Inside the Mind of Abortionist and Convicted Murderer Kermit Gosnell

National   |   Dave Andrusko   |   Sep 27, 2013   |   12:31PM   |   Washington, DC

I never wrote this, but after abortionist Kermit Gosnell was sentenced I KNEW we had not heard the last of a man convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. Why? Simply because I had read the interview he had given March 22, 2010, to David Gambacorta of the Philadelphia Daily News long before the trial began (“DOCTOR FROM HELL . . . OR GODSEND?”), the excusatory comments of Jack McMahon, his defense attorney during and after the trial, and what the Grand Jury report said about a man who operated a “House of Horrors.”

So why would that add up to a second act for a man who had been convicted of murdering three babies he’d deliberated aborted alive and then severed their spinal cords and whose untrained, uneducated staff had over-medicated a 41-year-old refugee? Because Gosnell—hard as this is to believe, let alone stomach—clearly sees himself as a victim. Indeed he sees himself as a misunderstood…hero.

Today a friend was kind enough to send along a story written by Kevin Dolak of ABC News which is a preview of a story that will appear in the “Philadelphia Magazine” tomorrow. The curious title of Philadelphia reporter Steve Volk profile? “Gosnell’s Babies.”

When you read that Volk “spoke with Gosnell in exclusive interviews from prison where he is serving three life sentences,” alas, you know what’s coming next, given the access. Volk told Dolak he’d concluded that “Gosnell is an ‘intelligent’ and ‘charismatic’ man,” who “insists that he is not a ‘monster.’”

Until I read the article tomorrow I can’t know for sure whether what comes across clearly in the prequel is true: that Volk has bought Gosnell’s self-portrait as a kind of civil rights martyr hook, line, and sinker. A few examples, each more incredible than the one before.

“He believes himself to be innocent … in this larger spiritual sense. He believes he was performing a service for people that asked him,” said Volt. … “He believes he was a soldier in a war against poverty.” To which Volt adds, “He has a sense of righteousness, that whatever rule he broke, it was worth it.”

“It’s not as if he feels guilty about what he did. He sees the world is [as?] a dark place. He sees himself as having performed a noble function in society. For him, in a perfect, idealized world, it wouldn’t be necessary,” Volk said.

“He believes that he gained insight into what it’s like to be pushed into the system, without the capacity to explain himself,” Volk said. “He believes if he could have spoken about his rationale for doing things, he wouldn’t be in jail … There is no anger, no desperation [in his voice.] He believes he was in a war, and that ‘they’ won.”

Where to begin? Let’s see. He sure fought to make sure HE was never in poverty. Prosecutors said he would make $10,000-$15,000 a night performing late, late abortions on (almost entirely) women of color.

Gosnell performed abortions so late in pregnancy– “the really big ones”– that “even he was afraid to perform in front of others. These abortions were scheduled for Sundays, a day when the clinic was closed and none of the regular employees were present.” No doubt he made even more money for those abortions.

And that doesn’t even address the gobs of money he made writing illegal drug prescriptions, a charge that he pled guilty to after his first trial.

And so long as the “world is a dark place”—one that is not ideal—well, you know somebody has to murder hundreds of viable babies (the conclusion reached by the Philadelphia Grand Jury. He destroyed the records, making prosecution for all those babies’ deaths impossible).

The Grand Jury provided an overview of his “noble function.” Gosnell ran a “medical practice” that was “a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.”

Finally, to portray himself as some helpless, voiceless victim, steamrolled by “The System” is audacious, even by Gosnell’s standards. He chose not to testify because he knew whatever small chance he had of beating the charges was not to allow himself to be cross-examined. And to make the indefensible sound semi-plausible defensible, he hired a pricey attorney, after first pleading poverty and asking for a public defender.

“They won”? “They” certainly were not the thousands of babies Gosnell aborted in his long career. Nor the women he routinely maimed.

“They” was the American public both because this murderer was put behind bars to serve three consecutive life prison terms plus 2-1/2 to 5 years and because people saw a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of a trade that attracts people just like Kermit Gosnell.

What you read from ABC News’s Kevin Dolak would lead the reader to believe there would be more than what actually appeared today in a piece written by reporter Steve Volk about convicted murderer, abortionist Kermit Gosnell. The impression was we’d read the entire article from the “Philadelphia” magazine. What we got, instead, was an excerpt from the story in the magazine that will hit the newsstands later this week and an invitation to buy “an expanded version of ‘Gosnell’s Babies’ as an e-book.”

