Future uncertain for Gosnell's abortion clinic, still looming over West Philly intersection
Years after the infamous West Philadelphia abortion clinic was raided, it still sits vacant, looming over a developing intersection.
When George and Kat Reed moved into a storefront at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue four years ago to open a coffee and tea shop, they didn’t know much about the building across the street.
They first heard about Dr. Kermit Gosnell when his clinic, the Women's Medical Society at 3801 Lancaster Ave., was raided in 2010 by federal agents looking for a prescription "pill mill." Law enforcement also discovered evidence of illegal, dangerous abortions, and the clinic was shut down.
But the building still sits there, with Gosnell's logo and debris inside the clinic visible to passersby.
"I wish somebody would get rid of it," said George Reed, 63, who now runs Reed's Cafe with Kat. "It’s disgusting."
The future of the clinic remains unclear.
A forfeiture action filed by the office of D.A. Seth Williams against the clinic will be withdrawn, the office said recently.
“There are currently pending civil lawsuits filed against Gosnell. In the interests of justice, the office determined that it would be appropriate that, should these lawsuits succeed, the clinic can be sought as an asset from Gosnell, either through settlement or trial verdict,” said D.A.’s office spokesperson Tasha Jamerson in an email.
Meanwhile, the city's Law Department is planning to file for seizure of 3801 Lancaster Ave, which owes $26,000 in back taxes, according to Mark McDonald, press secretary for Mayor Michael Nutter.
It is unclear which action would resolve first.
The city filed in September 2013 to seize another property owned by Gosnell at 422 N. 38th Street, which owed more than $30,000 in back taxes. Last month the house was offered up at sheriff's sale and although the bidder dropped out, their deposit of $35,000 stayed with the city and refunded the taxes, according to McDonald.
But residents and people who work in the neighborhood fear getting rid of the clinic could take years.
“Can you please just throw a firebomb at that building and burn it down?” a passerby asked a Metro photographer who was standing outside the former clinic on Tuesday.
Gosnell's actions at the clinic have attracted national and international attention, and a crowd-funded TV movie is currently in the works. Crime writer Andrew Klavan was tapped this week to write the script for the Gosnell movie.
But residents were offended when construction paper fetuses were littered outside the clinic in a "guerilla style art installation," according to James Wright, the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor manager for People's Emergency Center (PEC), a local community group.
“That is a really contentious property because of the history,” Wright said.
A Drexel student posted blank stickers with the phrase "I wish this was" on the building to encourage neighbors to write positive ideas about what the clinic could become, Wright said, but the idea backfired and now the building also has stickers were tagged with swastikas and obscenities.
It also causes problems because it is not being maintained, he said, mentioning that one winter, the clinic's sprinkler system exploded, covering the sidewalks with sheets of ice for two weeks.
Wright said that PEC hoped to help develop affordable housing at the site with ground-floor commercial, but said if the clinic is sold off to a private developer, PEC could not compete.
“A lot of people don’t even want to touch it because it’s got bad memories,” said George Stevens, president of the Lancaster Avenue 21st Century Business Association. “With all the things happening in the area, that will be like a sore thumb sticking out.”
Right across the street, Penn is building a new medical facility, and Drexel is planning a commercial/residential complex on the 14-acre site where University City High School sits vacant. Both schools did not comment on inquires about potential plans for the Gosnell clinic.
John Phillips, president of the Powelton Village Civic Association, said neighbors' opinions were split as to whether the former clinic should be demolished or put to some new use, with most leaning towards a positive re-use.
“Several thought the horrors of the place would overwhelm any reuse, while others thought a good reuse would ‘cleanse’ the building,” Phillips said in an email. “Many felt the building itself is an important cornerstone on a quickly developing intersection and should be kept intact thus keeping a traditional building style unbroken in that block. It was felt that if the building were torn down, something less visually appealing would take it’s place.”
Neighbor Benson Williams, who recently set up an informational table for Catalyst for Change Church right in front of the clinic, agreed that the building should be turned into something positive.
“I would want something more positive and community-oriented, something that would be of greater outreach,” Williams said. “What happened here – it did cause a stir.”
He was also convicted of third-degree murder for the death of Karna Maya Mongar, 41, who died from a drug overdose during a botched abortion.
Her family's lawsuit against the city's Health Department for allowing Gosnell to operate was dismissed last month. Her attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
In November 2013, Gosnell was ordered to pay the city $1.2 million in back taxes. Those funds were never paid.
"They're most likely uncollectible. Essentially we are talking about a business that has no assets," McDonald said.