Nearly two years ago, the FBI raided the “Women’s Medical Society” in Philadelphiaunder the suspicion that the clinic was illegally selling prescription drugs. Instead they found numerous health violations and evidence of botched abortions.
Head of the clinic, Doctor Kermit Gosnell, 72, now stands trial for seven counts of first-degree murder.
Gosnell primarilyperformed first and second trimester abortions until 2009, which is when former employees say that the clinic’s reputation began to falter. The majority of the women who came to the clinic since then were those who couldn’t get abortions elsewhere, most of whom were in their third trimester. Former employee Latosha Lewis conceded to the grand jury that the number of abortions Gosnell preformed beyond 24 weeks were “too much to count.” That is an estimated four to five illegal abortions every week.
The grand jury also reported about the condition of the clinic saying, “There was blood on the floor. A stench of urine filled the air. A flea-infested cat was wandering through the facility, and there were cat feces 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 bloodstained blankets. All the women had been sedated by unlicensed staff.”
One such staff member was 15-year-old high school student, Marcella Stanley Choung. After Gosnell left her alone with 15 patients, Choung refused to medicate them and instead left the clinic for the last time. She filed a complaint with the Department of the State in 2002 that went unanswered.
Despite Choung’s report, women continued to receive illegal care. Upon arriving at the clinic, the women would be sedated with high doses of Demerol. Gosnell did not use sterilized instruments, a practice that the grand jurysaid “spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels — and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.”
In three detailed accounts, Gosnell’s procedures caused extensive damage to his patients. According to the report, one woman “was left lying in place for hours after Gosnell tore her cervix and colon while trying, unsuccessfully, to extract the fetus.” A 19-year-old was left with a punctured uterus, fell into shock and needed a hysterectomy. When a third patient went into convulsions and hit her head on the floor, Gosnell refused to call and ambulance.
When a third-trimester baby was born, Gosnell “murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” the grand jury states. He performed hundreds of “snippings,” as he called them. Sometimes if he wasn’t there, he’d have the administrative staff do it for him. Gosnell disposed of the remains by freezing them, placing them in milk jugs, shoeboxes or cat food containers.
Though abortion is legal in all 50 states up until 24 weeks (considered the age of viability), Gosnell’s practice of late-term “snipping” has caused much debate on both sides of the political spectrum. Additionally, the lack of coverage of the Gosnell case both two years ago and today has caused a backlash of angry and concerned tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts. The central issue appears to be the lack of coverage regarding the ongoing investigation and current trial.
Erik Wimple, opinion writer for the Washington Post, shared this quote from Martin Baron, executive editor for the organization: “We believe the story is deserving of coverage by our own staff, and we intend to send a reporter for the resumption of the trial next week. In retrospect, we should have sent a reporter sooner.” Since then, articles about Gosnell’s practice have appeared on the front page of the Washington Post’s Health and Science section.
Regardless of the coverage, some reporters are calling for a more impartial discussion of the events. USA Today writer Kirsten Powers said, “You don’t have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life.’ It’s about basic human rights.”
Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has also argued that the issue needs to be more centrally discussed, citing this tweet from @MattFrost: “One side sees the Gosnell case, thinks: ‘abortion is an atrocity.’ Other side says, ‘abortion is too unsafe.’ The ‘center’ just can’t look.”
The trial began with opening statements on March 18. Gosnell’s attorney, Jack McMahon, will begin his defense today.