May 14, 2013

Gosnell’s grisly trial and why I care

by Jesse Johnson

gosnellThe 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.”

The Trial

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.

If you have not seen it, I strongly recommend you watch the 20 minute documentary on Gosnell’s clinic. It will absolutely stun you.


Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Jesse, thanks for taking the time to write a thorough article as well as some Biblical conclusions. I honestly can’t make it through more than a couple of minutes reading anything that describes any of the atrocities this man has committed without literally feeling sick and grievous, so I did skip around quite a bit. I do pray, however, that this article will impact, educate, and even convict many. What a sad state our country is in.

  • Does there exist a step beyond “Total Depravity”? If so, Gosnell lives there.

    • elainebitt

      Michael, you fail to realize that if it weren’t for the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, we would be all Gosnells and even much worse (and before someone thinks that I am somehow justifying Gosnell, I am not).

      • S.J. Liscom

        elainebitt, you nailed it!!
        I hurt for this pitiful man as I saw him being led away yesterday in chains. May I urge everyone to join with me in prayer for his very soul. I would love to see a repentant Kermit Gosnell on “the other side” and spend eternity with another wretched sinner who was saved by….
        God’s amazing grace!

      • elainebitt, respectfully, I did not fail to realize the extent of my own depravity when making my original comment. Yet, thanks be unto God, my old man was crucified with Christ.

        Yet, I refuse to feign pity for a man who deserves none. I’m being honest when I say that I see this man through the lens of Rom. 1:18-32. May the wrath of God be revealed from heaven against him.

        • elainebitt

          Oh, I understand you Michael, I am not pitting that man, maybe you misunderstood me. I hate what he has done, it’s unspeakable evil. All this serves to remind me that if it weren’t for the grace of God we would not be so different from him, eh?

          But, regardless what we feel and how we want justice to be done asap, the offer of salvation still stands even to an evil man like that, until the day he dies.

          Grace and peace to you!

  • Thank-you for writing this. It is just shocking to read.

    One technicality – it’s not infanticide when a fetus is killed (in the womb) but feticide. I think it’s worth using the accurate terminology – it makes it harder for people to dismiss the argument. Feticide kills a human fetus – that is a statement of fact, which puts the onus on the one defending it to say why it is morally justifiable. Given that, a major medical journal recently wrote in favour of infanticide *because* they recognise that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a neo-natal infant.

    I hope that people reconise that there is no difference, but see the logic work the other way – I hope that this case might be like the post-WWII tours through the concentration camps, when the people began to see the true reality of what happened.

  • Eric Weathers

    Jessie, after reading your article I turned to Romans 1:28-32… And then prayed that the Lord would use believers to continue reaching people with the gospel before they reach this point in their lives.

  • kevin2184

    With full knowledge of the horrors of this trial, the President of United States makes a speech to the leading murderer of infants in this country (which is financed annually with $500M of our taxes) and lauds, “God bless Planned Parenthood and God bless the United States of America”. Not only has this nation murdered more than 50 million babies since Roe v. Wade, but it finances the practice and exalts those who participate in it. The President has honored what those who fear God consider to be this nation’s greatest shame.

  • Melissa Collins

    This was an excellent recap of a horrific reality. It is really difficult for me to even imagine someone could be capable of so many atrocities and disregard for human life. Our Father in Heaven grieved for each and every life destroyed by this man and his staff. This is a tough read but an important one and I too, thank you for taking your time in researching and writing this.

  • Jenny

    Thanks Jesse for this article. It IS absurd that it was the Rx investigation that brought this case about and so upsetting that the mainstream media chose not to cover the trial until they were called out for not doing so. Our self-serving culture has tried, fairly successfully, to keep the horrific realities of abortion as clean and sterile and compassionate (for whom?) as possible. But this case is a sickening revelation of what has happened to so many millions of children over the past 40+years and it’s now out there for those who want to see, to see. (Much to the chagrin of abortion-rights advocates.) This is why believers need to stand and support LIFE – and those organizations who offer women a true choice when faced with a crisis pregnancy.

