PHILADELPHIA — When Davida Johnson walked into Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s clinic to get an abortion in 2001, she saw what she described as dazed women sitting in dirty, bloodstained recliners. As the abortion got under way, she had a change of heart — but claims she was forced by the doctor to continue.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ and he smacked me. They tied my hands and arms down and gave me more medication,” Johnson told The Associated Press.
Johnson, then 21, had a 3-year-old daughter when she became pregnant again. She said she first went to Planned Parenthood in downtown Philadelphia but was frightened away by protesters.
“The picketers out there, they just scared me half to death,” Johnson, now 30, recalled this week.
Someone sent her to Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, at the Women’s Medical Society, saying anti-abortion protesters wouldn’t be a problem there. She said she paid him $400 cash.
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A few months after the abortion, she began to have gynecological problems. An examination revealed venereal disease. She blames Gosnell, 69, for the lifelong illness, which she declined to identify, and for the four miscarriages she has subsequently suffered.
Johnson learned last week that Philadelphia prosecutors believe Gosnell frequently delivered late-term babies alive at his clinic, then severed their spines with scissors, and often stored the fetal bodies — along with staff lunches — in refrigerators at the squalid facility. Tiny baby feet, prosecutors said, were discovered in specimen jars, lined up in a macabre collection.
“Did he do that to mine? Did he stab him in the neck?” Johnson asked at her North Philadelphia home. “Because I was out of it. I don’t know what he did to my baby.”
Gosnell was charged last week with killing seven babies born alive and with the 2009 death of a 41-year-old refugee after a botched abortion at the clinic, which prosecutors have called a drug mill by day and abortion mill by night. The medical practice alone netted him at least $1.8 million a year, much of it in cash, they say.
Prosecutors said uncounted hundreds more babies died there.
“(He) regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” said a report of the grand jury that investigated Gosnell and his clinic for a year.
The grand jury said while it believes Gosnell killed most of the babies he aborted after 24 weeks, it could not recommend murder charges for all of the cases.
“In order to constitute murder, the act must involve a baby who was born alive,” the grand jury said, adding that it was stymied by files that were falsified or removed and possibly destroyed.
“His entire practice showed nothing but a callous disdain for the lives of his patients,” said the nearly 300-page grand jury report, released Wednesday.
The panel also had scathing criticism for Pennsylvania state health and medical regulators, saying they had numerous opportunities to shut Gosnell down over the years but ignored complaint after complaint about filthy conditions and illegal operations.
In all, prosecutors said, state officials failed to inspect the clinic despite repeated complaints from 1993 until January 2010, when a federal drug raid investigating heavy painkiller distribution at the clinic shut it down.
“His contempt for laws designed to protect patients’ safety resulted in the death of Karnamaya Mongar,” the refugee from Bhutan, the grand jury report said.
Unlicensed staff members gave Mongar far too much anesthesia for her 4-foot-11-inch, 110-pound body, hours before Gosnell arrived for his evening slate of abortions, the grand jury charged.
Gosnell, at his arraignment Thursday, said he did not understand why he was being charged with eight counts of murder.
“I understand the one count, because a patient died, but I didn’t understand the seven counts,” he told a magistrate.
The magistrate explained the other counts involved babies who prosecutors say were born alive, and she denied him bail.
Four other clinic employees are charged with murder for roles prosecutors say they had in the deaths of Mongar or the viable babies. Gosnell’s wife was charged with performing illegal abortions and other crimes and is being held on $1 million bail.
Gosnell, in an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News after the clinic raid last year, described himself as someone who wanted to serve the poor and minorities in the neighborhood where he grew up and raised his six children, who include a doctor, a college professor and two children who are still at home.
Defense lawyer William J. Brennan, who represented Gosnell during the investigation, said Gosnell “feels he has provided a general care medical facility in a fairly impoverished area for four decades.”
“That’s his belief,” Brennan said, “and he’s entitled to it.”
Gosnell told the magistrate he’s looking to retain another lawyer, and Brennan confirmed he’s not representing Gosnell anymore.
“I wish him well, but I am not taking this case,” Brennan said. “The doctor and I have had our run.”
In one 1999 case, prosecutors said, 20-year-old Marie Smith was sent home after a Gosnell abortion unaware that he had been unable to remove the entire fetus from her uterus. Days later, vomiting and with a swollen abdomen and severe infection, Smith was taken to a hospital, where she was rushed into surgery.