Nonetheless, between that excerpt and some further reflections on Dolak’s story (“’House of Horrors’ Abortion Doctor Defends His ‘War Against Poverty’”), we can glean much about Gosnell, a man who sees himself as a champion of the poor and a victim of “The System.” (I purchased the ebook and we’ll talk about that on Wednesday.)

Gosnell is serving three consecutive life sentences plus 2 1/2 to 5 years after pleading guilty to three murders and involuntary manslaughter in a case whether his untrained staff gave a 41-year-old refugee too much pain medicine. Just so we’re clear, Gosnell and his attorney, Jack McMahon, copped a plea because they feared the jury might well give Gosnell the death sentence.

The excerpt itself is tiny. Volk said he attended the eight-week-long trial. “Following the trial, Gosnell and I began exchanging letters,” he writes. “Eventually I was placed on his phone list—the only journalist he’s spoken with since his trial.”

I could have missed it, but I didn’t find that Volk had written anything about Gosnell. It’ll be interesting to see in the full article if Volk reveals anything that helps us understand why Gosnell chose him of all the reporters to unburden himself of Gosnell’s raging sense of martyrdom.

Volk writes

“As a narrator of his own life, Gosnell is both open and confounding, honest and unreliable. His manner is relaxed and even breezy, his tone more like that of a man with no serious cares than one incarcerated for life, his name now looming alongside the most infamous murderers in this city’s history. ‘I am committed to proving my innocence,’ Gosnell wrote in an email to me [one of twelve], ‘no matter how long it takes.’”

Here are three takeaways from Volk’s excerpt and the summary the magazine put at the top of the excerpt.

First, Gosnell wants the reader through Volk to judge him not on his actions but what he says are his misunderstood intentions. That is, don’t look at what the Philadelphia Grand Jury believed were the hundreds of late abortions in which the child was aborted/delivered alive and then murdered when he severed their spinal cords. Or the women he maimed. Or the filthy pit in which women were treated like cattle. And, perhaps most of all, not the millions of dollars the prosecution said he made off these women and the illegal pill prescriptions he wrote to addicts.

No, see him as a combatant in “a war against poverty” who “feel[s] comfortable with the things I did and the decisions I made.” How exactly did Gosnell come to that conclusion?

“In an ideal world, we’d have no need for abortion. But bringing a child into the world when it cannot be provided for, that there are not sufficient systems to support, is a greater sin.“

According to the introduction to the excerpt, “Gosnell contends he is ‘innocent’ of the charges against him, laying out complicated—and not particularly credible—reasons he should have been found not guilty. When Volk asked him if he was actually referring to his own sense of ‘spiritual innocence,’ Gosnell responded, “Yes.’”

But, second, Gosnell isn’t really satisfied with mere “spiritual innocence.” Gosnell needs to believe he is the victim of a conspiracy, indeed one motivated by (you guessed it)

“religion and politics. ‘I have come to believe that the presumption of guilt was compounded by religious convictions,’ Gosnell said. ‘ … Were you aware that Seth [Williams, Philadelphia’s district attorney] was an altar boy? Did you know of the strong Catholic presence in the homicide division?”

So, Gosnell is a warrior in the war on poverty, whose noble defense of his community and its needs was cut short by evil Catholics. No wonder he believes (history?) will absolve him.

Third, Gosnell is a poet! He sent Volk several, including one dated April 2013:

Abortion Providers
Are Labeled Killers!
Horrendous, Exploitive
Barbaric, Inhumane
Not Physicians, Oathed To Heal
Lest We Forget,
What Chance Have Those?
Those Without The Support
Of Their Parents
Their Families
Their Communities
Their Societies …
So Many
Without Sufficient Support
Stumble Into Drugs
Into Crime
Into Mental Illness
Into Institutions … And …
Languish in Jails …

So, when Gosnell charges these desperate women outrageous amounts of money to abort their almost fully developed unborn babies, he’s not only fighting a war on poverty, he’s waging a war against crime and illegal drug use! In fact, killing really IS curing in his mind.

Again, forget that Gosnell pled guilty to illegally selling dangerous narcotics as if they candy. (The Grand Jury aptly described Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society as a “pill mill” by day and an “abortion mill” by night.)

Forget that according to The Daily Mail newspaper, this “physician, oathed to heal”

“owned at least nine properties in four states. They included a $900,000 townhouse in Philadelphia, a $800,000 home overlooking the ocean in New Jersey and several condos. He also owns property in Delaware and Texas.”

As I say I’ll read the short e-book tonight and finish up tomorrow. One teaser. In his story written yesterday, ABC News’s Dolak explained

“While in jail he has been reading the Bible, perfecting his Spanish, exercising, and has been contacting charities, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative in attempts to be heard on issues like prison and justice reform.”

