Another Perspective

Gosnell and the Super Coil

One of his most hideous episodes still hasn't received enough attention.

By 4.19.13

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Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist currently on trial for murdering seven babies and a woman, is being portrayed as an aberration. “He is not typical,” writes Irin Carmon at Salon.com, “and there was, and has been, swift renunciation of his facility.”

I hope you'll join me in congratulating the feminist left for renouncing a mass murderer. But as long as pro-choicers are calling Gosnell an outlier, it’s time to examine some of the historical circumstances surrounding his abortion mill, specifically those involving a man named Harvey Karman.

Karman was an abortionist and fake doctor who forged his medical credentials. He was convicted of a felony after he killed a mother when he attempted to abort her baby in a hotel room with a nutcracker. For that grotesque crime, he only served two-and-a-half years in prison; after that he’d become such a hero to the pro-abortion movement that he was pardoned by then- (and current) California Governor Jerry Brown.

Karman was obsessed with abortion and determined to make it as easy and economical as possible. He invented the Karman cannula, a suction device used widely today for first-trimester abortions. He then set out to revolutionize second-trimester abortions. The result was something he called the “super coil.”

Super coils were first tested in Bangladesh, where the International Planned Parenthood Federation flew Karman on a “humanitarian” mission to perform abortions on more than 1,500 women who had been raped by Pakistani soldiers. The mothers on whom Karman used the super coil suffered an enormous rate of complications.

Karman was undeterred. In May of 1972, in an event that would widely become known as the “Mother’s Day Massacre,” 15 women from Chicago took a bus trip across the country to Philadelphia. They entered Kermit Gosnell’s clinic and over the next three days, Gosnell aborted their babies using super coils while Harvey Karman gleefully observed. The women were unaware they were being used as guinea pigs for an experimental abortion device.

UCSF describes the super coil as “a plastic strip 40 cm long wound in a tight spiral.” The CDC says “the insertion of several coils” causes “total evacuation of the uterus.” The Gettysburg Times reported a super coil was “a device” that was “made of thin plastic.”

Speaking to the grand jury, former Gosnell staffer Randy Hutchins stripped away the euphemisms:

[T]here was a device that he and [Karman] were working on that was supposed to be plastic – basically plastic razors that were formed into a ball. All right. They were coated into a gel, so that they would remain closed. These would be inserted into the woman’s uterus. And after several hours of body temperature, it would then – the gel would melt and these 97 things would spring open, supposedly cutting up the fetus, and the fetus would be expelled. (Emphasis added.)

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, a physician with the Health Research Group, described super coils as “high-class coat hangers.” Yet these barbaric devices – which sound like fatality weapons in some gratuitously violent video game – were touted as a serious medical advance. Gosnell’s super coil abortions were filmed by a New York City television crew and later aired as part of an educational program. Even after the Mother’s Day Massacre, the CDC merely “recommended strict controls on any future testing of the device,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. This wrist-slap infuriated the 14,000-member National Women’s Health Coalition. The NWHC’s chief, Merle Goldberg, called the CDC’s analysis “totally invalid,” and, echoing today’s pro-choicers, huffed, “The women wanted the abortions. Because they’re poor doesn’t mean they can’t give consent.”

The CDC did ultimately ban super coils. But to the extent that anyone was outraged, it was over the damage done to the mothers who received the abortions. Nine of the 13 women examined afterwards had complications, three of those had major complications, two required surgery, and one underwent a hysterectomy, according to the CDC. The Philadelphia district attorney, Arlen Specter of all people, issued a warrant for Harvey Karman’s arrest, but only for practicing medicine without a license. His conviction was later overturned: guilty as sin, free as a bird.

What happened to the women who received the super coil abortions is a tragedy that shouldn’t be downplayed. But what of the babies, all of them in the second trimester, who were sliced to pieces by the super coils? The Mother’s Day Massacre was ostensibly just that, and yet no one was interested in investigating the actual deaths. Super coils are now considered an abortionist’s mistake, not because they gruesomely chopped up human life, but because several women suffered complications.

When he died in 2008, Harvey Karman, who murdered countless unborn children, killed a pregnant mother with a nutcracker, used women as human experiments, and enthusiastically promoted a medieval killing device, was given a pleasant obituary in the Los Angeles Times:

Harvey Karman, a flamboyant psychologist whose invention made a key contribution to women's reproductive health, making abortions simpler, less expensive and less painful, died May 6 at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 84. …

[Seven paragraphs later] Mr. Karman had many detractors, particularly because of his attempt to revolutionize second-trimester abortions with a device called the supercoil, which was inserted into the uterus and expanded when exposed to moisture, causing a miscarriage.

It caused serious complications, including hemorrhaging and infection, when it was used on 11 women in Philadelphia on Mother's Day in 1972.

As for Gosnell, he left Pennsylvania and traveled to the Bahamas and New York, before returning to Philadelphia to reopen his charnel house. Despite the sadism of the Mother’s Day Massacre, the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine never brought any charges against Gosnell. His medical license was never revoked.

The super coil incident illustrates why it’s such a ludicrous lie to say that Gosnell was an outlier who somehow slipped through the abortion industry’s detection web. His death factory was allowed to operate not simply through a snafu.

Those who engendered the Mother Day’s Massacre include Governor Jerry Brown who pardoned Karman despite the nutcracker crime, the International Planned Parenthood Federation which happily arranged Karman’s Bangladesh trip, the National Women’s Health Coalition which facilitated and excused the abortions, the CDC for not cracking down on super coils earlier, the New York film crew for watching, and Arlen Specter for bungling the charges. Those who permitted Gosnell to keep operating despite the Massacre include the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of State, and the National Abortion Federation.

Gosnell wasn’t an aberration. He was the predictable result of an entire culture determined to obfuscate and ignore the reality of abortion. Confronted with damaged women, this culture’s actors did little more than stumble around and bump into each other. Confronted with destroyed human life, they did absolutely nothing.

(A major tip of the hat for this piece goes to LifeNews.com, which has tirelessly reported on both the Gosnell trial and the super coil incident.)

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About the Author

Matt Purple is The American Spectator's assistant managing editor.