Following the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell

10:35 AM, Apr 15, 2013   |    comments
Dr. Kermit Gosnell (WCAU)
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(WXIA) -- News outlets across the nation, both national and local, have received much in the way of questions and criticism over the past week regarding coverage - or the lack of it - of a horrific murder trial in Philadelphia, and the spotlight it has placed on the widely controversial topic of abortion.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is on trial, charged with the murder of seven babies and a woman he was treating at his clinic. The babies were allegedly born alive during the process of being aborted at the clinic.

According to our sister publication the Asbury Park Press, an unlicensed doctor and untrained aides worked long, grueling hours and performed often gruesome work, being paid for not much more than minimum wage, and paid by Gosnell under the table. Broken equipment and non-sterilized instruments were used and reused at the clinic, according to investigators. A grand jury report said throughout the clinic, jars, bags and plastic jugs containing fetal remains were scattered in cabinets, in a freezer, in the basement.

A total of eight former clinic employees may face prison time for their roles at the clinic.

According to the Associated Press, unlicensed Pittsburgh doctor Stephen Massof, 50, said he couldn't get a medical residency job in the US after finishing medical school in Grenada. He said he began working for Gosnell as a "backup plan" after spending six months tending bar. Massof said he killed two babies by snipping their spinal cords, as he said Gosnell taught him to do.

Another unlicensed doctor, Eileen O'Neil, 56, from Louisiana, had given up her medical license in 2000 while dealing with "post-traumatic stress syndrome." Though she continued working for Gosnell, according to a colleague, O'Neill became more upset at the line of people who came to Gosnell's clinic for painkillers, and was angry that Gosnell was not helping her to regain her medical license.

"She said: 'All I do is break my neck for him all the time, and he never does anything for me. I'm going to have to do something about it,'" front desk worker Tina Baldwin testified this week, recalling a conversation with O'Neill.

Baldwin, like colleague Latosha Lewis, had trained to be a medical assistant at a vocational school before beginning work for Gosnell in 2002. Baldwin handed out drugs at the clinic's front desk while Lewis helped perform ultrasounds, administer meds and deliver babies. Lewis said she worked from 10 a.m. until well after midnight, making $7 to $10 per hour.

Baldwin now faces at least a year in prison, perhaps longer, after she pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and Pennsylvania state charges that include corruption of a minor. Baldwin's 22 year-old daughter Ashley went to work for Gosnell when she was 15 because she was interested in medicine. Before long, Ashley was working past midnight - and missing school - to help Gosnell perform abortions. Ashley was one of the few workers at the clinic not charged after a February 2010 FBI raid shut down the clinic.

The raid found the Women's Medical Society -- a clinic in a low-income neighborhood of West Philadelphia where illegal and late-term abortions were performed under dangerous conditions.

A 2011 grand jury report revealed the abortions and conditions at the clinic in graphic and disturbing detail. The report said that some abortions were done so late that Gosnell allegedly cut the babies' spinal cords while they were still breathing. The 281-page grand jury report calls the clinic a "baby charnel house," with furniture and blankets stained with blood. It said the clinic reeked of urine, and feces were everywhere, thanks to the cats allowed to roam and defecate freely in the clinic.

"The real business of the "Women's Medical Society" was not health; it was profit. There were two primary parts to the operation. By day it was a prescription mill; by night an abortion mill. A constant stream of "patients" came through during business hours and, for the proper payment, left with scripts for Oxycontin and other controlled substances, for themselves and their friends. Gosnell didn't see these "patients"; he didn't even show up at the office during the day. He just left behind blank, pre-signed prescription pads, and had his unskilled, unauthorized workers take care of the rest. The fake prescriptions brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year," the report said.

Most doctors will not perform late second trimester abortions. Later abortions - in the third trimester - are completely illegal. Gosnell looked at this as an opportunity, according to the grand jury report, "The bigger the baby, the more he charged."

Gosnell defense attorney Jack McMahon says no babies were born alive at the clinic, and that unforeseen complications caused the overdose of the woman who died.

"Just because the place was less than state-of-the-art doesn't make him a murderer," McMahon said in opening statements last month.

Despite the gory and according to some, sensational details of the case, very little national coverage has been seen of the case outside the Philadelphia area.

An opinion column in our national sister publication, USA Today last week chastised national media outlets for airing very little in the way of coverage of the trial, while other stories took up space on America's front pages.

"This should be front page news," said USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers. "You don't have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." It's about basic human rights."

Many news outlets, both national and local around the nation (and including 11Alive), have received plenty of emails, Tweets and Facebook posts taking them to task for not covering the trial. And while many local outlets around the nation have taken a back-seat approach to the trial, since it is not local outside of the Philadelphia area, thanks to the outcry, national outlets have started paying attention to the trial.

CNN aired special reports during both Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper's programs late last week. Large newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have started covering the trial with its horrific details.

The Gosnell trial continues this week in Philadelphia, and in addition to coverage from 11Alive's national news partners - CNN, USA Today and NBC News - more extensive local coverage can be found from our news partners in the Philadelphia area - NBC television station WCAU, and newspapers The Asbury Park Press and The Wilmington News-Journal.

The trial is expected to last another month. If convicted, Gosnell faces the death penalty.

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