I spent the $2.99 to download “Kermit Gosnell’s Babies” and over the course of several hours I read and re-read Volk as he pondered how to make sense of a man convicted of three counts of first-degree murder—babies aborted alive and then slaughtered–and one count of involuntary manslaughter.

In some ways the next-to-penultimate paragraph shrewdly capture what can only be described as Gosnell’s very loose grip on reality. Though he’s serving three consecutive life sentences, at the end of the story, Gosnell says, “My life isn’t over.”

He’s jogging and doing yoga, perfecting his Spanish and sending letters to famous people and foundations, offering his services. “I think I would be a fitting person,” he told what I assume is a slack-jawed Volk, “to address people before they begin a global career in medicine.”

There’s no telling from this small book why Gosnell choose Volk among all the possible reporters to unburden himself to. Perhaps because although Volk attended the eight-week murder trial, he hadn’t previously written about the 72-year-old Gosnell (at least as far as I can tell). Perhaps because he thought Volk would accept at face value Gosnell’s “indirect” way of answering questions, which in practice apparently requires the audience to listen on end to Gosnell insisting that up is down, black is white, and if he wants something to be so, so it is.

I would encourage you to purchase “Philadelphia” magazine or (more easily) download the book. Volk’s piece offers enough quotable quotes that I could just string them end to end. Instead here are a few conclusions that hopefully tie together Volk’s argument (and it IS an argument).

Volk wants to think the charges are, at some level, overblown. Not that Gosnell hadn’t “stabbed them in the back of the neck with scissors,” as Volk writes near the end, and then severed the spinal cords of babies Gosnell had aborted alive. But rather that, for example, none of the babies Gosnell aborted alive moved as vigorously as some of the witnesses insisted.

But as you read the piece, clearly some of these babies had moved, to the point where it made some employees quit and aggravated the many, many psychological and emotional problems these poorly educated women already suffered from. For example

“The arm just jumped. Didn’t it? The leg jerked. Isn’t that baby…breathing? And sometimes, one of his assistants asked: Is that baby alive?

“No, [Gosnell] assured them. That wasn’t a real movement.” …

“Another time, [Ashley] Williams called her co-workers over to see a baby that lay on a counter in the clinic.

“Watch this,” she said.

She reached down to tug on the baby’s arm. The baby drew its arm back.”

To his credit Volk helps us understand just how amazingly filthy —Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society abortion clinic was. One example: A maintenance man approached one of the many, many sick cats that infested the clinic, thinking it was dead.

“But when he picked it up, it started moving. He felt the whole body, seemingly, rippling between his fingers. Shocked, he went completely still, staring at the cat till he could process what was happening. The cat was dead. Stiff like a baseball bat. But fleas, thousand of them, moved in waves through the cat’s fur.”

But authorities had just as much trouble “processing” Gosnell’s bizarre behavior the night of the raid. Unbelievably, the first thing he asked was if he could feed his turtles. Later

“Gosnell tended to one patient, a woman pushing out a stillborn fetus; he returned, still calm, and asked if the agents minded if he ate his dinner. He sat down, pulled a plate of salmon teriyaki from a paper sack, and started to eat with his torn and bloody surgical gloves still covering his hands.”

But Volk is looking for Gosnell as representative or symbolic of something far larger than himself–the “moral balance” all Americas are looking for on the abortion issue?

Gosnell, Volk writes, ”found his own sense of equilibrium somewhere beyond the law, good sense and decency, making choices we find unfathomable, till the police came.” That’s a load which we need to debunk.

Indeed there is so much to the story that, if you don’t mind, we’ll extend this one more day. Volk tells us about his epiphany in which “Suddenly, the central mystery of Gosnell—How could he kill those babies?–had an answer.”

Slate’s Amanda Marcotte, as pro-abortion as they get, makes two astute observations. She rightly notes that there is not a lot new in Volk’s oddly titled piece “Kermit Gosnell’s Babies” and that Volk is trying desperately hard to make Gosnell’s conviction on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter symbolic of some larger political importance. (There were politics involved—pro-abortion politics.)

As you would expect, Marcotte misses/avoids all the specifics that makes Gosnell so shocking and reprehensible. She chooses instead to burnish the credentials of the “reputable abortion community” which, she says, Volk failed to mention “rejected Gosnell.” That “reputable” pro-abortionists shielded Gosnell for at least 17 years goes unmentioned.

