Oh well, people die

Michael Cook
24 January 2011
Reproduced with Permission

First, sit down. If you are sitting down, take a deep breath. Because all this did not happen in a slum in Phnom Penh, or Sao Paulo, or Kinshasa. It happened in the United States, in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the nation. It happened only 100 miles from the guardian of the nation's freedoms, the New York Times.

This is about a charnel house which doubled as an abortion clinic for 30 years while regulators looked the other way.

This is about politicians in one of America's largest states who didn't want to rock the boat. This is about a cowardly bureaucracy in a city renowned for world-class doctors and hospitals. This is about doctors who refused to report one of their own.

This is about the betrayal of poor, scared women, mostly young, mostly black or immigrant. At least two of them are dead. Many had their wombs and bowels perforated. Many were infected with venereal disease with unsterilized instruments.

This is about hundreds of infanticides in which live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy were delivered - and then murdered by snipping their spinal cords with scissors. One of them was so developed that the doctor joked, before snipping, "he could walk me to the bus stop". It is about thousands of abortions.

"My comprehension of the English language doesn't and cannot adequately describe the barbaric nature of Dr Gosnell and the ghoulish manner in which he 'trained' the unlicensed, uneducated individuals who worked there," said the Philadelphia District Attorney, Seth Williams.

All this came to light on February 18 last year when the FBI and agents from the District Attorney's office raided the Women's Medical Society, on the corner of Lancaster and 38th Streets, in West Philadelphia. What they were seeking was evidence of illegal prescription drug activity by its director, Dr Kermit Gosnell. They found something far worse.

There was blood on the floor and urine was splattered on the walls. A flea-infested cat was prowling around, and there were cat faeces on the stairs. Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room, where they sat on dirty recliners covered with blood-stained blankets.

The two surgical procedure rooms were filthy -- like "a bad gas station restroom", said a policeman. Instruments were not sterile. Equipment was rusty and outdated. Oxygen equipment was covered with dust. Corroded suction tubing for abortion procedures doubled as a suction source for resuscitation. It stank.

Foetal remains were haphazardly stored throughout the clinic - in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons, and even in cat-food containers. Some were in a refrigerator, others were frozen. The investigators found a row of jars containing just the severed feet of foetuses, like voodoo fetishes. In the basement, they discovered medical waste piled high.

Ambulances were summoned to pick up the waiting patients, but no one had the keys to the padlocked emergency exit.

Finally, after 31 years of abortion, infanticide, abuse, horror and murder, the doors of Philadephia's Women's Medical Society closed.

A Grand Jury investigated the Women's Medical Society last year. On January 19, its director, Dr Kermit Gosnell, and nine of his employees were indicted on various charges. The Grand Jury's 281-page report concluded: "Gosnell's 'medical practice' was not set up to treat or help patients. His aim was not to give women control over their bodies and their lives. He was not serving his community. Gosnell ran a criminal enterprise, motivated by greed."

Dr Gosnell appears to have earned between US$10,000 and $15,000 every night for a few hours of abortion work -- on top of illegally dispensing prescription drugs during the day. He has been charged with murdering one woman and seven infants, solicitation to commit murder, abuse of a corpse, corruption of minors, drug offenses, hindering prosecution, and violations of abortion law. His staff have also been charged with various crimes.

Dr Gosnell is probably on the road to jail. The district attorney may even ask for the death penalty.

But the Grand Jury report did not stop at cataloguing the horrors of the Women's Medical Society. It also pointed the finger at the supporting cast who chose to be silent while women were being butchered.

Two words sum this up. The Grand Jury cited a long list of moments stretching over decades when the state bureaucracy could have investigated complaints, could have intervened, could have inspected. A Nepalese immigrant, Karnamaya Mongar, even died after receiving too much anaesthetic at Gosnell's clinic as late as 2009, but no one acted. Why not? The chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Health explained: "People die".

There was, says the Grand Jury report, a "complete regulatory collapse".

