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Trial raises issue of abortion clinic oversight

Gosnell

– There was no shortage of red flags about what was allegedly going on in the three-story brick building on a bustling stretch of Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia.

A routine inspection of Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic had turned up problems as early as 1989, according to official reports. More recently, hospital workers and attorneys had repeatedly contacted state health officials with disturbing reports about women who had contracted the same venereal disease after visiting the clinic; a 14-year-old girl who had had an illegal abortion at 30 weeks of pregnancy; and a 41-year-old Virginia woman who had died after an abortion.

But it wasn’t until 2010, when authorities raided the clinic over its distribution of painkillers, that authorities uncovered evidence that led to Gosnell’s capital murder trial, which started in March.

Gosnell faces seven first-degree murder charges resulting from the deaths of babies whose spinal cords he allegedly severed after they were born alive. He is also charged with third-degree murder in the death of the Virginia woman, Karnamaya Mongar.

The prosecution rested Thursday after weeks of testimony from former employees who reported seeing babies moving and breathing after they were delivered. Gosnell or other workers would then cut their necks, the witnesses said. Jurors also heard about the allegedly unsanitary conditions from Mongar’s relatives.

Gosnell’s attorney has said that no live births took place and that Mongar suffered from respiratory problems. Gosnell could face the death penalty if convicted.

The case has captivated and repulsed a nation where back-alley abortion clinics have become a rarity since 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion.

The rules governing abortion clinics vary widely by state and invariably become tangled in the issue’s incendiary politics, with supporters of abortion rights often complaining they are too onerous and abortion foes calling for ever-stricter guidelines.

Abortion rights advocates note that Pennsylvania has strict laws governing abortion clinics but that they were not enforced. They say that Gosnell’s case is rare and that abortions are among the safest of medical procedures.

But abortion foes say the case has been a wake-up call about the lack of oversight and the potential for abuse in abortion facilities.

“This is our Sandy Hook,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, an antiabortion activist group, referring to the mass shooting in Connecticut that led to unprecedented calls for gun regulations. “Because of Gosnell, I am hoping and praying and working toward raising the public awareness that abortion mills need to be regulated, inspected, licensed, at the very least like your local breakfast place.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has called the lack of oversight by state officials “despicable.” He fired or suspended some workers for negligence after the grand jury investigation, and others have resigned. Corbett also announced that abortion clinics throughout the state would be subject to annual inspections, as well as periodic unannounced visits.

Activists on both sides of the issue say the conditions inside Gosnell’s clinic were the worst they’ve seen. He is accused of a litany of atrocities at the West Philadelphia Women’s Medical Society, including his “snipping” technique, in which he allegedly severed the spines of babies who had been born during abortion procedures. Also, fetal remains apparently were stored in jugs and bags.

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