And, as I anticipated, those that did mention Volk’s piece still don’t get what the case was about. Take CNN’s Jake Tapper. He intones that “Kermit Gosnell was called a monster for what he did, and how he did it–ending the lives of fetuses past the legal limit in Pennsylvania.” True, he did abort babies past the legal limit in Pennsylvania (a limit which Volk makes clear Gosnell felt only contempt for). However what earned his three consecutive life sentences was not that he aborted past 24 weeks but rather that he aborted babies (not “fetuses”) alive and then murdered them by slitting their spinal cords.



But Tapper (assisted by Jessica Metzger) does observe in passing

“There is also an incredibly fascinating antidote [anecdote] about Gosnell fleeing the country in 1972, after taking part in a horrific abortion experiment.”

That part of the story is an antidote to anyone who persuades themselves that pro-lifers are to blame for the politics behind Gosnell’s “House of Horrors.” The truth is that pro-abortionists did not want “access” limited, so they simply looked the other way or refused to investigate clear evidence that the Women’s Medical Society was a hell-hole, including the death of Semika Shaw in March 2000. And that directive came directly from the governor’s office, as the Philadelphia Grand Jury report made clear.

The antidote/anecdote speaks volumes about Gosnell. (For a full explanation, see “Abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s ‘Mother’s Day Massacre.’”

In 1972 he participated in a hideous experiment on unsuspecting women in their second trimester that to this day is almost beyond belief. According to the Grand Jury, Gosnell used an experimental device called a super coil [“basically plastic razors that were formed into a ball”] “developed by a California man named Harvey Karman, who had run an underground abortion service in the 1950s.” But instead of “only” slicing the unborn baby, it also tore up the women’s insides. The Grand Jury wrote

“The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health subsequently did an investigation that detailed serious complications suffered by nine of the 15 women, including one who needed a hysterectomy.

“The complications included a punctured uterus, hemorrhage, infections, and retained fetal remains .The CDC researchers recommended strict controls on any future testing of the device.”

Not only does this tell us all we need to know about Gosnell’s attitude towards his patients, what Volk says next reminds us that even in the 1970s Gosnell was not particularly worried about prosecution:

“Gosnell fled to the Bahamas [for a year], reasoning that if Pennsylvania’s board of medicine failed to take action in his absence, he might return to find his license still valid.”

Which proved to be the case then, and later, as the abuses piled up.

Volk elaborates on the tack taken by the headline writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He/she labeled David Gambacorta’s 2010 interview with Gosnell–“DOCTOR FROM HELL . . . OR GODSEND?”

Volk keeps trying to emphasize how to parts of the community Gosnell remains a hero—“The Good Doctor.” He is never able to explain why Gosnell’s career “bifurcated” when he came back from the Bahamas:

“His return to the States within a year, and eventually to Philadelphia begins a narrative that splits in two, with one track spanning a life of routine good deeds and another leading to indictments encompassing more than 200 criminal deeds.”

Volk rejects the prosecution’s argument: greed. Gosnell made $1.8 million a year and had properties galore. But since Gosnell lived in unimaginable squalor and left many purchases unopened, that convinces Volk it must be something else.

Volk offers his own bevy of explanations which begins with Gosnell’s insistence that he was looking for more “merciful” ways to abort. His staff said Gosnell stopped using Digoxin to attempt to kill the child in utero, because he was so incompetent. Gosnell denies he stopped. Why is that important to Gosnell?

“He said he’d never actually seen a baby move, beyond a ‘reflex’ when the scissors snipped the spinal cord. He snipped the necks of dead babies, he claimed, merely to prevent any possible pain reception—as if dead babies feel any pain at all.”

Volk chases him down but Gosnell continues to bob and weave.

“I pressed him on this, explaining that it simply didn’t seem credible for a medical doctor to be worrying about the pain experienced by a fetus he felt sure was dead. …He could never explain himself. And his answers seemed carefully couched: ‘I never saw anything I took as fetal movement.’”

The piece comes to a preliminary climax when Volk provides Gosnell with a rational for what he had done in a direct and more eloquent way than Gosnell could articulate. In an email, Gosnell tells him, in effect, you got it, buddy. Volk tells us

“I stared at that email for a long time, because as near as I could figure it, Kermit Gosnell was on the verge of confessing. He used unlicensed, unqualified staff, leading directly to the death of Karnamaya Mongar, because he simply didn’t respect state regulations. He judged the length of pregnancy of the women who walked into his office not on strictly medical terms, but based on his own ethical judgment: If my daughter were in these circumstances, would I want her to have access to an abortion? And finally, according to staff members, babies did—by the operative legal definition—show signs of life at 3801 Lancaster. Then Kermit Barron Gosnell, presiding, stabbed them in the back of the neck with scissors. Only in his mind, because he had injected them with Digoxin, they were going to die anyway. To him, their weak movements weren’t signs of life; they were signs of how close death stood.” …

“’Dr. Gosnell,’ I told him, ‘you’ve admitted, on all the major charges, you’re guilty.’

