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Horror in the court

Horror in the court

GRUESOME BUSINESS: Women's Medical Society, where Gosnell did his work. (BUILDING: Matt Rourke/AP • GOSNELL: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News/AP)

Tiny screeches. Beheadings. A flopping arm. Human remains dumped in cat food containers or shoved into a freezer.

The ghastly descriptions were routine testimony as the capital murder trial of Kermit Gosnell—the 72-year-old Philadelphia abortionist accused of delivering live babies and killing them—unfurled through the first weeks of April. Former staff at the Women’s Medical Society testified against their onetime boss, painting a picture of an abortionist who straddled the law and gave little thought to the lives of his patients or their offspring.

Steven Massof, who prescribed drugs at Gosnell’s abortion center without a license, told the courtroom how he and Gosnell “snipped” the spinal cords of newly delivered babies with surgical scissors to ensure they were dead: “We call it a transection, but it’s literally a beheading.” 

Massof said he saw about 100 babies born alive and killed this way. On busy days, he “felt like a fireman in hell. I couldn’t put out all the fires. … I would run around with scissors.”

Another employee, Ashley Baldwin, a teenager when she worked for Gosnell, saw babies with “their chest going up and down real fast.” Baldwin was in the clinic when Karnamaya Mongar, a 41-year-old immigrant who had come for an abortion, was given a lethal overdose of painkiller medication. Baldwin plugged in Gosnell’s defibrillator to save her, but it was broken.

Witnesses and prosecutors say Gosnell ran a filthy clinic with untrained workers, paid employees under the table, performed abortions after 24 weeks gestation (the legal limit in Pennsylvania), stored baby parts in jars, and kept a padlock on an emergency exit.

Gosnell faces the death penalty if convicted of killing seven infants born alive in his West Philadelphia “House of Horrors.” He pleaded not guilty to the murder charges, claiming the infants were delivered dead, their movements “involuntary.”

Although some local and pro-life media (including WORLD) provided firsthand updates of the trial, national secular media largely ignored it, despite the shattering details. A Twitter “Tweetfest” organized in the trial’s fourth week by pro-life groups sparked over 165,000 tweets in 12 hours. “If Kermit Gosnell had been doing this to puppies, it would have the nation in upheaval,” tweeted Steve Noble, a Christian talk show host in Raleigh, N.C.

Then liberal Fox News commentator Kirsten Powers wrote a column calling the media silence “a disgrace,” and 10 Republican lawmakers drew attention to the news blackout on the House floor.

By the end of the week, The Washington Post had pledged to assign someone to the trial. “In retrospect, we should have sent a reporter sooner,” admitted editor Martin Baron. (Earlier, Post reporter Sarah Kliff dismissed the story as “local crime.”)

The following Monday, everyone seemed to be talking about Gosnell. Networks including CBS and MSNBC covered the story, and reporters converged on the courtroom—news outlets including Fox, The New York Times, and Reuters.

Editors from mainstream news organizations denied pro-abortion bias influenced their lack of coverage. Baron from the Post claimed he was unaware of the trial until readers started emailing him: “We never decide what to cover for ideological reasons, no matter what critics might claim.”

But Megan McArdle, a self-described “pro-choice” correspondent for The Daily Beast, was more candid. Journalists like her probably hesitate to report stories that show the ugliest aspects of abortion, she wrote: “The truth is that most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by ‘our side.’”

The Gosnell trial could stretch through May. Prosecutors have spent three years building their case, after FBI agents raided Gosnell’s office in February 2010 to investigate his distribution of painkillers.

—See "Courtroom horror" in this issue, and WORLD’s continuing coverage at