A Matter Of Life & Death

Women's Medical Society, at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue, run by a doctor whose medical license was suspended Monday.
Women's Medical Society, at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue, run by a doctor whose medical license was suspended Monday.

State pulls abortion doc's license after finding 'deplorable,' 'horrendous' clinic

Posted: February 24, 2010

SOMETHING had gone wrong with the abortion.

That's all Marie Smith could think about as she vomited incessantly and shivered with a high fever, just a week after Dr. Kermit B. Gosnell had performed an abortion on her at his West Philadelphia clinic in 1999.

Smith, 19 at the time, fell unconscious at her mother's home and was taken to Presbyterian Hospital, where doctors confirmed her suspicions.

Something had indeed gone wrong, but it was worse than she could have imagined.

"They showed me X-rays and said he [Gosnell] left an arm and a leg inside me," Smith said last night. "I almost died. I thought he knew what he was doing, but I guess I was wrong."

Smith's frightful near-death tale echoed a larger, more disturbing story about Gosnell that is being written by federal and state investigators who recently found his clinic to be a house of horrors.

His state medical license was suspended Monday night for 30 days by state officials. Gosnell, 69, who has been licensed as a physician and surgeon in Pennsylvania since 1967, was labeled by authorities as "an immediate and clear danger to the public."

FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided Gosnell's clinic, the Women's Medical Society, at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue, on Thursday.

A law-enforcement source said that agents had searched the clinic to determine if Gosnell was illegally distributing prescription painkillers.

What they found, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State, was incomprehensible: bloodstained floors; jars packed with pieces of aborted fetuses, and La-Z-Boy" recliners that were being used as a recovery area for women who had abortions.

Worse yet, the agents learned that some of Gosnell's unlicensed employees were examining patients and giving them medication, and often worked alone. Gosnell's clinic is open for business during the day, authorities said, yet he doesn't arrive until between 6 and 9 p.m.

That potentially dangerous arrangement ended in the death of a woman who went to Gosnell's clinic for an abortion on Nov. 20, according to Department of State documents.

An unlicensed employee named Lynda Gayle Williams told the agents that she administered 10 mg of Demerol and 12.5 mg of promethazine to the woman, the documents show.

When the woman experienced cramps, Williams gave her more medication, the documents show.

The woman, whose name was not released, was given even more medication when Gosnell arrived to perform the abortion.

After the procedure, "the patient started to have an arrhythmia" and later died, the documents allege.

That story stunned state officials, who moved quickly to suspend Gosnell's license.

"It's frightening. This is the first case I'm aware of with such deplorable conditions," said Basil Merenda, commissioner of the state Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, which regulates licenses for many state agencies, including the medical board.

The allegations of misconduct at Gosnell's clinic are "horrendous," Merenda said.

"This is about keeping women safe. We needed to take immediate action against this physician," he added.

At some point within the next 30 days, Gosnell can contest the allegations against him before an examiner, Merenda said. If the examiner determines that the state can prove its case against Gosnell, his license could be suspended for another 180 days.

This is not the first time Gosnell, who could not be reached for comment, has been cited for having uncertified help.

In 1996, state officials fined the doctor $1,000 and made him pay $653 in legal fees because he had employed an uncertified physician's assistant in 1990 who treated at least one patient and wrote a prescription.

As word spread yesterday about the allegations against Gosnell, Marie Smith and at least one other local woman who has had dealings with the clinic reflected on their own grim encounters with the doctor.

Smith said she was five-months pregnant and already had a 1-year-old daughter when she found a listing for Gosnell's clinic in the Yellow Pages.

She found a waiting room full of women waiting for abortions when she arrived for her procedure. Smith said she "figured he must have been OK," and paid $485 for the procedure.

Afterward, she noticed numerous women who had had abortions were slumped over on recliners and bleeding.

"I thought that was pretty nasty," Smith said. "I kind of wondered what he was up to there. He told me he did abortions up to the eighth month."

After she nearly died, Smith said, she sued Gosnell. The lawsuit, according to city records, was filed on April 11, 2001. At least 46 civil suits have been filed against Gosnell, according to city records.

Smith said that she had two attorneys represent her but that both were ultimately disbarred for reasons she didn't know.

Still, according to court records she showed the Daily News last night, she won her lawsuit: An arbitrator awarded her $5,000 in 2003.

Smith, 30, said she has been unable to collect the award.

Carolyn Hernandez, 48, of West Philadelphia, said Gosnell punctured her uterus and colon when he performed an abortion on her in 1986.

"I remember the pain was crazy, and I was screaming for him to stop," Hernandez said.

"At some point, he did stop. He took me off the table, put me on a couch in the waiting room and did another girl's abortion."

Hernandez said Gosnell then tried to finish her abortion and ran into complications.

"I lost so much blood, I almost died. My sweatshirt was soaked with blood."

Hernandez said she was taken to a local hospital and treated for injuries.

According to city records, she sued Gosnell on May 28, 1987.

Hernandez said she was awarded about $60,000.

"Reading about him today was shocking. You know, as life moves on, you get older and those things aren't so fresh in your memory," she said.

"This brought it all back. Oh, God, it was horrible!"

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