

Gosnell’s trial started on March 18, 2013, before a mixed-race jury that was “very pro-abortion,” write McElhinney and McAleer. Both the defense and prosecution had excluded pro-lifers as incapable of objectivity. Photographic evidence was a turning point for many of the jurors, who saw “so many graphic, gory images projected on the courtroom wall.” Gosnell’s guilt hinged on whether the babies had “breathed or moved” before he cut their spinal cords, and it was found that at least some of them had. An ob-gyn testified that a baby at 23 weeks has a 40 to 50 percent chance of survival outside the womb. She said that whenever a baby she was in the process of aborting was born alive, she would allow him to die from neglect, which, she said, is “standard medical practice.” The jury did not buy the defense’s argument that Gosnell was the victim of an “elitist, racist prosecution.” They took nine days to return a guilty verdict, and in the end Gosnell received a life sentence without parole.

At the start of the trial, there was a media blackout. The national press treated it as a “local story” and didn’t devote any front-page space to it. The rare story that did appear had a pro-abortion spin and presented the DOH and DOS as the guilty parties for not stopping Gosnell. Politicians were likewise very quiet. Eventually the “old media was dragged into covering the story by social media,” and on April 11, 2013, political analyst Kirsten Powers broke the silence with a column in USA Today.

In the end, the abortion industry emerged unscathed from the trial of “America’s most prolific serial killer.”



DOSSIER: Abortion

DOSSIER: Pro-Life Issues & Culture of Death



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