The Gosnell Trial ended yesterday, when a jury found him guilty of murder, among 258 other charges. What is the deal with this case? One view is that the entire episode was much ado about nothing, that Gosnell was providing a service to his community and was unfairly prosecuted by an attention-seeking DA (aren’t they all?). As the story goes, Gosnell’s clinic deteriorated over the years because of the oppressive nature of Pennsylvania’s restrictive abortion regulations, and the whole trial shows the danger of having laws governing abortion.
Obviously, that line of thinking is severely twisted, and comes from a mind set on defending the right of women to kill their babies at will. But regardless, those who hold the “much ado about nothing” narrative really cannot be all that familiar with the facts of the case. I wanted to blog about it because this whole trial pulled back the curtain and displayed the reality of the culture of death created by a society that tolerates and funds infanticide.
Who is Kermit Gosnell:
A common narrative among pro-life people is that the horrors at Gosnell’s clinic are mirrored around the country in every abortion clinic. But that really misses the truth in a way that down plays the horrors of what Gosnell did. Gosnell was not “just another abortionist,” but built a career on finding new and particularly devastating ways to kill babies. First, he was never even licensed or certified in obstetrics. Second, he began his career in 1972 with what the press at the time described as the Mother’s Day Massacre. He recruited fifteen pregnant women to come for an experimental procedure (which he performed on Mother’s Day for maximum symbolic effect). The abortion consisted of Gosnell inserting razor blades coagulated inside of a gel ball, so that the gel would melt from body temperature, and kill the child in utero (you really have to read the Wall Street Journal coverage of this to believe it). Gosnell called it “the super coil.”
Obviously this had varying degrees of success, but it did make Gosnell relatively famous in the world of infanticide, which–with the rendering of Roe v. Wade a year later–was about to become an entire lucrative industry devoted to the destruction of life.
So the horror of the Gosnell case is not that he is just like every other abortion doctor. The horror of the Gosnell case is that for 42 years he made millions of dollars off of using new and increasingly barbaric and/or efficient ways to kill people, while waiting to see if the culture of death would ever catch up to him or condemn him.
How Gosnell became a multi-millionaire:
At $3,000 a pop (more if the baby was over Pennsylvania’s “restrictive” limit of 24 weeks), Gosnell ran a cash operation that brought in millions. He paid his staff in cash, and when he was arrested, $240,000 was found in his house. All this happened while the state, the IRS, and every medical oversight or health regulative department that could have intervened turned the other way.
Eventually Gosnell found the most economical way to do abortions. In order to appreciate this, you need to know how most abortions are done. The woman is given local anesthesia, and then with the help of an ultra sound machine, a needle injects a drug (Dioxin) into the baby’s heart, murdering him (the politically correct term is “causing fetal demise”). But by the 1990’s Gosnell began cutting corners. He stopped purchasing new ultra sound machines, saving money but making finding the baby’s heart very difficult. Then he stopped hiring qualified people to do the actual injections. Finally, it seems he also stopped the charade of actually using Dioxin anyway (investigators found none on site, and none in any of the bodies autopsied). Instead, he settled on a new approach: have an intern (often a high school student) knock the mother out with various sedatives, and simply induce labor. Most of the births were of infants too young to survive outside the womb, so the abortion was successful. For those that did survive delivery, or if it was ambiguous, Gosnell (or his “staff”) would simply sever the baby’s spinal cord at the neck. This was a lot cheaper than doing it…(how shall I say it?)…the more professional way.
Who was Karnamaya Mongar?
But Gosnell’s more economical method was not without problems. In one instance, a woman from Virginia, Karnamaya Mongar, went to Gosnell’s clinic for an abortion. She couldn’t get one in Virginia because she was past 16 weeks (the VA limit). At Gosnell’s clinic, she paid cash, then was given an overdose of Demerol (yes, Demerol–Gosnell used it because it was cheap) by his untrained staff. When it became obvious there was a problem, someone called 911. The paramedics arrived, and found Dr. Gosnell passive–not trying to revive her. The defibrillators in his office were not working, the oxygen tanks were expired, and the place was in such disrepair that it took twenty minutes for the paramedics to navigate the gurney through the hallways and back out of the building. Gosnell was unable to locate her file (because there were no files), and never told the paramedics about the Demerol, leaving the doctors at the hospital guessing what had even happened to her.
