Rendell deplores charges about West Philadelphia abortion clinic

Kermit Gosnell , left, the doctor who ran the clinic, has been charged along with Steven Massof, right, and others.
Kermit Gosnell , left, the doctor who ran the clinic, has been charged along with Steven Massof, right, and others.
Posted: January 22, 2011

Responding to the grisly allegations of murdered babies at a Philadelphia abortion clinic, former Gov. Ed Rendell said Friday, "For all of us who are pro-choice, this is terrible."

Speaking after a luncheon at the Down Town Club, Rendell said that when he "found out the state Department of Health was not inspecting these places because technically they fall into a loophole in the law, they're not permanent structures, etc., I said, 'I don't care about the law. Start investigating.' "

He said he believed "the problem going forward has been cured, but obviously that did not help the people here. It's a real shame."

The Women's Medical Society clinic at 3801 Lancaster Ave. allegedly operated for three decades with little oversight. State and federal agents raided it in February as part of an investigation into illegal drug prescriptions.

Inside what some have called a "house of horrors," abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell allegedly killed viable babies by cutting their spinal cords with scissors.

"It's a tragic situation, obviously," Rendell said. "All of those of us who are pro-choice abhor this, because it casts a negative light on that movement. All of us believe abortion should be legal, but that it should be safe. Clearly, what this physician was doing is not safe. It's not safe for the mother. It's certainly not safe for the fetus."

Gosnell, 69, was charged with eight counts of murder Wednesday, seven involving the babies and one in the 2009 death of woman given a lethal dose of painkillers during a procedure.

Gosnell's wife and eight former employees were arrested Wednesday.

On Friday, another former employee, Steven Massof, 48, of Mount Lebanon, near Pittsburgh, was arraigned on two counts of murder and related offenses involving the deaths of two viable babies. He is being held without bail.

The gruesome details were outlined in a 261-page Philadelphia grand jury report.

"Although Massof was not as cavalier about what he did, he admitted that there were about 100 instances in which he severed the spinal cord after seeing a breath or some sign of life," the report said.

Massof testified that Gosnell taught him the scissors-in-the-neck technique to "ensure fetal demise," the report said.

Gosnell hired Massof, an unlicensed medical school graduate, in 2003; Massof left the clinic in 2008, the grand jury report said.

Massof posed as a doctor at the clinic, the report said. He was presented to patients and staff as "Dr. Steve," and was listed on a sign in the office as "Dr. Steve Massof, Medical Intern."

Massof treated patients and prescribed medicine over Gosnell's signature, the report said.

He graduated from St. George's University School of Medicine in Grenada in 1998 and had passed some of the tests necessary to become a doctor in the United States but was never accepted into a residency program, the report said.

Instead, he worked as a bartender and cook in Pittsburgh after graduating from medical school.

Despite lacking credentials, Massof acted as the doctor during the day at the clinic, according to the report.

He treated patients for diabetes, asthma, pain, and infectious diseases, and prescribed drugs, anesthetized abortion patients, delivered babies, removed placentas, and cut umbilical cords, the report said.

Gosnell paid him $300 a week and an additional $30 for each second- or third-trimester abortion patient, the report said.

Massof wrote on an online profile that his most recent job was as a team leader at Dial America, a telemarketing firm.

Seizing on the grand jury report's criticism of the Health Department, state legislators weighed in Friday.

State Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) said he would introduce a bill to require annual Health Department inspections of abortion clinics.

The bill would require clinics to meet the minimum health and safety standards set for other health-care facilities in the state, Corman said.

Gosnell's clinic had not been inspected since 1993, Corman said.

State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr. (R., Blair) said the conduct of state regulators should receive law enforcement scrutiny.

"The misconduct of these government employees was reckless and grossly negligent to the extent that criminal prosecutions may be in order," Eichelberger said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said, "The inaction of public agencies is exposed."


Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

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