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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Is Gosnell America's "Biggest Serial Killer"?

This post contains quotes, summaries, and descriptions from the grand jury report regarding Kermit Gosnell. Much of this information is very disturbing, including graphic descriptions of violence.

NBC published a review of the Gosnell movie by Robin Marty. She didn't like the film. In particular she took exception to the moniker "America's Biggest Serial Killer," saying:
In the film and in real life, Gosnell was tried on eight charges of murder and convicted on three. That’s a large number to be sure, but a small fraction in comparison to, say, Gary Ridgway (pleaded guilty to 48 counts of murder) John Wayne Gacy (convicted of 33 murders), Ted Bundy (confessed to 28 murders, and was convicted of two) or Jeffrey Dahmer (confessed to 17 murders and was convicted on 15 counts). Since Gosnell was only convicted of three counts of first degree murder, the "America's Biggest" moniker is a bit of a stretch.
If we're going by convictions alone, then I agree with Marty. Gosnell clearly isn't up there (although then neither is infamous murderer Ted Bundy). But if we're going by how many people the person is believed to have killed, almost no one can even touch Gosnell.

And I don't mean because he performed abortions. Marty erroneously assumes people who think of Gosnell as a serial killer do so only because they think of every abortion as murder. No doubt there are plenty of people who think that, but that's not the issue here. I suspect Marty would understand the distinction if she had read the grand jury report (warning: not for the faint of heart, includes photographs and very graphic descriptions). Even if you view abortion as an amoral action, and certainly not as murder, Gosnell still contends for the title "serial killer," and one with an almost unprecedented death toll.

The grand jury report details Gosnell's practice of infanticide in "Section IV: The Intentional Killing of Viable Babies." As if anticipating how people will try to say this was just a sensationalized way to describe late-term abortion, the report explicitly describes "the untold numbers of babies--not fetuses in the womb, but live babies, born outside their mothers--whose brief lives ended in Gosnell's filthy facility." [Emphasis added.] The report also has the bolded subsection "Gosnell and his staff severed the spinal cords of viable, moving, breathing babies who were born alive." Talk about redundant. It's like they couldn't overemphasize the point that we are not talking about late-term abortion.

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But sure, Marty, he's a serial killer only because anti-abortion folk "aren't really talking about the kinds of crimes most people associate with serial killers." I guess murderers are only serial killers if they kill adults or at least big kids. Infanticide doesn't count.

The grand jury report goes on to detail how Gosnell had to have known he would often have to kill viable babies based on his "standard procedure" for illegal late-term abortions.

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Gosnell would cut the child's spinal cord; then he would suction out the brains after delivery, a step which serves zero medical purpose. The grand jury expected Gosnell did so to make it look like he had performed a legal abortion procedure (in some late-term abortions the fetus' skull is collapsed to ease removal from the woman). One of Gosnell's former employees testified that she witnessed Gosnell do this "hundreds" of times. Another employee acknowledged that late-term fetuses nearly always had their spinal cords cut after "precipitating" (Gosnell's vocabulary for birth). A third employee testified similarly:

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The report continues:
Gosnell’s staff testified that killing large, late-term babies who had been observed breathing and moving was a regular occurrence. Massof said that Gosnell cut the spinal cord “100 percent of the time” in second-trimester (and, presumably, third-trimester) procedures, and that he did so after the baby was delivered.

Massof testified that he saw signs of life in some of these babies. He recalled seeing a heartbeat in one baby and observed a “respiratory excursion” (meaning a breath) in another. On other occasions, he observed “pulsation.” Gosnell dismissed these observations as “spontaneous movement.” “That was his answer for if we ever saw anything that was out of the ordinary, it was always a spontaneous movement.”
There's reason to believe that babies born after 24 weeks could survive. In fact, as the report points out, a doctor is required to provide assistance to preterm born babies, and failure to provide assistance is infanticide under Pennsylvania law.