Gosnell was found guilty of manslaughter for her death.
The House of Horrors
The grand jury (I’ll save where they come in for later) found that Gosnell was running a “house of horrors.” Dismembered bodies were stored in every nook and cranny and only some were in medical waste bags. Body parts were in the freezer, in the fridge, and in jars on his desk and windows. The walls and floor were stained with blood. At least one flea-ridden cat roamed the halls freely. The medical equipment was outdated, the staff untrained, and the sheets literally stained with blood. Instruments designed for single-patient use were reused until they wore out. The entire place reeked of urine. It really is no wonder that customers were dying.
How Gosnell got caught
As hard as it is to believe, Gosnell did not get caught by any number of the agencies who were supposed to have oversight of his “practice.” The State Department of Health had an internal rule against investigating charges against abortion practices. When outside doctors complained to the Medical Board that they were noticing patients from his office were infected with a similar strain of an STD (suggesting dirty instruments used multiple times), they were ignored. When patients complained that they were pressured into abortions, or that they were mistreated, or that the conditions were deplorable, the complaints were investigated by a phone call to Gosnell’s office, but NEVER by an actual visit. Even former employees complained that they saw babies delivered alive, who then cried for help, and were then murdered, yet their complaints were dismissed as unsubstantiated.When Mongar died, nothing happened.
No, Gosnell was not caught because he kept murdering people. In an ultimate irony of our culture’s messed up morality, Gosnell was caught because he started filling prescriptions that were not valid. In short, he started making money by being a pill mill, and this got the attention of the DEA, who raided his office. Murdering babies and killing patients… well that was one thing; but invalid prescriptions? Call in the Feds! (I’m actually surprised he wasn’t busted by animal control for his unlicensed cat).
It was then that the DA got involved. The Philadelphia District Attorney is Seth Williams, a Roman Catholic who before the Gosnell trial was known for being the first prosecutor to bring criminal charges against Catholic administrators for shuffling pedophile priests from one diocese to another. Williams essentially saw what the FBI uncovered at Gosnell’s clinic, and burst it open into a rock solid case. He convened a grand jury, and their report is simply astonishing. It coined the phrase “house of horrors” and detailed in graphic language what went on there. It is almost 300 pages, and has pictures that shock–the freezer stuffed with medical waste bags, blood on the “sterile” patient room benches, color-coded notes the teen-age anesthesiologists used, as well as one picture of a fully developed, murdered baby. This baby was so far along that the nurses played with him before murdering him, and Gosnell later joked that the child was so big “he could walk me to the bus stop.”
Gosnell was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder for seven babies where there was evidence that they were born alive then murdered by severing their spinal cord from their head (Gosnell called it “snipping“). He was charged with third-degree murder for Mongar’s death, and over 250 other counts, ranging from violating PA’s limit on abortions after 24 weeks, to ignoring the requirement that women have counseling 24 hours before an abortion. He was even charged with “mistreating a corpse.” Racketeering was tacked on, in reference to the money laundering scheme he had devised.
There were nine co-defendants, eight of whom plea-bargained and testified against Gosnell. Some testified as to how they were paid (cash, of course) and others testified to seeing babies move, breathe, and cry when they were born, before being “snipped.” One testified that a baby was born into a toilet in the clinic, then began screaming “like an alien” and tried to stay above water. He was fished out and snipped as well. The one who did not plea was found guilty of masquerading as a doctor, as well as complicity in a corrupt organization.
