New Castle News

April 21, 2013

Grand jury: Red flags at abortion clinic missed

John Finnerty

CNHI — The grand jury investigating allegations of botched and illegal abortions and unsanitary conditions at the Philadelphia clinic of Dr. Kermit Gosnell revealed lapses by the agencies supposed to monitor women’s clinics.

In some cases, investigators missed red flags. In other cases, different attorneys received complaints about Gosnell and did not communicate with each other to recognize that multiple complaints had been made about the clinic.

And for years, the health department ceased inspecting abortion clinics at all, out of concern that oversight would be confused with governmental interference.

Gosnell’s clinic was not closed until it was raided in 2010 in response to complaints the doctor was illegally peddling prescription drugs. Eventually, investigators determined Gosnell allegedly had been performing illegal late-term abortions in unsanitary conditions.

Witnesses told a grand jury sedated women would sometimes give birth before Gosnell arrived to perform the abortion and the doctor or a member of his staff would allegedly kill the baby.

Prosecutors wrapped up five weeks of testimony this week in Gosnell’s trial for the 2009 death of Karnamaya Mongar, a refugee from Nepal who went to his clinic for a late-term abortion. Gosnell also was charged with the deaths of seven babies allegedly born alive there.

A grand jury identified 11 inspectors and prosecutors at the health and state departments who had had opportunities to act against Gosnell.

Despite repeated signals the state should intervene, “Every time, though, they managed to dismiss the evidence as immaterial. Every time, that is, until the facts hit the fan,” the grand jury wrote. “We want better from our public servants. We trust that their actions will be reviewed, and that they will be held accountable.”

Seven of the 11 state employees identified in the grand jury report lost their jobs, agency officials and state payroll records show.

The other four prosecuting attorneys at the department of state remain employed, agency spokesman Ron Ruman said.

“The administration took what it deemed was appropriate action based on the circumstances presented by the grand jury’s report and the administration’s internal review.”

The health and state departments launched a series of reforms to correct the problems.

They include improved training and steps to better communicate within and between the agencies.

The department of state is responsible for licensing medical professionals. Its staff would be responsible for responding to complaints about a doctor. The health department is responsible for inspecting medical facilities.

However, the grand jury report quoted health department staff saying the state ceased inspecting abortion clinics during the term of pro-choice Republican Gov. Tom Ridge. Witnesses told the grand jury officials in the health department were afraid inspections would be viewed as a way of “putting up a barrier” that would interfere with women’s right to abortions.

Inspection of abortion clinics resumed in 2011, spokeswoman Aimee Tysarczyk said. Five have closed since then — three voluntarily and two shut down by the health department.

“What occurred with Gosnell was indisputably deplorable,” Tysarczyk said. “There were employee and leadership changes here and we now have tougher regulation. We are creating safer environments for women and are committed to doing so not only because the law tells us to, but because it’s what’s right.”