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Kermit Gosnell’s Bureaucratic Enabler Just Got Promoted


One of the more perverse conceits of the abortion industry is that the most dangerous aspect of the procedure is reaching the clinic. Even with draconian (and, after McCullen v. Coakley, likely unconstitutional) anti-free speech “buffer zones” around clinics, abortion advocates would have us believe that peaceful protesters and sidewalk counselors are the true danger to women, not unscrupulous doctors and uninspected clinics.

If there is one place in the United States where this position is most obviously ignorant, it is Pennsylvania. It is here where incompetent and often negligent bureaucrats permitted the ghoulish doctor Kermit Gosnell to practice, “snipping” the necks of live babies and maiming—and sometimes killing—women. And a new Democratic administration seems determined to ignore the lessons of the Gosnell tragedy.

New Gov. Tom Wolf has appointed veteran bureaucrat Pedro Cortés as acting secretary of the commonwealth—a top member of the governor’s cabinet and head of the Department of State—pending permanent approval by the Republican-controlled state Senate. This is Cortés’s second stint in this position; his first, from 2003 to 2010 under Gov. Ed Rendell, coincided with the grossest period of negligence in the department’s history of lax enforcement of state abortion and medical regulations.

Pedro Cortés Enabled Horrific Medical Conditions

Cortés was a key figure in what one state senator called the “total system failure” that resulted in Gosnell’s decades-long tenure in west Philadelphia. The Gosnell grand jury singled out the Department of State for pointed critique: “The [Department of State] prosecutors…clearly had no interest in investigating Gosnell, much less holding him accountable for the crime spree that he called a medical practice.”

The appointment is just another example of the contempt pro-choice forces in Pennsylvania have demonstrated toward Gosnell’s victims:

  • In the immediate aftermath of the revelations, Planned Parenthood strenuously opposed a new state law that treats abortion clinics as what they claim to be: legitimate medical facilities. Planned Parenthood claims to hold itself to such high standards that it doesn’t need pesky regulations—but shortly after the Gosnell news, “meat market-style” abortions were revealed at a Planned Parenthood clinic just across the border in Delaware.
  • As I wrote previously at The Federalist, Planned Parenthood also tried to unseat a Democratic legislator whose cousin Gosnell killed. Rep. Margot Davidson voted for stricter abortion clinic regulations to save young women like Semika Shaw, who died of sepsis at a hospital down the street from the Gosnell clinic. For this, Planned Parenthood invested thousands of dollars in Davidson’s political demise. They failed.

Cortés’s Agency Dismissed Women’s Deaths

Women like Semika Shaw and Karnamaya Mongar, for whose killing Gosnell was ultimately convicted, are inconveniences to Planned Parenthood’s political and business objectives. This is just an extension of how these women—and surely many other women whose names we will never know—were treated by the bureaucracy on Cortés’s watch.

The Department of State first heard of Shaw’s death in late 2002, when it received a report of a $400,000 settlement from Gosnell to her family. No action was taken until more than a year later, with Cortés now at the helm. Here is the one paragraph that closed the case:

Brief Factual Summary: The file was opened as a result of a Medical Malpractice Payment Report. The underlying malpractice case involved the death of a 22 year old female following the termination of her 5th pregnancy. Following a seemingly routine procedure on 3/1/02, the patient was taken to the ER at the University of Pennsylvania with complaints of pain and heavy bleeding. The patient underwent surgery but the surgeon was unable to locate any perforation and the patient died from infection and sepsis. Although the incident is tragic, especially in light of the age of the patient, the risk was inherent with the procedure performed by Respondent [Gosnell] and administrative action against respondent’s license is not warranted.

RECOMMENDATION: Z-02, Prosecution not Warranted

The grand jury investigation revealed that the paragraph above is nothing more than a summary of the insurance report that opened the case:

And yet, while [Department of State prosecutor Mark] Greenwald included the irrelevant, but pointed, assertion that this was the patient’s fifth pregnancy that was being terminated, [he] omitted from his summary the most important information that the insurance company had provided: ‘Autopsy report indicated perforation of cervix into uterus. Heirs alleged our insured improperly performed the termination procedure and failed to diagnose post-op uterine perforation resulting in sepsis and death.’

In other words, the Department of State not only failed to investigate Shaw’s death, but also obscured the most damning evidence of Gosnell’s malfeasance. Taken together with what we already know—that under governors Ridge and Rendell statutorily-mandated abortion clinic inspections were halted—it’s difficult not to see a pattern of negligence in which the Department of State was complicit.

Between the Semika Shaw report and Gosnell’s arrest (shortly after Cortés left office), four more malpractice cases against Gosnell came to the Department of State, and no action was taken. In that same time Gosnell reported more than 6,000 abortions to state authorities—many if not most of them illegal, unsafe, late-term abortions.

Cortés oversaw stunning negligence that led to the needless deaths of at least one woman and thousands of children—many of whom were born alive. The Department of State under Pedro Cortés could have stopped Gosnell. As the grand jury report put it: “The problem is that the state overseers preferred not to exercise their authority. They chose to look the other way.”

Refuse to Act Like Women and Children Are Expendable

Now, it is very likely that Cortés inherited a legacy of negligence at the Department of State. But it is certain that he did nothing to abate this negligence, and that he very well may have exacerbated it. It is offensive—not in the weak sense that it hurts feelings, but in the robust sense that violates basic standards of basic human decency—to re-appoint to his former post a man who oversaw such tragic incompetence.

It is a slap in the face of Gosnell’s victims and their families to reward the negligence that led to so much suffering.

We ought not to be surprised, however, at Wolf’s insensitivity: He may be the most Planned Parenthood-connected governor in American history. Wolf is the first governor in the country to have volunteered for Planned Parenthood as a “clinic escort”—a person who accompanies (encourages? convinces?) women potentially seeking an abortion past sidewalk protesters. They are the deal-closers of the abortion business.

Presumably Wolf believes in good faith that the clinic to which he escorted women performed a safe and genuinely good service for them and for the community at large. He is mistaken, but we can hope that he is not malicious. He can demonstrate that good faith by withdrawing Pedro Cortés’s appointment to be secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is a slap in the face of Gosnell’s victims and their families to reward the negligence that led to so much suffering.

And if the governor will not remove Cortés, the Republican leadership of the Pennsylvania Senate must not confirm him. This is not just a local political story; it is an issue of national importance. If Pennsylvania of all states backslides into nonchalance about illegal abortions with the complicity of Republicans, it sends a message across the country that vulnerable women and their unborn children are expendable inconveniences.

We must not stop talking about Gosnell until it is clear that leaders from Pennsylvania to California are taking seriously the shadowy violence of illegal abortion. We cannot let decision-makers forget—or, worse, ignore—what Gosnell brought to light, no matter how politically or financially convenient it is to do so.