EXCERPT: Of Monsters And Men

Illustration by GABRIEL MORENO

PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: To those following his case casually, there was only one word to describe Gosnell: monster. The charges against him, which spanned both federal and state courts, portrayed him as a one-man crime syndicate. The feds alleged that his clinic, at 3801 Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia, devolved into a “pill mill,” a hub for addicts and dealers who could walk in the door and garner multiple pain pill prescriptions in exchange for a fee. The state charges, meanwhile, detailed in a 261-page grand jury report, painted Gosnell as a mad doctor for the ages: His offices and examining rooms were squalid, the walls, blankets and floors covered in blood. He employed unlicensed doctors, paying them low wages. He was charged with eight homicides, including that of Karnamaya Mongar, a 41-year-old mother who arrived seeking an abortion for a child she couldn’t afford, and seven babies born alive during abortion procedures. Gosnell or a staff member he trained allegedly stabbed those babies in the backs of their necks with surgical scissors. Gosnell called the technique “snipping,” because the goal was to open the neck and use the scissors to sever — or “snip” — the spinal column.

But there was a deep disconnect between how the case was presented publicly and the evidence presented in court. The grand jury report claimed that Gosnell had probably killed hundreds of babies born alive after botched abortion attempts. But there was only enough evidence to indict him for seven, and of those he was ultimately convicted for three. To this day, we have an image in mind of Gosnell pinning a writhing baby to the surgical table with one hand while he plunges surgical scissors into the back of its neck with the other. […] The jury deliberated 10 days, laboring over more than 200 criminal counts. In the end, even after their verdict, we still faced unanswered questions: What exactly went on at 3801 Lancaster Avenue, and how many live-born babies were killed? And why did Gosnell chop the feet off of some of the fetuses he aborted and keep them?

Just as strangely, why did Gosnell repeatedly incriminate himself? In one of the more confounding twists of his story, when Gosnell’s staff would perform an ultrasound for a woman seeking an abortion and find that the fetus had reached a gestational age of six months or more — say, 26 weeks, or 27 — Gosnell would redo the examination and write down a new figure: 24.5 weeks — still past the legal limit for performing an abortion in Pennsylvania. It was tantamount to recording, again and again: I am breaking the law. But the trial offered no answer; there was no word from the man himself, who constantly smiled but never testified. MORE

PHAWKER: Forget everything you think you know about Kermit Gosnell. Steve Volk is the only journalist that actually talked to Gosnell — over the course of two dozen phone calls, more than 50 emails and 12 letters — and this story is first time Gosnell has spoken publicly about what he did and why he did it. Yes, the inside of Gosnell’s clinic was an unspeakable horror show, but his reasons for doing what he did will surprise you. Because you simply can’t fully grasp the methods to Gosnell’s madness without examining the ways that race, class, addiction, and mental illness factored into his crimes, not to mention how arbitrarily the existing abortion laws draw the line between murder and medical procedure. Volk’s must-read story is neither pro-life nor pro-choice. It’s pro truth.