PHILADELPHIA – A doctor whose abortion clinic was described as a filthy, foul-smelling “house of horrors” that was overlooked by regulators for years was charged Wednesday with murder, accused of delivering seven babies alive and then using scissors to kill them.
In a nearly 300-page grand jury report filled with ghastly, stomach-turning detail, prosecutors said Pennsylvania regulators ignored complaints of barbaric conditions at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s clinic, which catered to poor, immigrant and minority women in the city’s impoverished West Philadelphia section.
Prosecutors called the gruesome case a “complete regulatory collapse.”
“Pennsylvania is not a Third World country,” the district attorney’s office declared in the report. “There were several oversight agencies that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago.”
Gosnell, 69, was arrested and charged with eight counts of murder altogether in the alleged killings of seven babies and the death of a woman from an overdose of painkillers. Nine of Gosnell’s employees – including his wife, a cosmetologist – also were charged.
Prosecutors said Gosnell made millions of dollars over three decades performing thousands of dangerous abortions, many of them illegal late-term procedures. His clinic had no trained nurses or medical staff other than Gosnell, a family physician not certified in obstetrics or gynecology, prosecutors said.
At least two women died from the procedures, while scores more suffered perforated bowels, cervixes and uteruses, authorities said.
Under Pennsylvania law, abortions are illegal after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or just under six months, and most doctors won’t perform them after 20 weeks because of the risks, prosecutors said.
In a typical late-term abortion, the fetus is dismembered in the uterus and then removed in pieces. That is more common than the procedure opponents call “partial-birth abortion,” in which the fetus is only partially extracted before being destroyed. Prosecutors said Gosnell instead delivered many of the babies alive.
He “induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord,” District Attorney Seth Williams said.
Gosnell referred to the practice as “snipping,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors estimated Gosnell ended hundreds of pregnancies by cutting the spinal cords, but they said they couldn’t prosecute more cases because he destroyed files.
“These killings became so routine that no one could put an exact number on them,” the grand jury report said. “They were considered ‘standard procedure.'”
Defense attorney William J. Brennan, who represented Gosnell during the investigation, said: “Obviously, these allegations are very, very serious.”
The grand jury report came out a day after new Gov. Tom Corbett took office. Spokesman Kevin Harley pledged that Corbett’s administration, through his new health secretary, would do more to oversee such clinics.
“What needs to be done is regulators, whether on the local or state or federal level, need to properly regulate, inspect and do their jobs,” Harley said. “The safety of our citizens should be first and foremost.”