  • Tom RIos

    Thank you, Pastor Jesse. For a Grand Jury, not a group of Christian activists, to identify this as a “House of Horrors”, I am sure that your graphic retelling is only the beginning of the details of forty-plus years of murder. I am a pastor, passionate about exposition, about the gospel and, yet, I feel complicit in the crime. I speak freely against abortion, ready with an apologetic for life and defend the children who cannot defend themselves. I think my shame stems from the fact that my anti-abortion activity is merely rhetoric provoked into expression when the topic arises. I must ask myself, would I wait for opportunities to wax eloquently in defense of my murdered children or grandchildren or would I freely and quickly give my own life defending the mere threat of theirs in danger?

    Am I alone in my guilt or are many of us, God’s people, defending the ruins, the baby parts? I know the battlefield is not contained solely within the walls obortuaries, but it seems so large and strong. Where do I start? What advice do you have as fruit of repentance for me?

  • νεό φυτος

    “are you even human?” Indeed. The details of his crimes are simply demonic…

  • Designed To Create

    Thanks for being so bold. My heart is broken over this story that reveals a twisted reality in our culture, but broken more at the silence of those who can say more, but choose not to.

    I would like to share this short story that I put together for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, it reveals what we are really taking away from these children.

  • Curtis Strange

    A question nobody is asking: Why aren’t the “mothers” getting into trouble? Presumably they walked into this place and allowed Gosnell and some high schoolers to murder their babies. I think they should be charged with murder as well.

    • I’d suggest watching the documentary linked in the box at the end of the story. It has an extensive interview with one of the mothers that will stay in your mind the rest of your life. Gosnell was a typical serial killer in that he obviously manipulated his victims in very profound ways.

  • Uhgg..What a monster..(yes, but solely for God’s grace go any of us)
    When exposed to the horrors that take place in this world I can’t help but be reminded of just how awful the real Hell must be..

    Thanks much for putting this all together for those of us who, for varying reasons have not been able to take in all the information, well done.

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  • Thought for food

    Wow. So hard to believe that this happened. It is also saddening to know that similar things happen in clinics everyday. You gave a very detailed description of the whole case. Most news outlets just give a brief description and try to avoid the details. I tend to avoid the details because it is so heart-breaking but is good to be reminded of the reality of what abortion involves.

    It would be very helpful if you did a follow up blog. I would appreciate advice on how I as a Christian should interact with situations like the Gosnell case. Your blog has given insight on how to view the issue of abortion in the light of Scripture. With that insight I feel the urge to do something about it. I just don’t know what that something is.

    One thing that has come to mind is what more the Church can do. In conversations with women who have had abortions I have come to realize that they need to be approached with the love and grace that only Christ offers. They are often overwhelmed with guilt and grief. I think the Church should be a place where those woman can come and receive comfort and wise council. I don’t know how I would be involved with that but that is one idea.

    I am not sure exactly what I am asking for here. I want to do something that doesn’t involve marching around with signs and putting bumper stickers on my car. Any ideas?

    ~ I didn’t mean for this comment to become a book 🙂

  • Daryl Little

    For any who wonder at the wisdom of using the term “culture of death”, this quote says it all:

    “The State Department of Health had an internal rule against investigating charges
    against abortion practices.”

    As you said in a comment Jesse, the man is a typical serial killer. He just happened to find a convenient source of victims to murder.

    I pray that he repents before he gets the chair. And I do pray that he gets the chair.

  • Thanks for addressing this, Jesse. I didn’t know a guy can be a MD without a license….

    • He had a medical license, but was not certified in ob or gyn.

    • BTW, he also opperated clinics in Delaware and New Orleans. So the guess of 1.8 million a year that he made…that only factors in the Philly clinic. And he wasn’t licensed in either DE or LA.

  • Elissa

    Thank you for writing about this. I have tried to stay informed about this case (at arm’s length, given its horror) but I learned a lot from your article. I don’t know what to say other than Lord, have mercy.

  • Paul Stewart

    Thanks for bringing this to light Jesse. Could you possibly give me the source for the statement, “The State Department of Health had an internal rule against investigating charges against abortion practices.” I would really appreciate it so that I can further use this information.

  • Paul

    Hopefully this barbaric behavior will change hearts & minds to defend the unborn (and born for that matter). Abortion is THE civil rights battle for the soul of this country and our future.

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