Gosnell Case Demonstrates Need for Rigorous Clinic Inspections

Nora Sullivan, M.P.A  

This past week the court case of abortionist Kermit Gosnell took on a new level of dreadfulness as a health inspector from the Pennsylvania Department of Health took to the witness stand.  Elinor Barsony testified to the deplorable conditions she discovered upon her initial inspection of Women’s Medical Society, Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion clinic, in 2010.   Gosnell is on trial for the murder of seven babies born alive whose spinal cords he allegedly severed with scissors.

He has also been charged with murder in the third degree of a 41-year-old woman following a botched abortion at his clinic.  Gosnell faces the death penalty if convicted.


Last Monday, Barsony told the jury that during her inspection she witnessed crowded waiting rooms, sedated patients who were not receiving adequate care, and a lack of privacy in the recovery rooms.  She recounted for the court that the staff seemed visibly nervous when questioned about their credentials or patient medication.  The prosecution has revealed that two of the staff doctors were not licensed, the clinic’s “anesthesiologist” had only a 6th grade education, and one of the medical staff was a 15-year-old high school student.


Barsony noted that within medical equipment in the Philadelphia clinic, she found “filthy, corroded” tubing and that broken equipment blocked the padlocked emergency exit.  Among the patients the health inspector spoke to during her visit, several complained of cramps and bleeding.  Additionally, Barsony testified that there was no registered nurse in the recovery room and that insufficient information was noted in the clinic’s narcotics log.


Within a few days of Barsony’s inspection, the Women’s Medical Society was shut down.  It was then, following a raid on the clinic, that the fully abhorrent nature of the place was made known to the world.  Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams described the condition of the clinic at a press conference, “My comprehension of the English language can’t adequately describe the barbaric nature of Dr. Gosnell . . . Pennsylvania is not a third-world country . . . There were several oversight agencies that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago.” Bags and bottles of aborted fetuses “were scattered throughout the building . . . There were jars, lining shelves, with severed feet that he kept for no medical purpose.”


Williams’ incredulity and horror at the situation are compounded by the fact that the clinic was in operation for more than 17 years before the authorities stepped in. Barsony’s inspection was the first to take place at Gosnell’s clinic in almost two decades.  Gosnell practiced medicine in Philadelphia for nearly 40 years and he worked largely without any oversight at all.  According to Williams, state regulators ignored numerous complaints about the clinic. One local doctor advised the Department of Health of numerous patients he had referred to Gosnell for abortions who had all come back with the same venereal disease. Even after the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar in 2009 following an overdose of sedatives and narcotics prescribed by Gosnell, the Department did not act.


According to the official grand jury report, in 1993, pro-choice Republican Governor Tom Ridge’s administration “interpreted the same regulations that had permitted annual inspections for years to no longer authorize those inspections.” It had been asserted that these inspections were “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortion. “Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety,” the report states. “Without regular inspections, providers like Gosnell continue to operate; unlawful and dangerous third-trimester abortions go undetected; and many women, especially poor women, suffer.”


The Gosnell saga is a tragedy. The utter brutality that went on within the walls of the Gosnell clinic is unfathomable and the loss of life is beyond heartbreaking. But what adds insult to injury is that so much of this evil could have been stopped in its tracks.  Had the government not suspended abortion clinic inspections, this could not have happened. Had someone heeded the warnings and complaints that came in, lives could have been saved and women protected. Since the Gosnell case broke, Pennsylvania has revised its laws and ramped up its inspections of abortion clinics, but it is to be hoped that all across the country states will take notice and realize that, if they are to exist, abortion clinics must be subject to rigorous inspections and held to the highest standards. As other recent cases have demonstrated, lives are on the line.


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