Dr. Kermit Gosnell's Horror Practice
By R. Tamara de Silva
April 13, 2013
Dr. Kermit Gosnell's illegal abortion practices such as killing babies born alive and performing an abortion on a 14 year old girl who was 30 weeks pregnant, as alleged in a grand jury report, are horrifying. I first read about this case in the NYT, but it has otherwise received scant national media attention. It seems that the same CNN that was obsessed with the Casey Anthony trial has gone on to obsess over the Jodi Arias trial. Or perhaps editorial boards and news editors do not want to run a story that mentions abortion-for whatever reason. Sex and scandal sell, ghoulish murders that do not involve guns, remarkably less so. But the story of Kermit Gosnell's medical practice, to the extent that it can be called this, is not an abortion story; it is a sordid tale of deliberate murders, concealment of crime and massive regulatory failure.
Abortion is perhaps the single most polarizing issue in American politics argued between the same parties along predictable lines. To frame the story of Dr. Gosnell's case as part of the abortion debate, although tempting, is to miss the fact that it is a human rights issue and a civil rights issue. Pro-choice advocates are not well cast by the story nor is the story done justice as an opportune trophy for the pro-life crowd. This is not an abortion story yet a much larger one than Trevon Martin, some selectively chosen missing teenager or much of what the main stream media obsesses on including at this point, Sandy Hook. According to the testimony contained within the grand jury report on Dr. Kermit Gosnell, many more lives have been deliberated killed than were lost in the last lunatic's tragic shooting spree.
If the facts are to be believed, the trial of Kermit Gosnell is nothing less than the indictment of several murders. Murder is murder and you need not inject politics into the matter. The murder of innocents ought to shock a conscience and the failure to do so is a separate and perhaps more troubling diagnosis. Wherever one may stand on the abortion issue and separately, what the government's role in that is or should be, the deliberate taking of a life that is born alive, without legal justification, is murder. It debases both sides of the abortion issue and evades reality to deny this.
The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act defines a human as "somebody who's been completely expelled from the mother and has either a heartbeat, pulsating cord, or is moving." Hence under federal law, it was murder for Kermit Gosnell to have killed many of the babies (by the accounts of one witness over one hundred), he killed because they were not just viable fetuses, they were human beings born alive.
Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act prohibits abortions past 24 weeks unless the mother's health is in jeopardy. It is illegal to kill a baby born alive and outside of the womb. At 24 weeks, fetuses are presumed viable and even if delivered early have a good prognosis. Of course, outside of the abortion setting, because fetus are presumed viable at 24 weeks, the medical standard of care for dealing with a pregnancy that threatens a mother's health or life is the inducement of labor or the performing of a c-section. A c-section preserves the mother's health and life and does not demand that the fetus be killed. Pennsylvania law requires a doctor to provide medical aid to living babies outside the womb.
According to the grand jury report, when law enforcement raided Kermit Gosnell's office on February 2010, they found the remains of 26 week old and 28 week old fetuses. The 28-week-old male fetus came to be called Baby Boy B. Gosnell had inserted a pair of scissors into the back of the baby's neck and severed his spinal cord in order to kill him. One of the clinic workers, Tina Baldwin testified that Gosnell routinely cut the back of babies' necks and once joked as a baby was writhing that, "that's what you call a chicken with its head cut off." Two other clinic workers said that in second and third trimester abortions, Gosnell always cut the back of the fetus' neck even though the babies often moved and breathed on the table.
Three of the grand jury witnesses had taken photographs of the discarded body of another male fetus referred to as Baby Boy A. Baby Boy A was almost 32 weeks when he was aborted and one witness claimed he seemed to weigh over 6 pounds. Though he was born alive and observed to be breathing and moving, Gosnell slit his neck and placed him in a shoebox.
Baby C was breathing and moving for twenty minutes before its neck was slit. One of the clinic workers actually described playing with the baby before slitting its throat.
The grand jury report contains many heart breaking stories of what cannot be termed medical malpractice but were simply medical murder and mutilation. Gosnell had allegedly admitted to an investigator that he had performed over a hundred late term abortions. His staff testified to killing many babies that were observed, breathing, moving or crying prior to having their necks slit. Gosnell also had a photo library of his patient's genitalia and jars full of severed baby's feet. His abortions resulted in the death of at least one 41 year old patient and critical injury many other including organ perforation and life-threatening infection.
