How Kermit Gosnell Got Over–and Poor Women of Color Paid the Price

Alleged butcher Dr. Kermit Gosnell was aided by cynical abortion politics and a systemic disregard for Philadelphia's poor women of color.

By Akiba Solomon Feb 01, 2011

If I hadn’t read the grand jury report, I’d have trouble believing the grisly story of late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell M.D. The West Philadelphia family physician’s alleged crimes were so flagrant, so violent, so sick, they seem like the stuff of anti-choice urban legend.

But there, in 280 macabre pages, you can see how the 69-year-old and his staff of unqualified medical assistants and faux doctors routinely took patients who were well over the legal limit of 24 weeks pregnant, overdosed them with Demerol, induced labor, delivered their babies, then "ensured fetal demise" by cutting their spinal cords with scissors.

Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society clinic wasn’t an underground operation. According to the grand jury report, one only had to walk into the 40-year-old establishment that served mostly poor women of color to see that something was very wrong:

The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. … And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains.

You’d think that someone–anyone–would shut down this house of horrors immediately. But even after a former employee reported the clinic’s conditions to the Pennsylvania Department of State; even after Gosnell settled a million-dollar civil suit for puncturing the uterus of a 22-year-old who later died of sepsis; even after a doctor at a neighborhood hospital told the Pennsylvania Department of Health that patients he’d referred to the Gosnell’s clinic were returning with the same venereal disease; even after clinic staff fatally overdosed a 41-year-old Nepalese refugee named Karnamaya Mongar, the Women’s Medical Society remained open and unchecked. Apparently, local and state oversight agencies hadn’t inspected the place in 15 years.

Bizarrely, it took an operation of the "war on drugs" to stop this madness. Last February, after Gosnell had peddled one too many illegal Oxycontin prescriptions, officers from the FBI, DEA and the D.A.’s Dangerous Drug Offender Unit raided his clinic and home. Then, poof, four days later, the state medical board revoked Gosnell’s license. And on March 12, 2010, the health department–which before refused to investigate abortion clinics like Gosnell’s because the politics were too complicated–finally filed papers to shut down Women’s Medical Society.

Predictably, abortion foes are using this scandal to fuel their rhetoric. And choice advocates are (rightly) citing the continued need for safe, affordable family planning options. But the way I see it, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, his staff, and his filthy clinic are just another example of how profit parasites feed on the bodies of poor women of color and how the agencies funded to protect them don’t really give a f@#k. As Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams states in the grand jury report:

Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.

Let me put it more bluntly: Politics and profits do not belong in a woman’s uterus. Period. End of story.

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