A Philadelphia abortion doctor has been found guilty of murdering three babies born alive to poor, minority women in the late stages of their pregnancies in a gruesome trial that has put America’s polarized abortion debate back on the national agenda.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, faces the death penalty after being convicted of three counts of first-degree murder of the newborns who were killed by having their spinal cords severed at the base of the neck with a pair of surgical scissors, a practice Gosnell called “ensuring fetal demise.”
He was also convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of a Bhutanese refugee who died of a drug overdose at his notorious abortion clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, where conditions were squalid, instruments were rusty and remains of fetuses were stored in juice containers or paper bags.
The jury of eight women and four men reached its verdict Monday afternoon after 10 days of deliberations. As it was read out to the court, Gosnell, wearing a dark suit, sat stony-faced.
Outside the courtroom, America’s pro-choice and anti-abortion groups each seized on the case as proof of their arguments.
Planned Parenthood called it a “just verdict.”
“The jury has rightly convicted Gosnell for his appalling crimes ensuring no woman is victimized by him ever again,” the organization said in a statement released on Twitter.
But the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, said Gosnell’s case was typical of how abortions were being carried out all over America.
“The result is the same for the baby whether it meets its end in a shabby clinic like Gosnell’s or a brand new Planned Parenthood facility — a painful death,” the group’s president Carol Tobias said in a statement.
Elmer Smith, a member of the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board who knew the doctor as a teenager, told The Star the case was not about abortion but how Gosnell managed to get away with murder in a low-income neighbourhood.
“If he ran that clinic in a rich neighbourhood, it wouldn’t have lasted a year,” he told The Star as the jury was deliberating its verdict. “The fact is that the people in the state and legislature had a responsibility to monitor that operation and failed to monitor it.”
The defence claimed that there was no evidence any of the fetuses were born alive. Gosnell’s lawyer Jack McMahon did not call any witnesses in his defence, nor did Gosnell take the stand to testify.
Gosnell was acquitted of the first-degree murder of a fourth baby, which the prosecution said whimpered before being killed. The jury is expected to return May 21 to hear evidence on whether the doctor should be put to death.
During five weeks of testimony, prosecution witnesses, some of whom worked at the Women’s Medical Society, described horrific conditions in which unqualified staff — including a high school student — administered anesthesia and snipped necks of living, breathing babies. Gosnell’s clients were low-income women who turned to him in desperation because they could not get an abortion anywhere else.
In Pennsylvania, most doctors won’t perform abortions at about 20 weeks, and after 24 weeks abortions are illegal.
Gosnell’s reputation was so bad that local sexual health services, including Planned Parenthood, did not refer patients to him. He was reliant on women who were more than 24 weeks pregnant and could not get abortions elsewhere, or referrals from other states where he was not known.
Karnamaya Mongar, 41, a refugee who lived in Virginia, was turned away by three abortion clinics close to her home before she was referred to Gosnell, a five-hour drive away. She was given the painkiller Demerol during the procedure but the dose was so high she fell into a coma and her heart stopped, the court heard. Paramedics who came to help her could not leave through an emergency exit because it was padlocked.
Gosnell ran the Women’s Medical Society for 32 years with virtually no oversight, despite numerous complaints to the local and state health officials and despite damages being awarded to at least six women who were badly injured during botched abortions, the grand jury report stated.
But in the end it was not the clinic’s horrifying conditions that exposed the scandal. It was only when federal authorities received reports that Gosnell was illegally selling prescriptions for drugs such as OxyContin that the clinic was raided in February 2010. The prosecution claimed that Gosnell earned up to $15,000 a day, mostly in cash from pregnant women, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more for prescribing drugs.
Adopted from The Star