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Abortion Doctor's License Suspended After Clinic Raid

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Abortion Doctor's License Suspended After Clinic Raid

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Abortion Doctor's License Suspended After Clinic Raid

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.

An abortion clinic in Philadelphia is closed after Pennsylvania's State Board of Medicine suspended the medical license of its doctor, Kermit Gosnell. Authorities said the clinic was a clear danger to the public.

Taunya English of member station WHYY has that story. And be warned: This report includes descriptions that may be disturbing to some listeners.

TAUNYA ENGLISH: The doors are locked and there's not much to see through the dingy window of the west Philadelphia clinic. It's also not clear what first prompted federal agents to raid the facility in February. But investigators found unsanitary conditions and an unlicensed worker treating patients without supervision. Soon, several women came forward with stories of botched and incompetent care.

When Marie Smith went to the Women's Medical Society 11 years ago, she says the clinic was known as a cheap place to get an abortion. She didn't know anything about Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

Ms. MARIE SMITH: He looked like an all-right man 'cause it was like a lot of ladies in there waiting for abortions.

ENGLISH: Smith was 19 at the time. The clinic recovery area disturbed her most.

Ms. SMITH: It's nasty and dirty, and like, the blood on the floor. Just nasty. It was real crowded, and girls were slumped over after they got their abortion.

ENGLISH: After a week of fever and vomiting, Smith was rushed to a local hospital. She says X-rays revealed that parts of the fetus were still lodged in her uterus.

Over the years, other women shared their stories with vocal abortion-rights groups who documented problems but didn't take them to state authorities.

Dr. SUSAN SCHEWEL (Executive Director, Women's Medical Fund): We never had any proof. All we had were the women's stories, and they were the ones that had the proof so we encouraged them to make the complaint. All we had was hearsay.

ENGLISH: Susan Schewel leads the Women's Medical Fund, a nonprofit group that raises money for patients who can't afford abortions.

Dr. SCHEWEL: The people that we help are women who are struggling to get by and their life is chaotic and busy enough as it is. So the thought of talking to a state bureaucrat about something as stigmatized as an abortion, it's a low priority when youre trying to figure out how to pay your electric bills.

ENGLISH: Before news reports surfaced, Pennsylvania didn't log one patient complaint about Gosnell.

Basil Merenda oversees professional licensing in Pennsylvania. He says the state relies most heavily on patient reports, but he says physicians should help police their profession, too.

Mr. BASIL MERENDA (Deputy Secretary, Regulatory Programs, State Department, Pennsylvania): It's up to that bad doctor's colleagues to come forward and say, look, Dr. So-and-So is not practicing up to snuff, and I think you folks should take a look at his procedures.

ENGLISH: Initial complaints are confidential to shield doctors from false allegations and to guard the privacy of complainers. But the president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society says that's little reassurance. Dr. James Goodyear says physicians may be just as hesitant as patients to file a report.

Dr. JAMES GOODYEAR (President, Pennsylvania Medical Society): Unfortunately, sometimes health care professionals are a little bit reluctant to report some colleagues, for fear of retribution. There is no protective laws that protect physicians.

ENGLISH: Gosnell has been sued for malpractice twice since 2002. Licensing commissioner Basil Merenda says investigators reviewed those cases but didn't find enough evidence to take action.

Mr. MERENDA: Our lawyers made that decision, I guess, for whatever reason. I have to have some confidence and trust that they did their due diligence.

ENGLISH: Gosnell has refused to answer the allegations against him. He has hired defense attorney William Brennan. Brennan says his client offers an important service in west Philadelphia.

Mr. WILLIAM BRENNAN (Attorney): He provides family care to individuals who otherwise would have to most likely travel outside their neighborhood. I hope people keep in perspective the long years of service that the doctor has provided to the community and not rush to judgment. He's not charged with any crimes at this point.

ENGLISH: In addition to the licensing board probe, both state and federal law enforcement officials are investigating Gosnell's practice.

For NPR News, Im Taunya English in Philadelphia.

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