Inside the 'baby charnel house'

Posted: January 20, 2011

The grand jury called it "a baby charnel house."

For more than 30 years, Kermit Gosnell ran an abortion clinic in West Philadelphia that was the "go-to" place for women wanting illegal late-term abortions or for people seeking no-questions-asked prescription drugs, according to a grand jury.

Here are some highlights from the jury's report:

* Gosnell performed thousands of abortions at his Women's Medical Society at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue, even though he was a family practitioner never certified as an obstetrician or gynecologist. Gosnell was rarely present in the clinic, allowing his unlicensed, untrained staff to administer drugs and perform procedures.

* Gosnell routinely induced labor in patients in their second and third trimesters rather than perform risky late-term abortions. That sometimes resulted in live births. He and his staffers killed the babies by stabbing their necks with scissors to sever their spinal cords and sometimes suctioning their skulls, too. About a baby writhing as he cut its neck, Gosnell joked to a staffer: "That's what you call a chicken with its head cut off."

* Gosnell is accused of murder in the November 2009 death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, who died a day after a staffer overdosed her with sedatives. Another woman, Semika Shaw, 22, died after Gosnell punctured her uterus and sent her home. Gosnell allegedly injured "scores" of others, leaving some sterile, perforating the bowels and uteruses of others. He frequently left fetal remains inside women, who then had to seek treatment elsewhere. * Gosnell and his staffers frequently left their patients unattended, so that the dead fetuses or live babies "fell out" wherever the patient was, often the bathroom. One clinic janitor told the grand jury that this happened so often that fetuses frequently clogged the toilet.

* Conditions at the clinic were deplorable. The walls were urine-splattered, and the floors were bloodstained. A janitor testified that the bathrooms were cleaned just once a week, even though patients routinely vomited into sinks and miscarried into toilets.

* White patients waited and were treated in a cleaner room than patients of color. Patients of color who became "too rowdy" got a slap on the thigh from Gosnell, one worker testified. Gosnell photographed his patients' genitalia before procedures, another told the grand jury.

* A high-schooler, the daughter of staffer Tina Baldwin, worked in the clinic for four years, starting at age 15. She worked as much as 50 hours a week for $8.50 an hour. She routinely operated the ultrasound machine, administered anesthesia, diagnosed sexually transmitted diseases and told grand jurors she often was "in charge" of the clinic at night.

* Investigators say Gosnell made up to $15,000 a night, mostly in cash, for a few hours of work performing abortions. That doesn't include the money he made as one of the state's top Oxycontin prescribers. When authorities searched his home, they found a gun and $240,000 in cash stashed in his 12-year-old daughter's closet.

* Instead of trashing disposable medical supplies, Gosnell directed workers to reuse them over and over until they broke. They were rarely sterilized, allowing venereal disease and other germs to spread among patients. After the raid, inspectors found that the suction source used to perform abortions was the only one available to resuscitate patients.

* Medical waste and fetal remains were supposed to be picked up weekly by a licensed disposal provider. But because Gosnell didn't pay his bills, months might pass between pickups, leaving leaking bags and boxes to pile up in the clinic's basement and freezers.

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