PHILADELPHIA—The forgotten co-defendant in abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial is a 56-year-old woman who comes into court every day, sits quietly, and looks mortified to be there. By her dress and demeanor you would more likely expect to see her scanning your library card than embroiled in a homicide case.
Eileen O’Neill, who worked upstairs at Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society doing family practice check-ups, and not downstairs where all the gruesomeness took place, is being charged with participating in a corrupt organization and “theft by deception”—basically impersonating a doctor and getting paid or billing insurance companies. O’Neill had been licensed in two other states but never in Pennsylvania.
Her attorney, James Berardinelli, brought in a revolving door of character witnesses, including O’Neill’s two brothers, an aged mother, and an award-winning doctor who had taken on the defendant in a preceptorship and liked her well enough to say to the court, “I wish I could hire her now!” Asked whether they had known O’Neill as a “peaceful, honest, law-abiding citizen,” friends, employers, and most former patients alike voiced an enthusiastic, “Yes,” adding words like “compassionate” and “caring.” (Only one friend well-meaningly added that O’Neill lacked “common sense.”)
You look at O’Neill and ask yourself, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” By all accounts, she was uncomfortable at Gosnell’s business for a long time, sometimes sharing with other staff members her disdain for the stream of “pill mill” patients, whom she called “seekers.” (The facility was first raided for drugs, not bad abortions.) More than one erstwhile patient said they knew all along that their “doctor” wasn’t licensed, but didn’t care; she did well by them. (One exception was a woman disgruntled that O’Neill had misdiagnosed her multiple sclerosis.) The two defense attorneys painted a picture of a medical oasis for poor inner city women sans insurance and better options. Judge Jeffrey Minehart granted Berardinelli’s motion to drop six of the nine charges against his client.
But this is no Mother Teresa lured willy-nilly into the Dark Side. Notwithstanding the alleged “common sense” deficiency, Eileen O’Neill was no stranger to the surgical demise of babies, having interned at abortion practices in Texas and Louisiana. The woman is part of the abortion industry, if only on the periphery as concerns the West Philadelphia Women’s Medical Society. Though a two-bit character in The Gosnell Show, she at least falls under the Scripture’s solemn warning about the company we keep:
“Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27)
We get confused. O’Neill looks just like us, and this is uncomfortable. Would that she didn’t seem like the woman next door. Would that we could demonize her. Note to the uninitiated: When you sit in on a trial of unspeakable horrors, one of the first things you learn is that the defendants are often not psychopaths but ordinary people who find themselves in positions in which they think their jobs are normal. Thus the “banality of evil” noted by author Hannah Arendt regarding Adolf Eichmann and the Nuremberg trails.
Furthermore, what you and I may consider a good person and what God considers a good person are not the same thing. Our standards are just so low! If someone is nice to us and we ingratiate our way into his inner ring, we think him a fine fellow. The verdicts of heaven will be perfect.
But in the justice soon to be meted out on Filbert Street in Philadelphia, we now await the closing arguments and Monday and then the decision of seven women and five men as to whether Kermit Gosnell deserves to die, and whether the lack of a proper license by a fairly competent medical practitioner named Eileen O’Neill constitutes theft by deception.