Abortionist and serial killer Kermit Gosnell is infamous for preying on women in a house of horrors in Philadelphia. His abortion facility was kept in disgusting condition, with blood-stained blankets, chairs, and floors, flea-infested cats roaming freely and leaving feces on the floors, and the body parts of his victims displayed in jars. It was here that he injured countless women, and killed at least two. While he was eventually convicted of killing three infants born alive, it’s almost certain that he killed many, many more. The remains of 47 of those babies were buried in an unmarked city plot in Philadelphia, despite the efforts of local pro-lifers to see those lives honored and remembered.
“You’ll see teddy bears”
In an interview with local radio station WHYY, John and Loida McKeever described how they were told to find the location of the grave. “They said teddy bears, you’ll see teddy bears,” Loida recalled. It took them two tries, but they eventually found it, with a small pile of stuffed animals on top of a patch of grass… and no headstone. The McKeevers took it upon themselves to erect a small memorial statue, an angel that reads, “In memory of the babies that were lost at 3801 Lancaster Avenue.”
After Gosnell was convicted, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office buried the remains of the 47 children in an unmarked grave in Laurel Hill Cemetery, where other unclaimed remains are buried. And despite requests from the McKeevers, both Laurel Hill and the Medical Examiner’s Officer have refused to allow a gravestone to be put into place. “Forgotten in life, forgotten in death,” John said. He later added, “Look around there’s a zillion headstones here, everyone has a memorial. They don’t. We don’t want the word Gosnell on there. We don’t want to make it a anti-abortion political thing, like ‘this is what happens with abortion’ — no. It’s about 47 remains of babies, and that’s it.”
“We can’t forget what happened here”
On top of the neglectful treatment of the babies killed at Gosnell’s hands, a fierce battle is on the verge of being waged in regards to what to do about the forgotten facility at 3801 Lancaster, which has remained empty since Gosnell was arrested. Pro-life groups hope to turn it into a pregnancy resource center, or housing for pregnant mothers — but not everyone agrees.
“It’s been a lot of trauma that took place in that building, and think it’s time for this area to go through some kind of healing and some kind of positive change,” De’Wayne Drummond, president of the Mantua Civic Association, said. “And it can start with that parcel going into the right hands of ownership.” Gail Floyd, a woman who lives in the neighborhood, told WHYY she walks past it every day, and some of her friends were injured there, still suffering health problems. “Every day, for seven years I’ve passed this house, this building, this clinic,” she said. “I don’t know what I want to see happen to it. I just know it’s hard to look at for a lot of girls in the neighborhood.”
For Floyd, she doesn’t want the history of the building to just be erased. “Not a store, not housing. No, you don’t want to live here, you don’t want to sleep here,” she said. “That’s an eerie feeling, sleeping somewhere you know there were dead babies, babies that were killed in there — not aborted, killed,” she said, making a differentiation where there is none. “And he hurt the women. I think more so it’s time to be remorseful.”
As for the McKeevers, they hope a pregnancy center which opened next door to the Gosnell facility and has previously expressed interest in buying the space, will turn it into housing and support for pregnant women and new mothers. “It’s easy to say, ‘don’t get an abortion, good luck’,” John said. “But unless you eliminate the need for abortion, it’s still going to happen, it’s just going to happen in more dangerous places, and you’re going to push people into places like Gosnell’s clinic.”
Loida added, “Because what else can we put there? We can’t forget what happened here. I don’t think those babies — or the lady that died there — should be forgotten.”
“Leave the legacy behind”
Some, however, do want to see the past forgotten completely, like Phyllis Carter, who owns a consignment store nearby, and Steve Sebelski, president of Powelton Village Civic Association. “That’s what people see when they drive into our neighborhood or drive by on Lancaster Avenue, so we’d like the neighborhood to be friendly to as many people as possible,” Sebelski said. “I think we’d like to leave the legacy of that building behind, and move forward into the future. We have no position on who should own or operate the building, and we would certainly not favor any use that is likely to draw protests or unfavorable attention to our neighborhood.”
It is shameful to see that Gosnell’s atrocities are being ignored and, for some people, purposefully forgotten. It is exactly those actions that would allow more Gosnells to flourish, and they certainly already exist as it is. Local and state authorities allowed Gosnell’s crimes to continue for as long as they did and this is important to remember. They looked the other way as countless violations were found, as women were injured, even as women were killed. His patients were infected with STDs and left sterile from botched abortions. Officials received tips over and over again — tips that Gosnell was committing illegal abortions, that he was keeping their body parts in paper bags, that women were being butchered — and they did nothing.
So while it may be convenient to wipe away Gosnell’s legacy, the women and children Gosnell killed deserved to be remembered. The women he butchered deserve to not be silenced again. And the women he preyed on in his neighborhood deserve better options than abortion, violence, and death.
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