DN Editorial: If charges are true, abortion doc was yet another serial killer

Posted: January 21, 2011

THE KERMIT GOSNELL case detailed with nauseating precision in the grand-jury report released Wednesday by District Attorney Seth Williams is about a disgusting abortion mill, and an indifferent government that never bothered to oversee or raise alarms about its dangerous conditions, and it may become the focus of the ongoing political divide over abortion.

But the first thing it is about is depravity.

The report details 40 years of a depraved "doctor's" career killing live, viable infants once they were forcibly delivered from poor and desperate women. He and his unqualified staff, none of whom was licensed and one of whom was a 15-year-old girl, operated out of filthy, dangerous offices, performing illegal late-term abortions for cash and raking in $10,000-$15,000 a day from what the report calls a baby charnel house.

Like so many before it, this grand-jury report is a powerfully written account of the lowest depths of humanity.

Some might say that someone like Kermit Gosnell - who the report said would drug his victims into oblivion and then kill the live infants he delivered by severing their spinal cords with scissors, often making jokes about how big the infants were - does not represent humanity at all.

If only that were true, but Gosnell, charged with eight counts of murder, had too many conspirators for that theory to hold: He had his staff who assisted him, nine of whom have been charged on a variety of counts. (The total number of deaths the clinic was responsible for may never be known, since evidence about most of them was destroyed.)

More disturbingly, other conspirators included the state regulators who knew what he was doing and let him continue doing it for 40 years.

Much of the grand-jury report focuses on the failures of the state, and it doesn't mince words: "The Pennsylvania's Department of Health has deliberately chosen not to enforce laws that should afford patients at abortion clinics the same safeguards and assurances of quality health care as patients of other medical service provides. Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely . . ."

And, as the report continues, "most appalingly of all, the department of health's neglect of abortion patients' safety is clearly not inadvertent: It is by design."

Contained in the report is the startling claim that the decision to ignore warnings and other evidence that Gosnell's clinic and others were substandard was political: The Department of Health's policy during Gov. Tom Ridge's administration was motivated by a desire not to be "putting a barrier up to women" seeking abortions; this policy was still in play when Ed Rendell became governor.

This is not so much an indictment of any governor as it is of a Health Department that changes legal opinions and advice to suit the policy preferences of different governors.

The state employees and officials who were aware of the deplorable conditions of the clinic and never acted are doubtless beyond the reach of criminal law, although they are explicitly named in the report. But they should be held accountable for allowing the city's latest alleged serial killer to continue to thrive. *

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