It was revealed that Baby A was delivered at thirty weeks gestation. Gosnell threw the baby into a shoe box, but the boy was so big he didn’t fit naturally into the box. Then in front of Gosnell, the 17-year-old mother, and the 15-year-old nurse, the baby pulled his arms into the box, and curled his legs in, nestling into a fetal position. The doctor summoned his other assistants who came rushing into the room, and allowed them to take photos of the baby on their cell phones. Gosnell gathered the baby up, explained that the motions were “involuntary reflexes,” then severed the baby’s spine. If you want the details on the other babies Gosnell was charged with murdering, read here.
The trial did feature two strange twists. One was that the judge himself dismissed three of the eight murder counts before they got to the jury, citing insufficient evidence. Granted, there is plenty of evidence that the babies were killed by having their necks broken with a pair scissors (after all, the bodies were stuffed in the fridge). But the judge apparently thought that there was insufficient evidence that the babies were alive before being murdered (pause, reread that sentence, and contemplate the logical absurdity of it all). The judge also dismissed all of the counts of mistreating a corpse. That was surprising simply because if chopping the feet off of a body and collecting them in jars on your desk does not count as mistreating a corpse, then I’m not really sure what the law was designed to prohibit.
The next day, the judge apologized, and reinstated one of the charges he had dismissed. That particular baby was born and was breathing for twenty minutes before finally having his neck snipped. The judge never explained why he originally disallowed the jury from considering that the boy might have been murdered.
The second twist was that Gosnell did not even mount a defense. Noted for sitting and smirking through the entire trial (provoking one attorney to stop and in mid-court shout at Gosnell: “are you even human?”), it was expected that he would speak passionately on his own behalf. Instead the defense rested without calling a single witness or presenting any evidence whatsoever. It reminded me of the equally unsuccessful approach the defenders of Proposition 8 took in California: apparently they thought putting on an actual defense would lend dignity to the charges levied. I assume the silence was meant to convey how beneath them they felt the charges were. The truth is, Gosnell was the only doctor in the room when the babies were born. If the claim was that they were already dead when they were delivered, he is literally the only medically qualified witness in the whole world who could speak with authority about it, and if he had, a conviction would have been much more difficult to get. But he just let the pitch pass.
In the end, the jury found him guilty of almost everything he was charged with. It took them eleven days of deliberation, likely the result of having to render 280-odd counts unanimously (258 for Gosnell, and various other charges for co-defendants; one of his co-defendants was literally charged for billing as if she was a doctor when she had not graduated medical school, which I find morbidly and ironically hilarious). At one point they asked the judge if the 227 counts of waiting 24 hours between “counseling” and the actual abortion could be voted on as a unit. After all, his guilt was obvious, nobody ever even suggested he waited 24 hours before giving an abortion, but there was really only one unit of evidence supporting all 227 counts. Because Gosnell kept no practical records, the State’s medical report stood in as identical evidence for all 227 bodies found on-site. Reporters at the trial said that the jury collectively looked depressed when the judge said they had to vote on all 227 counts individually.
Why do Christians care?
I might develop this in a blog post later, but a Christian view of law has two basic premises; some things are morally wrong whether or not they are legal, and a society’s morality is seen outlawing those very things. Jefferson called it natural law, and Augustine called it natural light; the apostle Paul calls it “obvious” (Rom 1:19). It doesn’t matter if murdering babies is legal or illegal -it is obviously immoral, and a country’s laws are by definition immoral if they allow it.
These two points are exactly where the Christian’s stand against abortion and the Gosnell trial intersect. It was a test to see if something as flagrantly immoral as drugging up women, inducing labor, and cutting the baby’s heads off, is allowable in our culture. There was debate about if it was prohibited by our laws. After all, consider the three counts of murder the judge dismissed: what’s the difference between murder and abortion, legally speaking? A few inches? A few mm’s of Dioxin? A few miles across state lines? Consider the absurdity of the judge’s verdict that the murdered baby’s bodies were not legally corpses, but fetuses, and thus it was permissible to chop off their feet and display them.
Yet the guilty verdict stands as a testimony that while abortion shows a logical inconsistency in our laws, there are still some limits to what our culture of death will allow.