Kermit Gosnell, Our ‘Monster’
The monstrosity that was a Philadelphia clinic is a cultural condition.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

‘Tick. Tick. Tick.” Crime-scene officer Bobby Flade was in the basement of Kermit Gosnell’s house. The sound was “coming from below.”

“He looked down,” Steve Volk, a reporter for Philadelphia magazine, writes in the new e-book Gosnell’s Babies: Inside the Mind of America’s Most Notorious Abortion Doctor, “and for what felt like long seconds, he tried to process what he was seeing. The very bottom of his Tyvek suit, around the cuffs of his ankles, had turned black. And the blackness advanced, slowly, up his legs.”

They were fleas, “Roiling in piles up over his shins. Slowly blotting out his suit.”

Officer Flade went back upstairs and found Gosnell, who had been playing Chopin on the piano, “smiling serenely.”

“See?” said Gosnell. “I’m not such a bad guy. I told you there was fleas down there. I didn’t have to tell you.”

That’s Kermit Gosnell. Call it rationalization. Call it denial. Call it evil. But in his mind, there has been an injustice done. He should be a progressive hero, and yet the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Wendy Davis seem not to want to acknowledge his existence. He is being punished “because my standards are those of sophisticated mathematicians,” as Gosnell wrote in one letter to Volk. (Gosnell blames, in part, Catholics and Catholic education for his conviction; he believes there was bias against second-trimester abortion permeating the courtroom because Philadelphia’s district attorney had been an altar boy, and there was a “strong Catholic presence in the homicide division” of the Philadelphia police department.)

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The first journalist Gosnell has talked to since the trial, Volk received twelve letters from Gosnell, 50 e-mails, and a dozen phone calls. At one point Gosnell, “out of left field,” said that he would have to express himself on some matters in verse. In Gosnell’s Babies, it becomes clear why Gosnell never testified on his own behalf, even as he claims innocence to Volk: He’s guilty as charged and has only assertions of righteousness as a warrior for women in a war on poverty to plead in his behalf.

Meanwhile, Gosnell waits for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to return the one copy of his C.V. he had sent after his arrest, hoping for future employment with the foundation. He had asked them to send it back to him, “But I never received anything,” Gosnell told Volk. “I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my notoriety.” So he is aware of that much, at least. In conversation with Volk, Gosnell laughed; “Given my circumstances, I suppose they aren’t sure what to do with me.”

He’s also waiting on the Clinton Global Initiative, where he applied for a job he saw advertised in The Economist, “working with a global health-care initiative, training young doctors.”

“I think I would be a fitting person,” he told Volk, “to address young people before they begin a global career in medicine.”

That seems oddly consistent with a man who went about feeding his turtles clams even as the police, armed with a warrant, were searching his filthy Philadelphia clinic, believing the place to be the “pill mill” that in fact it was: pain management for the poor and desperate, in Gosnell’s mind. “These are hard economic times,” he explained to Volk. “These people need these pills.” And so: “He seemed unconcerned. He smashed the clams to pieces and started feeding fragments of shell and clam meat through a hatch in the tank,” Volk writes about the scene inside Gosnell’s clinic at 3801 Lancaster. As police looked in drawers — ultimately finding feet and other body parts of dead babies — Gosnell went on to tend to a patient pushing out a stillborn baby, then asked the officers whether they minded if he ate his dinner. “He sat down, pulled a plate of salmon teriyaki from a paper sack, and started to eat with his torn and bloody surgical gloves still covering his hands.”