“He was quiet for a long time before saying in a slow, weary voice: ‘No, I’m innocent.’

So what is Volk’s own “explanation” for how Gosnell could do what he did (and implicitly, live with himself)? First, we read Gosnell’s all-purpose excuse.

“In an ideal world,” he responded, “We’d have no need for abortion. But bringing a child into the world when it cannot be provided for, that there are not sufficient systems to support, is a greater sin. I consider myself to be in a war against poverty, and I feel comfortable with the things I did and the decisions I made.”

This prompts Volk to write

“Suddenly, the central mystery of Gosnell—How could he kill those babies?–had an answer: In his mind they were casualties of that larger war; their blooming and birthing and the suffering they would experience and cause represent a greater harm, a bigger sin, than pruning them away.”

In other words, “in his own mind,” all the ghastly things Gosnell had done (“the lies to his staff, the babies he killed, the bogus ultrasound measurements and unsafe, unsanitary conditions”) were “forgiven: The situational ethics demanded of a man at war.”

Talk about a cop-out.

One final thought. You KNEW there had to be a kind of moral equivalency lurking somewhere in the piece. We would be told that, ethically, in some way, Gosnell and pro-lifers had been separated at birth. But how?

Gosnell insists he was and is a Christian (now that he is in prison he’s taken up studying the Bible for the first time, we’re told). And Volk takes Gosnell’s reference to “sin” as evidence he has a kind of religiosity.

Blend that half-baked religiosity with a faith–so to speak–in “situational ethics” (earlier Gosnell told Volk, “I am a big believer in situational ethics”), mix it with an overweening “sense of righteousness” and, voila, you get the religiosity that, Volk argues, “We normally think of …as the province of the pro-life movement.”


Gosnell made his peace with what he was doing a long time ago–long before the woman who started coming into his abortion clinic were much further along in their pregnancies. His “bifurcation”—practically Dr. Welby to some members of his community for his care during the day and a moral monster at night—is straight out of Robert Lewis Stevenson.

He could be a soldier in the war on poverty and make money hand over fist off of poor women of color by performing, according to Volk, up to 25 second trimester abortions on “any given Tuesday” (or Wednesday or Thursday). As the women got bigger Gosnell just adjusted the ultrasound results so that they were always close to the legal limit of 24 weeks.

Gosnell has such contempt for the law on abortion (and murder) that he has to blame “religion and politics” for his trial.

“I have come to believe that the presumption of guilt was compounded by religious convictions,’ Gosnell said. … ‘Were you aware that Seth [Williams, Philadelphia’s district attorney] was an altar boy? Did you know of the strong Catholic presence in the homicide division?””

His attorney, Jack McMahon, feeds into Gosnell’s enormous ego and sense of persecution.

“Relatively well-off law-enforcement personnel, he said, with no experience of abortion clinics could not have been prepared for what they would see.”

What did these “relatively well-off law-enforcement personnel” see? Here’s what former employees Latosha Lewis and Kareema Cross told the Grand Jury.

“They described the odor that struck one immediately upon entering – a mix of smells emanating from the cloudy fish tank where the turtles were fed crushed clams and baby formula; and from boxes of medical waste that sat around for weeks at a time, leaking blood, whenever Gosnell failed to pay the bill to the disposal company. They described blood-splattered floors, and blood-stained chairs in which patients waited for and then recovered from abortions. Even the stirrups on the procedure table were often caked with dried blood that was not cleaned off between procedures. There were cat feces and hair throughout the facility, including in the two procedure rooms. Gosnell, they said, kept two cats at the facility (until one died) and let them roam freely.

“The cats not only defecated everywhere, they were infested with fleas. They slept on beds in the facility when patients were not using them.”

But that was only the physical setting. When officers raided the clinic, they found half-naked, drug-stupored women in various stages of delivery of huge babies, all of whom were (un)attended by untrained, unsupervised staff dispensing powerful drugs for which they had no medical training. It was straight out of Dante’s Inferno.

Gosnell was not a “rogue” (the favorite term pro-abortionists use to distance themselves from Gosnell). My guess is that, over time, we will find there are more just like him—minus the lice and dead cats. Note: Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life News and an author and editor of several books on abortion topics. This post originally appeared in his National Right to Life News Today —- an online column on pro-life issues.