Gosnell found guilty on three murder charges

Tuesday 14 May 2013 11.55
Dr Kermit Gosnell may face the death penalty
Dr Kermit Gosnell may face the death penalty

A Philadelphia abortion doctor has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies who authorities say were delivered alive and then killed with scissors.

Dr Kermit Gosnell, 72, was cleared in the death of a fourth baby, who prosecutors say let out a soft whimper before he snipped its neck.

Gosnell was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the drug-overdose death of a patient who had undergone an abortion.

The jury will return tomorrow to hear evidence on whether Gosnell should get the death penalty.

Former clinic employees testified that Gosnell routinely performed illegal late-term abortions past Pennsylvania's 24-week limit.

They said he delivered babies who were still moving, whimpering or breathing, and that he and his assistants "snipped" the newborns' spines, as he referred to it.

"Are you human?" prosecutor Ed Cameron snarled during closing arguments as Gosnell sat calmly at the defense table. "To med these women up and stick knives in the backs of babies?"

The details came out more than two years ago during an investigation of prescription drug trafficking at Gosnell's clinic in an impoverished section of West Philadelphia.

Authorities said the clinic was a foul-smelling "house of horrors" with bags and bottles of stored fetuses, including jars of severed feet, along with bloodstained furniture, dirty medical instruments, and cats roaming the premises.

Pennsylvania authorities had failed to conduct routine inspections of all of its abortion clinics for 15 years by the time Gosnell's facility was raided and closed down.

In the scandal's aftermath, two top state health department officials were fired, and Pennsylvania imposed tougher rules for clinics.

Four former clinic employees have pleaded guilty to murder and four more to other charges. They include Gosnell's wife, Pearl, a cosmetologist who helped perform abortions.

Both sides of the abortion divide seized on the case.

Abortion foes said it exposed the true nature of abortion in all its disturbing detail.

Abortion rights activists warned that Gosnell's rogue practice foreshadows what poor and desperate young women could face if abortion is driven underground with more restrictive laws.

Midway through the six-week trial, anti-abortion activists accused the mainstream media of ignoring the case because it reflected badly on the abortion rights cause.

Major news organisations denied the allegation, though a number promptly sent reporters to cover the trial.