Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and his top deputies painted a graphic picture of the West Philadelphia abortion clinic they shut down during a Pennsylvania Senate hearing Tuesday morning. Williams said when investigators raided the facility a year ago, they were expecting to find an illegal prescription mill, but instead stumbled into what he called a horror film.
“Blood-stained walls, blood-stained beds and unclean sheets. Women walking around almost in – like zombies. They had been drugged to the state of being zombies,” he said.
Williams eventually charged the clinic’s owner, Kermit Gosnell, with eight counts of murder and other crimes. The grand jury report, released three weeks ago, shook the state with its disturbing details. Babies delivered alive, then killed with scissors. A clinic filled with fetal remains, reeking of cat urine and blood. And the focus of Tuesday’s hearing: state health inspectors who failed to act on complaint after complaint about the facility.
“Despite complaints, repeated complaints over years, they ignored them. The Department of Health and Department of State never once set foot in this clinic,” testified Philadelphia Homicide Unit Chief Ann Ponterio. “And the grand jury found they didn’t do their jobs. They had the authority and the responsibility, and they chose not to act.”
“They had the authority to prevent [Gosnell] from performing illegal abortions, prevent him from maiming and mutilating women,” she said. “Prevent him from killing women, and prevent him from killing babies.” Ponterio and Williams went over portions of the grand jury report detailing the various complaints Health and State officials ignored, including one from the family of a woman who died after undergoing a procedure at Gosnell’s clinic.
State and Health officials didn’t testify at the joint hearing conducted by the Public Health and Welfare and Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure committees. They’ll appear at future sessions, according to Sen. Pat Vance’s office. A host of bills have been introduced in response to the grand jury report. One would change oversight rules, and increase the frequency of inspections at clinics. (The report pointed out under current state statutes, nail salons are visited more often than abortion providers.) Another measure would require on-site visits to facilities with complaints filed against them.
Public Health and Welfare regulates the Health Department, and Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure oversees State. Both will hold additional sessions in the coming weeks, before debating and voting on the reform measures. During an afternoon press conference, Gov. Tom Corbett said he hadn’t had a chance to monitor the hearing, but he’s planning on making an announcement related to the case in the coming weeks. In the days after the report first came out – Corbett’s first week on the job – he met with his Secretary of Health and State nominees and asked them to begin an investigation into why their departments ignored complaints about Gosnell’s clinic.
Gosnell is set to appear in court tomorrow.