This story could not have happened without the passive complicity of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which fielded reports of medical malpractice and did nothing. It was the Pennsylvania Department of Health's job to police and enforce Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act, "so as to protect the health and safety of women having abortions and of premature babies aborted alive."
One of the arguments I have read made about the Gosnell trial is its illustration of the unavailability of low-cost abortion service. This argument fails in that Gosnell's prices for abortions were comparable to that of Planned Parenthood. Gosnell made $1.8 million a year, according to the grand jury report-in cash. What Gosnell offered that other abortion providers did not, was a willingness to perform abortions well into the third trimester of a pregnancy, when they were illegal and the fetuses viable. Undoubtedly the cost of an abortion, anywhere would be less than the cost of raising and caring for a child, but this is an entirely different argument from the assertion that not having more low-cost abortion providers is to blame.
Dr. Gosnell's defense team in its opening arguments referred to the prosecution as a witch-hunt, an "elitist, racist prosecution." Yet within the grand jury report itself, workers from the clinic tell the grand jury that white women were treated by Dr. Gosnell while non-white women were treated by unlicensed clinic staff. Gosnell allowed his patients to self-select their level of sedation. He allowed his non-white clients to be treated with medical tools that do not appear to have even been rinsed from the prior procedure, much less sterilized. It is a bit odd to cry racism and seem to practice it yourself in the deadliest manner.
I have a case where I defend against the prosecution of a prominent medical doctor and it is truly a witch hunt, devoid of evidence or actual misconduct but driven by a sullied Illinois regulatory body egged on by a yellow journalist-this is not such a case- there is no basis to believe the prosecution of Dr. Gosnell is anything approximating a persecution.
The trial of Dr. Gosnell started on March 18, 2013 and what we know from outside that courtroom is based on the grand jury's report and reports of witness testimony. It is important to keep in mind that the facts related in a grand jury report are alleged facts. They are unrebutted and constitute testimony that is essentially unexamined by cross. Though if one were to believe even two of the witnesses, the facts alleged are overwhelming and they are profoundly sad.
On a personal note, I thought to write this today when I saw the picture of the baby boy named Baby Boy B born alive and killed with a pair of scissors, by severing his spine. Today is my birthday and I was about 24 weeks old when I was born, weighing no more than two and half pounds. The doctor told my mother, who nearly died giving birth, to leave me in the hospital because there were no incubators and I would not survive. Fortunately, my grandfather was a lion of a man and as utterly stubborn as my mother. He told my mother to snatch me up and they left. As sick as I became they saw me through two difficult and sleepless years until my immune system developed. My mother did not sleep much for two years as I was prone to catching every illness but still had an immense desire to survive- a trait that is shared by all forms of life on the planet.
My will to live as a premature baby was hardly unique. This is the one thing we have in common with all other races, people and beings, from puppies to seal cubs. I have seen it when volunteering at the intensive care premature ward of a hospital while in college. There in the rows of incubators, weeks before they are supposed to be born are babies in a remarkably democratic state. Some have daily visitors, some do not ever get a visit and do not get held or picked up other than by the nurses and volunteers. Even at this early age, the brains of some babies exposed to tactile stimulation and being carried, will develop much faster. While the volunteers and nurses try to equalize the difference, it is not entirely possible. Some of the babies, who are never held other than by volunteers and nurses were suffering from drug withdrawls because they were born to addicts. The random inequality of life commences there amongst a crowd of newborns most of whose skin is yet translucent. It is by no means fair. When we lose the ability to see this one commonality, the struggle for life, anything becomes possible.
When we do not care, for the babies in that clinic, or the ones far away and older killed by drones, we are losing our humanity and it is we that are breaking. Alan Paton's question is one for all time, "What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?"
It is the lack of empathy that incubates evil in human beings. What happened in Kermit Gosnell's clinic must matter to anyone of us who has ever had feeling for any other living thing. The one magical thing about the feeling of unconditional love for another living thing is that if you are able to love that being enough, you will find yourself having empathy and affection for all living things, in whom you may be able to see your beloved. As grateful as I am for my mother and grandfather, I cannot but think of Baby Boy B today, killed by a pair of scissors that would sever his spine-it is a great and hopeful thing to know that there are many people in the world that would have snatched him from that table at all cost. Kermit Gosnell's trial deserves much more attention because we cannot be silent and allow this to happen again.
R Tamara de Silva