Review: Documentary film details the grisly case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Opening a clinic cabinet, he saw “five jars of feet,” said Philadelphia officer John Taggart, “They were small but they were defined. I mean, the toes, the ankle, the soles of the feet… Once you saw the feet, you knew… this was different than any job we ever handled.”

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PR image for “3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy," a documentary on the horrific Dr. Kermit Gosnell affair.

WASHINGTON, December 11, 2016 — David M. Altrogge’s chilling 2015 documentary “3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy,” now streaming on Amazon Prime, begins to unfold one year before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

Fifteen pregnant women that boarded a Philadelphia-bound bus in Chicago, coincidentally pulled in to their destination on a cherished national holiday. What happened after they arrived in “The City of Brotherly Love” would become known locally as the “Mother’s Day Massacre.”

The doctor and subject of Altrogge’s documentary film, was anxious to test an experimental abortion-inducing device invented by his partner. It was called the “super coil.”

“The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health subsequently did an investigation that detailed serious complications suffered by nine of the 15 women, including one who needed a hysterectomy,” notes a Philadelphia Inquirer article quoted in a grand jury report issued nearly forty years after the fact.


“The problem was they never tested it [the device] … This was not something that was sanctioned by the FDA.”


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The inventor, an amateur abortionist from California named Harvey Karmen, was later convicted for practicing medicine without a license, a conviction that was overturned by a Common Pleas Court judge in 1975.

“[Dr. Kermit] Gosnell – who testified that Karmen had done an ‘innocuous’ part of the procedures but not fetal extractions – was not charged with anything,” said the Inquirer.

The 2011 grand jury indictment of Gosnell for murder and involuntary manslaughter added its own very blunt and damning assessment:

“The Pennsylvania Board of Medicine ignored his [Gosnell’s] role in this grotesquely unsuccessful experiment, which seriously and permanently maimed several women. The Board overlooked Gosnell’s unprofessional conduct not only in the 1970s but for the next three decades, as he continued to employ unlicensed workers to practice medicine at his clinic, and as his patients continued to suffer serious injuries or worse during abortion procedures.”

In an on-camera interview with Joseph Slobodzian of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Slobodzian says,

“Everyone testifying [to the grand jury] from the state said it had been long-standing department practice that, ‘We’ll not get involved in inspecting abortion facilities. We’re just not going to do it.’ And it was a decision made high up the administrative chain of command. And, you can believe it or not, what they say is, ‘We can’t remember who made the decision.’”

But the grand jury found that after 1993 – under Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey – the “Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all.”

To make sure no one misconstrued their previous statement, they added, “The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro.”

Rufus Seth Williams.
Rufus Seth Williams.

“In case after case,” Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams told the press in 2010, “Dr. Gosnell and his assistants induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies – in the sixth, seventh and eighth month of pregnancy – and then killed those babies by cutting into the backs of their necks with scissors and severing their spinal cords.”

But it was a tip to the D.A.’s Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit in 2010 that alerted police to the alleged sale of illegal drugs out of the Woman’s Medical Society at 3801 Lancaster Avenue in west Philadelphia, Gosnell’s abortion mill.

“When the investigation began,” said Williams, “officers had no knowledge that it would involve what appeared to be the legitimate side of Dr. Gosnell’s practice, an abortion clinic.”

It was the so-called “legitimate side of Dr. Gosnell’s practice” that horrified officer John Taggart of the Crime Scene Unit.

John Taggart.
John Taggart.

Opening a clinic cabinet, he saw “five jars of feet.” Says Taggart,

“They were small but they were defined. I mean, the toes, the ankle, the soles of the feet… Once you saw the feet, you knew… this was different than any job we ever handled.”

Of the frozen fetuses found at the clinic, Taggart says,

“I didn’t think they would look as human as they were. They looked like little babies. I saw my two girls being born. They looked like my two little girls… these were truly innocent victims.”

Ultimately, the coroner recovered a total of 47 fetuses.

In a recorded jailhouse interview, Gosnell recounts how his youngest son asked, “Dad, did you do these horrible things that are in the newspaper?”

Gosnell claims he did not consider the moral or ethical implications of his actions until after he was jailed. He only became “comfortable” with what he had done after a cover-to-cover, Genesis-to-Revelation reading of the Bible.

Citing the creation of Adam in the book of Genesis, Gosnell says, “God breathed life into Adam… life does not happen until breath.”


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He does not, however, address the fact that some of the aborted infants, whose brain stems he severed, did in fact take life’s first breath.

Gosnell congratulates women who elect to have abortions, saying “their courageousness has to do with making a decision that’s best for them as well as society. That to me is a very important issue, the concept of relative errors.”

Relative error is used in science to calculate the difference separating an incorrect answer (error) from the “actual” or correct answer (objective truth).

That is a difficult number to calculate when it concerns the question of abortion, with the number of terminated pregnancies since 1973 currently standing roughly at 58,586,256 and growing.

“3801 Lancaster” makes it abundantly clear that there is an unbridgeable gulf separating the frozen specimens stored in Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Chamber of Horrors from the “self-evident truths” penned in Philadelphia by Thomas Jefferson that declared all to be “created equal’ and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life…”

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