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There's a whole lot more in Section IV of the grand jury report. Testimony about fetal parts clogging plumbing when women delivered in the toilet; one case in which a fetus looked like she was swimming before staff cut her neck; a teenager who delivered a stillborn 30-week fetus at a hospital when Gosnell's clinic was unreachable mid-procedure; a neonatologist testifying that Gosnell's method would cause the baby a "tremendous amount of pain"; and Gosnell describing one writhing child as "chicken with its head cut off." If you think the film portrayal was unbelievable, you should try reading the actual testimony. It's a real life horror story and, in my opinion, overwhelmingly heartbreaking, enraging, and exhausting. The section concludes by stating Gosnell most likely "killed the vast majority of babies" from illegal late-term abortions [emphasis added].

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This is all terrible, but where does it leave us regarding the original question? If we assume newborns should be included in serial killer body counts (crazy, I know!), what are Gosnell's metrics compared to other serial killers?

The grand jury estimated Gosnell performed at least 4-5 illegal abortions (that is, abortions after 24 weeks) every week, and had been doing this for years. To be conservative, let's assume (1) only 3 illegal abortions per week, (2) for only 40 weeks per year, and (3) only for 2 years. That would be 240 illegal late-term abortions. (Let me emphasize there's no reason to make these conservative estimates except to illustrate my "yep he's a serial killer" point. If instead we assumed 4 illegal abortions per week for say 50 weeks a year for more like 5 years, it could be as high as 1,000 illegal late-term abortions. But whatever, let's go with only 240.)

The grand jury believes, based on the evidence and corroborating testimony, that Gosnell killed viable born children in the "vast majority" of his attempts at illegal late-term abortion. But let's say it wasn't the vast majority. Let's say it was only 20% of the time. So even assuming only 240 illegal abortions and even assuming only 20% of them were actually infanticide, that still would mean Gosnell killed 48 babies. That already puts him right up there with the highest number Robin Marty quoted, which was Gary Ridgeway pleading guilty to 48 counts of murder. To be fair, though, Ridgeway is thought to have killed up to 71 people. So if we make some extremely conservative and unwarranted estimates about Gosnell's body count, he'd only be America's 2nd biggest serial killer. No big deal, right?

On the other hand, if we go with what the grand jury actually reported, Gosnell was performing 4-5 illegal abortions per week. Call it 4.5 per week. Even if we still say only 40 weeks and only 2 years (again, no reason to do that really), if we take "vast majority" to mean even just 51%, that puts Gosnell at 183 infanticides, easily dwarfing any other serial killer in American history and, actually, putting him in the top 3 slots for serial killers throughout the world.

Calling Gosnell "America's Biggest Serial Killer" is only a "stretch" if Marty doesn't think there's any significant difference between late-term abortion and infanticide or (more likely) if she just hasn't really looked into this case she opines on. But we can hardly blame her for that. She's only a journalist.


Further Reading:
We've forgotten what belongs on Page One, Kristen Powers, USA Today, April 11, 2013
Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell's Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story, Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, April 12, 2013
Why I Didn't Write About Gosnell's Trial--And Why I Should Have, Megan McArdle, The Daily Beast, April 12, 2013
Gosnell and Abortion (summarizing the media silence), Nathaniel Givens, Secular Pro-Life Perspectives, April 17, 2013


Post-publication edit: Wikipedia lists Gosnell as a serial killer under "Medical professionals and pseudo-medical professionals" which it categorizes separately because of "their ability to kill simply and in plain sight." Gosnell is listed for 4 proven victims and "100+" possible victims. Interestingly one of Gosnell's employees, Steven Massof, is listed as the third biggest medical professional serial killers in the world because he confessed to snipping the spines of more than 100 babies.

Anyway, if we count medical professionals and look at possible (not only proven) victims, using the still-conservative estimate of 183 infanticides for Gosnell would make him the 5th biggest serial killer in the world and the 2nd biggest in America after Charles Cullen (a nurse thought to have killed up to 400 people).

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