Kermit Gosnell spent more than 30 years performing illegal abortions. Many of his clients were 6, 7 or even 8 months pregnant. If babies were born alive, as they often were, he killed them by snipping their necks. He punctured women’s uteruses, left fetal bits and chunks inside them to cause sepsis and infections. He cut off little feet, placed them in jars and arrayed them on a shelf. A woman would be given labor-inducing drugs, then told to sit on a toilet to “precipitate” her baby into the shitter. High on the wall outside Gosnell’s clinic, there’s a white metal silhouette of a man and woman swinging a child between them. “FAMILY PLANNING” is among the advertised services.
Gosnell is a well-known figure in Powelton Village, where his clinic is located, and Mantua, where he has a mansion on a hill, overlooking the Schuylkill River. Before opening his “baby charnel house” abortion mill, Gosnell operated the Mantua Halfway House. Even as he collected millions in government funding to rehab drug addicts, he dealt methadone. He even hired a noted artist, Joe Tiberino, to paint an anti-drug mural on the building where he sold drugs. At the Powelton clinic, Gosnell also dispensed pills illegally. Prescriptions were pre-signed, to be handed out by a 15-year-old receptionist. Hey, if Queen Victoria could push opium, and the C.I.A. ferry tons of heroin here and there, why shouldn’t this small time doctor drop a few tablets onto needy hands?
Mantua, also known as “The Bottom,” is a crime and drug ridden neighborhood. It’s curious that Gosnell, a millionaire, would buy a house there, albeit a Victorian mansion. He decorated it with oil paintings, hired Polish maids. Tall, well-educated and exercised, Gosnell belongs to a family that’s been financially comfortable for generations. The power and prestige of the black elite were undercut by racial integration, however. Your average black man could now enter a white restaurant, put his money in a white bank, open his mouth to a white dentist. Gosnell survived this sea change by selling drugs to his fellow blacks and by aborting or killing black babies. When white women entered his clinic, they were led to a cleaner area and treated with more consideration. As he explained, quite candidly, to his mixed race staff, “It’s the way of the world.”
Nearly half of all black pregnancies in America end in abortion. Whatever your politics, that should be an alarming statistic. (Worldwide, the highest rate of abortions belongs to the country of my birth, Vietnam.) A week before the Gosnell story broke, there was a news item about a Memphis high school where 90 girls were pregnant. High rates of abortions and teen pregnancies can only result in head and heart aches.
The sexual revolution coincided with better and more accessible methods of contraception, but as this sexual culture became all pervasive and entrenched, means for dealing with it responsibly have not always been available. Many poor women have no doctors, hence no birth control pills. Pregnant, they have inadequate or no prenatal care. Should they need an abortion, they must wait to come up with the cash. In Italy, home of the Catholic Church, where many nuns work in public hospitals and there’s a crucifix in every hospital room, abortions are performed for free. Why? Because they have universal healthcare.
Indicting Gosnell, the Philadelphia District Attorney stated, “Pennsylvania is not a third-world country. There were several oversight agencies that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago.” Casualties of his botched abortions were also routinely brought to local emergency rooms, yet no outside doctors intervened. In short, plenty of people saw what was happening, but they were either too callous, cynical or bureaucratic to care.
If bad, corrupt and neglectful government and atrocious healthcare are signs of third-worldness, then much of the United States is already there. We’re number three! Our brand of Third World is unique, however. We have managed to become both over and under developed. Unlike teeming Third World shanty towns, our slums are desolate and nearly devoid of street activities. Even before dark, everyone is bolt, chain and padlocked inside, watching 500 channels. Poverty always means the pettiest commerce, peddling and hustling, selling stuff and service from home or on the sidewalk, but this unregulated trade exists much less in America. With the strictest zoning laws on the planet, we basically outlaw survival on the lowest rungs. You can’t just set up a two table restaurant in your kitchen, offer candies and sodas on your stoops, or walk around mumbling, “Cigarettes, cigarettes,” though our poorest do try.
Recently, I sat in a bar in West Philadelphia, not far from Gosnell’s clinic. Within three hours, three men wandered in to sell incense, sheets of a Xeroxed, quite atrocious poem and (probably fake) Sex in the City perfume. Just outside Philly, in Chester, where Martin Luther King went to college, you can see men sell body oils, incense, clothing and nominal books on the sidewalks of its abject downtown. This mode of survival will spread, so the government should leave these tenacious Americans alone. What it shouldn’t neglect to do, however, is to protect our most vulnerable—and you can’t be more helpless than a newly born infant—from predators like Kermit Gosnell.
Several days have passed since this story broke, yet there’s no uproar from the mainstream or even alternative media. This is the biggest mass murder in U.S. history. Within walking distance of downtown Philadelphia, and merely six blocks from UPenn, a $40,000 a year, Ivy League school, hundreds of babies were butchered as government officials looked the other way. With failure and depravity on so many levels, there has been no national mourning or soul searching. That in itself is a tragedy.
LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, and the recently published novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.