WASHINGTON (BP)–A Philadelphia, Pa., abortion doctor was charged with murder Jan. 19, not only of a 41-year-old patient but of seven babies who made up only a small portion of hundreds of viable, fully delivered children whose spinal cords were severed with scissors.
Pro-life advocates responded by calling for meaningful oversight of abortion clinics, but some also pointed out an inconsistency: The killing of babies in their sixth, seventh or eighth month of gestation is normally legally protected if they are inside the womb but indictable if they are not.
Kermit Gosnell, 69, was arrested and indicted in the killings after a nearly year-long investigation. A February 2010 raid of his clinic in West Philadelphia found deplorable conditions, resulting in its closing and his medical license being suspended. He also was charged with violating Pennsylvania’s ban on most abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The November 2009 death of Kamamaya Mongar, a mother and grandmother who had moved to the United States from Nepal only four months earlier, resulted in an indictment against Gosnell for third-degree murder. The grand jury reported Mongar died as a result of a sedative overdose. The investigation found another woman had died previously at the clinic.
Hundreds of babies at least six months into gestation were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society, the grand jury reported. Gosnell destroyed most of the files, limiting prosecution to only seven cases, according to the report.
Gosnell called the killing of these children “snipping,” the grand jury reported. He, or another staff member in his absence, would jab scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cut the spinal cord. In one case, a boy of at least 32 weeks gestation was so large that Gosnell joked, an aide reported, “This baby is big enough to walk around with me or walk me to the bus stop.”
Gosnell’s wife and eight other employees also were indicted for murder and/or other charges.
Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said Gosnell’s actions were “horrific” and “evidence of a seared conscience.”
“However, so is public outrage toward infanticide but near silence about abortion,” said Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a consultant to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“To prosecute Dr. Gosnell for murdering newborns while countenancing abortion is to make homicide a matter of geography; killing inside the womb is as grievous as killing outside the womb,” he said.
David O’Steen, the National Right to Life Committee’s executive director, said in a written statement the report “once again reminds us that the purpose of each abortion — no matter how it is performed — is to deliberately and brutally take at least one innocent human life. The victims are helpless little members of the human family, and this is equally true whether the killing is completed inside or outside of the womb.”
Operation Rescue, which sponsors a whistleblower program to gather information on abortion doctors who break the law, called for immediate inspections of all U.S. abortion clinics.
“There is no doubt that proper enforcement of the laws already in place would save the lives of women like Mrs. Mongar” and the babies killed after delivery, said Troy Newman, Operation Rescue’s president.
“As shocking as this case is, it is in no way an anomaly…. There are more Gosnell[s] out there victimizing and murdering under the cover of secrecy,” Newman said in a written release.
Students for Life of America (SFLA) said the killing of fully delivered babies is a secret practice of the abortion industry. An undercover video released by the organization in 2008 showed a Planned Parenthood staffer acknowledging infanticide on infants born alive.
“Infanticide continues to happen in America and only certain cases are coming to light,” SFLA Executive Director Kristan Hawkins said in a written statement. “These are new born babies who are being left to die or killed because they are supposedly ‘unwanted.’ America needs to put a stop to this barbaric and inhumane practice.”
A 2002 federal law, the Born-alive Infants Protection Act, provides legal protection to fully delivered babies, even if an abortion was intended.
Denise Burke, vice president for legal affairs of Americans United for Life (AUL), told Baptist Press the illegal and unsafe practices that have come to light in this case not only are a result of “a failure to enforce abortion clinic regulations” but the “politicization of abortion” by the federal courts. The Supreme Court and lower courts have turned “what is a medial issue into a divisive political issue,” she said, allowing local officials “to shirk their responsibilities” and ignore the safety of women.
Pennsylvania ranked third among the 50 states in how it deals with “life issues,” according to an AUL report released Jan. 20. The state is one of 28 that have some form of abortion clinic regulations, but it still needs to enforce and strengthen them, Burke said.
“It is our hope that these tragic circumstances will lead more states” to provide meaningful regulations, she said. “In years past it has taken a tragic act to spur some to action.”
In recommendations at the end of its 281-page report, the grand jury called for the Pennsylvania Department of Health to license abortions clinics as ambulatory surgical facilities. The department’s failure to do so provides patients at abortion clinics with “far less protection” than those undergoing liposuction or a colonoscopy, the grand jury said.
The grand jury also recommended the state legislature remove the statute of limitations for infanticide and ban the mutilation of fetal remains.
Federal and state authorities raided the Women’s Medical Society in February in what was originally an investigation into prescription drug trafficking at the clinic. Among their findings that night, according to the grand jury report:
— The remains of 45 babies stored in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons and cat-food containers, with some in a refrigerator and others in a freezer.
— The severed feet of babies in jars.
— “Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room….”
— Conditions in the clinic that were “by far, the worst” the investigators had ever seen, with blood on the floor and on blankets covering dirty recliners, a “stench of urine,” cat excrement on the stairs, “filthy and unsanitary” surgery rooms, dirty instruments and broken equipment.
Gosnell, whose abortion practice at the clinic was approved by the state Department of Health in 1979, had never been certified as an obstetrician/gynecologist, the grand jury reported. It also found none of his employees were licensed to operate or to provide anesthesia.
The grand jury said the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of State failed in their oversight responsibilities. Gosnell’s clinic had not been inspected since 1993 despite many complaints, according to the report.
The report also said the National Abortion Federation (NAF) rejected Gosnell’s application for admission after Mongar’s death. A NAF evaluator, however, did not report the clinic conditions to her superiors, according to the report.
“We think the reasons 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,” the grand jury said in its report.
In announcing the indictments, District Attorney Seth Williams acknowledged abortion is a “hot-button topic” but said his job is “to carry out the law.”
“A doctor who knowingly and systematically mistreats female patients, to the point that one of them dies in his so-called care, commits murder under the law,” Williams said in a written release. “A doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is committing murder under the law.”
The grand jury estimated in its report that Gosnell made $10,000 to $15,000 a night performing abortions.
The grand jury’s report may be accessed online at http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/PDFs/GrandJuryWomensMedical.pdf
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.