Abortion mill. If you spend any amount of time listening to anti-abortion activists or reading their literature, you’ve heard this epithet, which they apply to any clinic that performs abortions.
A “mill,” in this usage, is the very opposite of a clinic. It is dark and satanic place, where bodies are mangled and other horrors are committed against human life and dignity.
If you’re the sort of person who rolls their eyes at such imagery, prepare yourself to confront a real house of horrors, the Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia.
Its proprietor, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, is currently standing trial on eight counts of murder — one for a patient who died under his care and seven for fetuses he allegedly killed. The fetuses were past 24 weeks of development — the legal cutoff for abortion in Pennsylvania — and some were allegedly dispatched outside the womb with a cut to the spine with scissors.
The grand jury report in Gosnell’s case is full of macabre details: aborted babies stuffed into a refrigerator, the feet of others kept in jars. The equipment was routinely unsterilized — which passed venereal disease from one patient to another — and at least one doctor was unlicensed. A teenager performed ultrasounds amid cat urine and bloodstained floors.
Gosnell ran his clinic of horrors for decades, serving poor minority and immigrant women of the inner city. It was a cash-only business. Women suffered ruptured uteruses and bowels, and one teenager claims she was restrained against her will while Gosnell performed an abortion on her.
The patient who died was a refugee from Bhutan, in the U.S. merely months. She was given a lethal dose of Demerol.
Gosnell has not yet been convicted or acquitted, but the grand jury report and the testimony of his employees paint a harrowing portrait. Here was a man operating well outside the law.
Not only was he performing illegal abortions with unlicensed staff in filthy conditions surrounded by broken equipment; he was also running a pill mill — that is, writing false prescriptions for profit.
Everybody who has taken a side in the abortion debate recognizes the significance of the Gosnell case. For their part, the anti-abortion activists and right-wing commentators are waving the bloody shirt. They have taken to the Internet and the airwaves in recent days to castigate the “liberal media” for deep-sixing the story.
“The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace,” lamented Fox contributor Kirsten Powers in USA Today.
What Powers meant to say is that the media have not been deafeningly voluble on the case. They have been covering it. A simple Google search reveals this headline on an AP story on the CBS News website from 2011: “Body Parts on Shelves at Gruesome Abortion Mill.”
Not sensational enough?
Reporting on this story is plentiful in the Philadelphia region. It’s huge news there, as a slew of city, state and hospital officials were implicated for not stopping the abuses. But the gory details have not been splashed across the nightly reports on national TV.
The anti-abortion movement has what it believes to be its Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, and it wants 24-7 coverage from all the media. It wants shock. It wants horror. It wants ample airtime for grandstanding. It wants to purvey the sins of Dr. Kermit Gosnell as perfect symbols for all it has been fighting since 1973, when Roe v. Wade gave constitutional protection to abortion.
As for those who support abortion rights, nobody put it better than Katha Pollitt in The Nation back in January 2011 (there’s that dang silent liberal media again). “This is what illegal abortion looks like,” she wrote. “What fueled Gosnell’s business were the very restrictions the legislature was so keen on passing —parental notification, waiting periods, biased counseling and, most important, a ban on state funding for abortion for low-income women.”
Who would go to a monstrous place like this if they had other options? But let’s concede this much to Powers and others who complain about media bias. It may be true, as Powers points out, that the major network news chat shows don’t want to touch this story with a 10-foot pole. Is that really so surprising?
To do so with any depth would put them in the crosshairs on this most volatile subject.
The only people who want to discuss this story’s due significance are those who have taken a side on abortion rights, pro as well as con. For others, it’s easier to look the other way and move on.
MARY SANCHEZ writes for The Kansas City Star. Her column is distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.