Object Lesson: Bad Clinic Care Proves The Horrible Sickness Of Some Abortion Laws

By Donald A. Collins | 4 April 2013
Church and State

(Credit: John Stephen Dwyer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Maryclaire Dale’s 4/4/13 Associated Press story posted on Huffington, “Kermit Gosnell’s Abortion Clinic Was Chaotic Says Former Staffer Stephen Massof” describes allegations at an ongoing trial.

Certainly in the broadest sense, the provision of abortion services remains for our nation an on going trial, as we witness the growing list of state laws which inhibit the provision of what when delivered in early pregnancies by qualified medical personnel (not necessarily physicians) is a safe and simple procedure.

This fact we know from long experience. I was a founding director of Ipas in the early 1970’s. I encourage anyone interested in its exemplary record on behalf of woman worldwide to access its web site for further information. www.ipas.org

At this site you will learn that “The average cost of an abortion in the United States is $451, according to the Guttmacher Institute. For low-income women, that’s a significant percentage of their monthly income.” So cost and how early in a pregnancy abortion occurs are 2 key factors.

This current trial brings forth grizzly allegations about abortion services where poor women faced what for them was an unmanageable cost and tried for services too late. In short, poverty and desperation made their choices go completely wrong.

Dale in her article tells us that

“A former clinic worker testified Thursday that he routinely saw babies born alive and then killed with scissors at an inner-city Philadelphia clinic that catered to minorities, the poor and women with late-term pregnancies.

But unlicensed doctor Stephen Massof also thought clinic owner Kermit Gosnell was trying to help vulnerable women seeking abortions. Dr. Gosnell, 72, is on trial for capital murder, charged with killing a woman patient and seven newborns.

“I believe that Dr. Gosnell was honestly trying to help women and protect them from abuse and neglect,” Massof, a prosecution witness, said on cross-examination.

The statement came in questioning about why Gosnell kept fetal samples, including severed feet, in jars at the clinic. Massof said that Gosnell measured the feet to estimate gestational age, which could help confirm or disprove sexual assault allegations. Prosecution experts have said there are no sound medical reasons for an abortion provider to do that, when blood and other samples can be stored.

The trial is in its third week and is expected to last another month.

Massof awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to third-degree murder for two infant deaths. Eight clinic employees have pleaded guilty to various charges, while a ninth is on trial with Gosnell. Eileen O’Neill, another unlicensed doctor, is charged with theft for allegedly practicing medicine without a license.

O’Neill did not perform abortions, but instead worked in an upstairs office with older women and others seeking gynecological or general care, Massof said. She came downstairs frequently to confer with Gosnell, he told defense lawyer James Berardinelli, who was apparently trying to show that O’Neill was only assisting Gosnell with patient care.

Massof, who grew up near Pittsburgh, said he spent seven years doing graduate-level medical research at Yale, Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere, but then went to medical school in Grenada when U.S. schools turned him down. He called medical school his “backup plan,” after a stint owning a bar didn’t work out.

A mutual acquaintance led him to Gosnell’s clinic, where he spent five years before leaving in 2008 over a dispute with other staffers. He was charged with murder three years later, after a 2010 FBI probe of Gosnell’s distribution of painkillers spawned a raid at the clinic, and the more serious abortion case.

Massof smiled oddly Thursday as he gave graphic testimony about conditions at the clinic, which he said deteriorated during his five-year tenure. He made only $200 to $300 a week to oversee a high volume of second-trimester patients going through labor – and, often, delivery. He said he saw at least one baby take a breath, and another jerk its leg. Gosnell told his staff that such movements were “spontaneous,” Massof said.

Massof estimated that he saw about 100 babies born alive and then “snipped” with surgical scissors in the back of the neck, to ensure their “demise.”

Gosnell, who had another clinic in Delaware, typically came in only at night for the final part of the procedure, leaving Massof to monitor the pain-racked or highly sedated women.

“I felt like a firemen in hell. I couldn’t put out all the fires,” he testified.

Gosnell, meanwhile, took in more than $1 million a year, and kept $250,000 in cash under his mattress, prosecutors have said.

“He always led me to believe he was a poor, struggling urban physician and surgeon,” Massof said. “I thought he was hurting financially.”

Outside the courthouse Thursday, leaders of two black, anti-abortion groups condemned Gosnell as racist for aborting so many black babies during his 30-year career. Gosnell, who is also black, performed as many as 1,000 abortions a year, many to minorities and immigrants.

“Kermit Gosnell is a racist of the worst kind,” Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union, said. “He is also a butcher who preyed on the women and girls of his own race – making millions of dollars from the desperation and despair of women from his own community.”

The trial resumes Monday.”

This trial offers us what educators call “the educatable moment”, one which the most avid pro lifer should ponder with care. Whether Gosnell or anyone who worked in this clinic are guilty will rest on the purview of the court, but justice, regardless of the court’s decision justice will not have been done for the women who went there.

This trial raises the vital question of who is ultimately responsible for these terrible outcomes.

In my view it will not be the defendants in this case, but the failure of our system to treat abortion as a simple, safe medical procedure when performed in a qualified facility and chosen by any woman who wants one at any time in her pregnancy. That was the mandate of Roe vs Wade and its undercutting by ideologues has produced this monstrous outcome and many like it ever since 1973 when an enlightened Supreme Court recognized privacy as an inalienable right in our Constitution.

The real murderers in this story are sadly conflicted zealots such as Americans United For Life (AUL), who truly are people united to force situations such as the above upon the quivering vaginas of the poorest, weakest, least educated women among us.

Go to AUL’s web site (www.aul.org) you will find its arguments feature the right of religious conscience. Ok, no one has asked its founder, Charmaine Yoest, to have an abortion. But she and anyone against abortions for such reasons are, unlike those poor women in Philadelphia, free to choose not to have one!

Another prominent AUL demand is not wanting to have government money pay for abortions. Of course arguing for more unwanted babies is hardly a great idea.

However, let’s suppose you and I start a movement to forbid any health scheme, government or private, from paying for setting broken legs or any standard medical need. Would Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, have ever said, “Hey let nature fix it”??

A complete package of health benefits for all of us, including women, must embrace reproductive health and that, Charmaine, means contraception and, yes, even late abortions, although the incidence of this more expensive procedure is small, but again performed under qualified conditions is usually quite safe.

In 1997, the Guttmacher Institute estimated the number of abortions in the U.S. past 24 weeks to be 0.08%, or approximately 1,032 per year.

Anti choice voices are abetted by the immoral support of misguided religious forces with political and financial power which can abet these crimes against women to achieve the above outcome. Weak kneed and politically malleable legislatures have blindly attacked women all around the USA.

The cost of these combined failures of morality must first be measured by these oft occurring horrors against women and their families, while those outcomes then ultimately get measured financially against us all and against all our consciences.

It is high time that such efforts which produce conditions such as are alleged in the Gosnell trial be eliminated by more money for free contraception and less legislation against abortion choice.

It will only happen if the majority of us who favor choice keep standing up for it in every jurisdiction.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
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