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To Live and Die in Philadelphia

The abortionist’s house of horrors.

Feb 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 20 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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In a powerful recent account of Gosnell’s house of horrors, Politics Daily editor Melinda Henneberger found herself surprised when she began adding up the abortion stories so grisly that they had managed to break through into the news over the last 20 years. New York’s Abu Hayat, for instance: “The Butcher of Avenue A,” who killed a 17-year-old girl in a botched abortion and then denied ever having her as a patient. Or the Florida clinic that delivered a baby at 23 weeks and threw it out, alive, in a nearby garbage can. Or New Jersey’s Stephen Brigham, who was operating on women in a van, driving them from state to state in the midst of their abortions to skirt laws against late-term procedures.

And now we have Kermit Gosnell, our third-worlder, our poster child for the deadly meeting of shady business and political activism. Gosnell managed to destroy enough records that he was indicted for only the seven cases of infanticide for which sufficient evidence remained. But those cases are enough to sicken anyone. The baby he delivered alive at seven and a half months, for instance—then snipped its spinal cord, packed it in a shoe box, and joked that it was so big it could “walk me to the bus stop.” And the 28-week-old baby whose corpse was discovered in the clinic packed in a frozen water bottle. And the baby who lived for more than 20 minutes before an assistant finally came in and cut the spinal cord “just the way,” the grand jury was told, “she had seen Gosnell do it so many times.”

This was a man who, in hundreds of cases over more than three decades, performed abortions by delivering live babies and then severing their spines with scissors. He routinely overdosed his patients with pain-killers and labor-inducers, used instruments infected with venereal diseases, and killed at least two of the pregnant women on whom he worked by perforating their wombs and bowels.

Many people knew what was going on at his Philadelphia clinic; several filed complaints with state and local agencies. But nothing was done, and at the time of his arrest, he hadn’t been visited by a medical examiner for 17 years. As the grand jury noted, with the change of governors in Pennsylvania in 1995—when the pro-abortion Tom Ridge replaced the pro-life Bob Casey—“the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all,” as “officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions.”

Who could wonder why Kermit Gosnell was confused at his arraignment? No one had stopped him before. No one in more than 30 years had questioned him. No one had ever given him a signal that he might be prosecuted for performing abortions by inducing overmedicated third-trimester labor and then chopping through the spinal cord of the living result. No one had ever dared call his abortion business murder. 

No one, in fact, had ever told him he wasn’t the absolute ruler of his own little third-world country. 

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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