WASHINGTON – The murder trial of Kermit Gosnell entered its fifth week Monday (April 15) with new media interest in an abortion doctor who allegedly practiced infanticide in his clinic.
Gosnell, 72, faces seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable children who were killed after delivery and a count of third-degree murder in the death of a Virginia woman during a 2009 abortion.
Those seven babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, a grand jury reported in 2011. After delivery, Gosnell – or another staff member – would jab scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cut the spinal cord, according to the grand jury. Gosnell called the killing of these children “snipping.”
Witnesses recounted the killings of babies struggling for life outside the womb and the horrible conditions at the clinic during the trial’s first four weeks, but most major news organizations ignored or paid little attention to the trial despite the sensational testimony.
By Monday (April 15), however, that had begun to change. After an outcry from some in the news media and a pro-life campaign on Twitter, CNN covered the story in prime time April 12. “CBS This Morning” telecast a nearly four–minute report Monday. When the trial reconvened Monday, reporters from The Washington Post and other major news outlets were present in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court for the first time.
What local reporters, and some from conservative news organizations, heard in the trial’s first four weeks in the major news media’s absence included:
Former clinic staffer Adrienne Moton told jurors March 19 she “couldn’t give you a number” of how many times Gosnell killed infants outside the womb by cutting their spinal cords, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Gosnell joked about the size of one born-alive baby he killed, “[T]his baby is going to walk me home,” said Ashley Baldwin, who started working at the clinic as a 15 year old, The Inquirer reported.
A “snipping” is “like a beheading,” said former Gosnell employee Steven Massof April 4, The Inquirer reported. When mothers were given drugs to induce sudden contractions, “[I]t would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place,” Massof said.
Former clinic worker Lynda Williams said April 9 part of her job was to pick up the bodies of babies expelled from their mothers’ wombs in the waiting room after the women received large doses of drugs to dilate their cervices.
Firefighters were unable to take a woman on a stretcher through the clinic’s hallways because they were too narrow in a 2009 incident, a Philadelphia Fire Department officer said March 25, according to The Inquirer. Paramedics – who were trying to save the life of Kamamaya Mongar, 41, who went into a coma during an abortion – had to cut through a padlock on an emergency door because no one on staff had a key. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Cheryl Sullenger, pro-life advocate whose research has produced disciplinary action against various abortion doctors, said the witnesses, with one exception, “have given compelling testimony that I think will be nearly impossible for the defense to overcome.”
Sullenger, senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue, has followed the case closely since 2010 and was in the courtroom during the trial’s third week. She had read the grand jury report and was therefore familiar with most of what she heard from witnesses in the trial, Sullenger told Baptist Press in an email interview.
“It was interesting to hear, however, how the people working for Gosnell were needy, desperate people with few options in life. He seemed to seek out people like that for his clinic,” said Sullenger, who added all of the former employees except one seemed “emotionally affected in a negative way by their work at Gosnell’s clinic.”
She hopes the trial “will awaken Americans to the ugly truth about how abortion clinics are run in America and how a lack of oversight only allows abortionists to prey on and exploit women, especially poor women of color…. Maybe the public will now be open to hearing about abortion abuses that go on in clinics every day and realize there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ abortion clinic. We hope it will lead to stronger laws restricting abortion and greater oversight and enforcement. Perhaps if America can begin to understand the truth about the barbaric practice of abortion, we as a nation will finally stop tolerating it.”
BP requested comment from three leading abortion rights organizations – Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-choice America and National Abortion Federation – to two questions involving the Gosnell trial: What is their response to testimony Dr. Gosnell killed viable babies who survived abortions? How can state government make sure conditions similar to those reported at Gosnell’s clinic are not duplicated at other reproductive health centers?
Tarek Rizk, NARAL’s communication director, said in response, “This is an example of what happens to women and basic dignity when abortion isn’t available to all women by safe and legal providers.”
Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation did not reply before this article was submitted.
The Gosnell trial continues as health and safety complaints against abortion clinics mount. For instance, two nurses quit their jobs at Planned Parenthood of Delaware because of conditions at the clinic, they told WPVI-TV, the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia. One told a reporter, “I couldn’t tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was.” On April 10, WPVI-TV reported five patients at the clinic allegedly have been taken to the emergency room since early January.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Board of Health gave final approval April 12 to new regulations that require abortion clinics to comply with hospital-like building standards.
Major news organizations seemed to begin to backtrack on what critics described as a news blackout of the Gosnell trial after Democrat columnist Kirsten Powers wrote a scathing piece April 10 in USA Today. The former Clinton administration official said the “deafening silence of too much of the media … is a disgrace.”
“You don’t have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy,” Powers wrote. “This is not about being ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life.’ It’s about human rights.”
Some reporters or editors acknowledged their pro-choice affinity and confessed their news organizations should have been covering the trial.
Meanwhile, pro-lifers took to Twitter to get their message out. Actress Patricia Heaton, who starred in the television sit-com “Everybody Loves Raymond,” tweeted about the lack of news coverage. On April 11, she tweeted, “Media treats footballer’s imaginary girlfriend as real, treats murdered babies in Philly abortion clinic as imaginary.”
Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (EST) April 12, more than 166,800 tweets were posted with the hashtag #Gosnell, LifeSite News reported.
Mollie Hemingway, a Washington, D.C., reporter for Federal Times, questioned other reporters about their lack of coverage and analyzed the under-reporting of the trial in a podcast for the Get Religion blog to which she contributes. She pointed to the assumption the reporters in question are pro-choice and don’t want to hurt the abortion rights cause, as well as the possibility there “may be an element of racism,” since those exploited in Gosnell’s clinic were minorities.
She also said the case does not fit the narrative some like for such stories.
“The standard narrative is: ‘If you’re pro-life, you’re misogynistic and you treat women poorly,’” Hemingway said. “And if you’re Planned Parenthood or someone who is running an abortion clinic, then we’re supposed to believe that you are very pro-female…. This turns that narrative upside down quite a bit, and I think it might be hard for reporters to figure out how to keep that narrative going if they have stories like this.
“When the media don’t give this story what it deserves, are they not sort of being accomplices to these types of crimes? Those are very serious charges that I am making,” she said, “but I do think as a profession we need to always shine a light on the defenseless, whether we are talking about poor immigrants who are going to a horrifically disgusting clinic to take care of what they perceive as a problem that they can’t handle otherwise and end up dead or whether it’s these children who were born alive and … screamed as nurses clipped their spinal cords.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)