Kermit Gosnell is in jail, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever get out. He is unremorseful after his convictions in the deaths of babies whose spines were snipped after surviving attempted late-term abortions. He’s not sorry about the conditions in his office that played a role in the death of Karnamaya Mongar. How does one get inside the head of such a man?
Steve Volk, a reporter for Philadelphia magazine, decided to give it a try. He didn’t aim to glamorize Gosnell, but he wanted to figure out why and how he wound up doing what he did. Communicating with the incarcerated Gosnell was a complicated process, but Volk’s persistence paid off. Now Volk has expanded his original magazine article into a short e-book. (I got my copy via Amazon.com, priced at $2.99.)
I can’t tell which side of the abortion debate Volk favors, although he clearly feels a sense of horror for Gosnell’s brand of medical practice. Volk sets out to be a scribe, not an advocate. He writes with unadorned clarity about what he saw and heard in the course of the Gosnell trial, along with his more recent communications with Gosnell. The result is a record of a crucial moment in medical and cultural American history – a moment too important to be left to fleeting headlines.
Gosnell considered babies who survived abortion attempts to be already dead, despite movements clearly indicating life, leaving him with no qualms about the “snipping” for which he is most notorious. His determinations of fetal age were sometimes more political than medical, as he listed many patients as being “24 ½ weeks” pregnant; state law limited abortions to 24 weeks. Yet despite grand jury findings and the outcome of the trial, some of Gosnell’s former patients who knew him before the days of his “Women’s Medical Society” still don’t believe that he did the things for which he was convicted.
Volk’s account is hard to take in some sections. That’s the nature of his subject. The book is important lest we forget what happened at 3801 Lancaster in Philadelphia.