The Women's Medical Society was reviewed by state authorities when it opened in 1979. Ten years later it was reviewed again and numerous violations were found. Nothing was done. Reviews in 1992 and 1993 noted violations. Nothing was done. Then all reviews stopped. After the election of pro-choice Governor Tom Ridge (a Catholic, Republican, Harvard grad), "the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all".

Despite complaints from women injured by Dr Gosnell, despite complaints from a doctor about venereal disease transmission, despite a notification of an abortion of a 30-week-old baby carried by a 14-year-old girl, despite the death of Karnamaya Mongar, the Department did nothing.

Until the police raid and the publicity. Then they did something, all right. They hired lawyers to cover their butts in the coming investigation.

That was just the Department of Health. The agency which registers doctors and the agency which regulates public health also ignored complaints about the Women's Medical Society.

Then there were Dr Gosnell's colleagues. The world-renowned Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is 20 minutes' walk away from the Women's Medical Society. A patient died at HUP after a botched abortion in 2000 and the hospital filed a report. But many of Gosnell's other victims were treated for abortion complications like perforated bowels and foetal parts in the uterus. Yet, says the Grand Jury report, "other than the one initial report, Penn could find not a single case in which it complied with its legal duty to alert authorities to the danger. Not even when a second woman turned up virtually dead."

Did "legitimate" abortion providers ring alarm bells? No. Dr Gosnell tried to join the National Abortion Federation in 2009. The evaluator rejected his application as the worst abortion clinic she had ever seen. But she told no one in authority.

The Grand Jury has summed up this conspiracy of silence in a single damning paragraph. "Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason 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."

There was "a blatant refusal to enforce the law" by the Department of Health. Why? The Department mentioned two reasons: the abortion providers might object and that abortion (which is legal in Pennsylvania up until 24 weeks) was "controversial". Such justifications, says the Grand Jury report, "are barely worth comment".

Are there other abortion mills like this in Pennsylvania? Its answer is dismaying: "We have no idea how many facilities like Gosnell's have remained out of sight, out of mind of DOH for decades - since they were first 'approved'." How many are there in other big American cities where bureaucracies which regulate abortion clinics are asleep at the wheel? In Boston, in Chicago, in Washington, in Houston, in Los Angeles, in San Diego? In New York?

Murders, abuse, bureaucratic cover-ups and negligence, a code of omertà among professional colleagues: isn't this red meat for crusading journalists? Apparently not. The New York Times - which crusaded so tenaciously last year about sex abuse -- yawned. A similar story in Bangkok received about the same amount of coverage last November: just a couple of stories buried in the back of the paper. What was displayed prominently was a revealing feature which appeared on January 21, the day after the abortion clinic story broke. It began: "Congratulations, New York City, did you hear the news? ... This is officially the abortion capital of America."

And two days after the story broke, President Obama re-affirmed his unconditional support for abortion: "today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women's health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters."

Isn't this evidence of the same wilful blindness as the bureaucrats in Philadelphia? No matter how appalling the news, abortion rights must not be questioned. No matter how many poor and ignorant girls and women are abused, abortion rights must continue.

What this case shows is that supporters of abortion rights are far, far, more interested in defending an ideology than protecting women. If Pennsylvania bureaucrats had done their job and intruded on "private family matters", a poor Nepalese refugee would be alive today.

As the Grand Jury Report put it, "We discovered that Pennsylvania's Department of Health has deliberately chosen not to enforce laws that should afford patients at abortion clinics the same safeguards and assurances of quality health care as patients of other medical service providers. Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety."

Abortion advocates contend that what women need is better regulation, not more restrictions. But what this horror demonstrates is that some regulators disdain their regulations. By shielding abortionists from the law, they have made the notion of safe and legal abortion a farce. In a just world, they should be charged with criminal irresponsibility.

In a final irony, America's leading center for bioethics is located 10 minutes' walk from the Women's Medical Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Has the scandal on its doorstep rattled its bioethicists? Apparently not. The main article on its webpage advertises a new project on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) bioethics.

When will Americans wake up?

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. The Grand Jury's report is available on the District Attorney's blog.