PHILADELPHIA — Latosha Lewis began working at the Women’s Medical Center in West Philadelphia in 2000, fresh from eight months of medical assistant training that made her qualified to record vital signs, prepare patients for exams and perform other basic tasks.
But in time, Lewis’s job at Kermit Gosnell’s bustling abortion clinic became something much more. She performed ultrasounds on pregnant women, without prior training. She administered anesthesia, after Gosnell taught her how. And she and other untrained employees handed out drugs such as Cytotec, which softens the cervix and helps induce labor, she testified Wednesday at Gosnell’s murder trial.
After scares in which she says she administered too much medication — sending patients into a dazed stupor and causing severe stomach pains — Lewis cut back on her use of the drugs and eventually began working at the reception desk.
“The women were going into labor too fast,” Lewis, 31, said, “and I didn’t want to deal with it.”
Lewis’s testimony offered the latest glimpse into what prosecutors have called a “house of horrors,” a place where untrained and unsupervised staff members allegedly pumped women full of dangerous medications and performed procedures they weren’t qualified to do.
Gosnell is facing seven first-degree murder charges resulting from the deaths of babies whose spinal cords he allegedly severed after they were born alive during abortions. He also was charged with third-degree murder in the death of a 41-year-old Virginia woman who died after what prosecutors say was an overdose of Demerol, a narcotic pain reliever.
If convicted, Gosnell could receive the death penalty.
Lewis, who has pleaded guilty to drug-distribution charges and is awaiting sentencing, was the latest former employee to testify about the practices at the clinic. Besides Lewis, several other employees have pleaded guilty to criminal charges, including third-degree murder, and have agreed to testify against their former boss.
One former employee, Steven Massof, previously testified that he had seen scores of babies born alive who had their necks “snipped” by Gosnell to ensure their demise. Massof, who said he aided with abortions, said that during busy stretches, women given labor-inducing drugs would give birth so regularly that “it would rain fetuses.”
Another former employee, Lynda Williams, previously told the court that some women, heavily dosed on Cytotec and other drugs, aborted spontaneously in the clinic waiting room.
Last week, a woman named Ashley Baldwin testified about having an internship at Gosnell’s clinic as a 15-year-old high school sophomore interested in medicine. She began by answering phones and doing other administrative tasks and eventually assisted him in performing abortions. She told jurors she recalled seeing various babies squirming, breathing and in one instance “screeching” after late-term abortions.
Gosnell’s attorney, Jack McMahon, has maintained that no live births took place at the clinic because Gosnell terminated the pregnancies in utero. He also has argued that the Virginia woman died from unforeseen complications rather than a reckless overdose of drugs.