Her mother, Johnnie Mae Smith, said she was shocked at the “nasty and dirty, filthy” conditions in the clinic. When her daughter took ill days later, she called Gosnell.
“I said, ‘What did you do to my daughter? … My daughter’s about to die,’ Smith said. “He said, ‘Take her to the hospital.'”
Gosnell turned up at the hospital with his checkbook, she said, aiming to settle immediately. Instead, she chased him away, vowing to sue. Later, her daughter got $3,000, after lawyer fees, from a $5,000 settlement.
Johnson never sued over the abortion or ensuing venereal disease, but 46 other parties have, including the family of 22-year-old Semika Shaw, who prosecutors said died of sepsis at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in March 2002 two days after Gosnell perforated her uterus and cervix during an abortion.
Gosnell’s insurer later settled the family’s lawsuit over her death for $900,000 and referred a complaint and the settlement to state health officials who oversee the clinic and Gosnell’s medical license. The insurer’s complaint brought no action, prosecutors said, because a Board of Medicine attorney said “the risk was inherent with the procedure.”
Gosnell typically worked from about 8 p.m. until after midnight, arriving only after his pregnant patients were dilated, sedated and ready for the abortion procedure.
During the day, his untrained or undertrained staff ran the clinic and practiced medicine there, authorities said. They ranged from two supposed “doctors” who had finished medical school but had no licenses to Ashley Baldwin, the 15-year-old daughter of office manager Tina Baldwin, prosecutors said. The teenager came after school to administer anesthesia and assist with abortions, even past midnight, the grand jury charged.
“As Ashley’s involvement in Gosnell’s illegal practices became deeper — at one point she was working 50-hour weeks and well past midnight, while trying to complete high school — Tina did nothing to curtail her minor daughter’s exploitation by Gosnell,” prosecutors wrote in the report.
Tina Baldwin, 45, is charged with corruption of minors and helping to run a corrupt enterprise. Eight of her co-workers were charged with Gosnell.
Baldwin’s husband, Michael Baldwin, told the AP this week that his wife got the Gosnell clinic job eight years ago after a business school she attended referred her there for an internship. She worked up front, taking cash from patients as they walked in.
Baldwin denied that his wife performed any medical tasks or witnessed anything untoward at Gosnell’s clinic. Ashley worked in recovery, making sure the patients had clothes and a ride home, he said.
“How’s she going to give anesthesia? My daughter’s scared of needles,” he said of Ashley, who is now 20 and pregnant and still works in the medical field.
The younger woman, who prosecutors said was present the night Mongar died, was not charged.
Both women cooperated throughout the yearlong grand jury probe, and the family was therefore stunned — and angered — by Tina Baldwin’s pre-dawn arrest on Wednesday, Michael Baldwin said.
Mongar had fled Bhutan and had survived nearly 20 years in refugee camps in Nepal, even after cholera took the life of a 4-year-old daughter. She and her family had made it to the United States just four months earlier to pursue “all that America has to offer,” according to lawyer Bernard W. Smalley, who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Gosnell this week.
“She was the matriarch of their family, and now she’s no longer there. Her children will all have to be raised without her,” Smalley told the AP.
Mongar was referred to Gosnell’s clinic in the city’s impoverished Mantua section by a clinic in Virginia that did not do second-trimester abortions. Abortions are legal in Pennsylvania until 24 weeks; prosecutors said Gosnell routinely performed illegal third-trimester abortions — when babies are viable and the procedure is far more dangerous.
Gosnell was certified in family practice but had never finished an obstetrics/gynecology residency. In the words of Joanne Pescatore, a lead prosecutor on the case, “He does not know how to do an abortion.”
Gosnell perforated the uteruses, bowels and cervixes of countless patients, the grand jury report charged. He left fetal parts inside, ignored postoperative pain and bleeding and passed venereal diseases from one patient to the next through bloody and dirty instruments, the report said.
Besides his abortion practice, authorities said, he ranked third in the state for the number of prescriptions he wrote for OxyContin, the highly addictive narcotic painkiller. Authorities allege that he left blank prescriptions for such drugs at his office and allowed staff to make them out to the cash-paying patients who streamed in during the day, when he wasn’t there.
Johnson’s husband, Bobby, was one of Gosnell’s pain patients. He said he went to Gosnell last year, paying $250 cash, to see the doctor about a debilitating pinched nerve. At the time, he said, he did not know his wife had gone to Gosnell years earlier, before they were married, for an abortion.