Guide to Philadelphia abortion doctor murder case
- Article by: The Associated Press
- Associated Press
- May 1, 2013 - 4:36 PM
Dr. Kermit Gosnell is on trial, charged with murder, in the deaths of a female patient and four babies prosecutors say were born alive at the abortion clinic he ran. A look at the facts in the case:
In 2010, federal agents who were raiding Gosnell's clinic in search of drug violations instead stumbled upon "deplorable and unsanitary" conditions, including blood on the floor and parts of aborted fetuses in jars.
State regulators shut down the Women's Medical Society clinic in west Philadelphia and suspended Gosnell's license.
THE GRAND JURY REPORT
A nearly 300-page grand jury report released in 2011 described Gosnell's clinic as a filthy, foul-smelling operation that was overlooked by regulators. The district attorney called it a "house of horrors."
Prosecutors said Gosnell made millions of dollars over three decades performing thousands of dangerous abortions, many of them illegal late-term procedures. The clinic had no trained nurses or medical staff other than Gosnell, a family physician not certified in obstetrics or gynecology, yet authorities say many administered anesthesia, painkillers and labor-inducing drugs.
The grand jury report stated furniture and blankets in Gosnell's clinic were stained with blood, instruments were not properly sterilized and disposable medical supplies were used repeatedly. Bags, jars and bottles holding aborted fetuses were scattered throughout the building, which reeked of cat urine because of the animals allowed to roam freely.
State regulators ignored complaints about Gosnell and the 46 lawsuits filed against him and made just five annual inspections since the clinic opened in 1979, investigators said. Several state employees were fired and two agencies overhauled their regulations after the allegations.
Gosnell is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four newborns and third-degree murder in the 2009 death of a 41-year-old Bhutanese refugee who prosecutors say received lethal doses of sedatives and painkillers at the clinic while awaiting an abortion. He also is charged with violating Pennsylvania abortion law by performing abortions after 24 weeks, operating a corrupt organization and other crimes.
He pleaded not guilty and has remained held without bail since his arrest. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the infant deaths.
Prosecutors estimated Gosnell ended hundreds of pregnancies by inducing labor and cutting the babies' spinal cords and caused scores of women to suffer infections and permanent internal injuries, but they said they couldn't prosecute more cases because he destroyed files.
Eight clinic workers including Gosnell's wife, a beautician accused of helping him perform illegal third-term abortions, have pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes. Three of Gosnell's staffers, including an unlicensed medical school graduate and a woman with a sixth-grade education, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder for their roles in the woman's overdose death or for cutting babies in the back of the neck to ensure their demise.
Abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists alike have decried Gosnell's alleged offenses from the time of his arrest in 2011. The case added fuel to the heated national debate over late-term abortions and oversight of providers.
Abortion-rights supporters have said state and local authorities apparently didn't enforce existing regulations and that women would be safer if they had more options. Anti-abortion activists have said self-policing along with regulations in many states are insufficient and that tighter restrictions are needed.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News after the clinic was raided, Gosnell described himself as someone who wanted to serve the poor and minorities in the neighborhood where he grew up and raised his six children, who include a doctor and a college professor.
Gosnell's defense lawyer, Jack McMahon, disputes that any babies were born alive. He has suggested that the woman who died, Karnamaya Mongar, had undisclosed respiratory problems that could have caused fatal complications.
McMahon has accused officials of "a targeted, elitist and racist prosecution" and "a prosecutorial lynching" of his client, who is black, and of applying "Mayo Clinic" standards to Gosnell's inner-city, cash-only clinic. He said Gosnell performed as many as 1,000 abortions annually, and at least 16,000 over his long career, with a lower-than-average complication rate.
During the trial, which began March 18, Gosnell's former employees testified that they were just doing what their boss trained them to do and described long, chaotic days performing gruesome work for little more than minimum wage paid under the table. An assistant testified she snipped the spines of at least 10 babies at Gosnell's direction, sobbing as she recalled taking a cellphone photograph of one baby she thought could have survived, given his size and pinkish color.
Mongar's 24-year-old daughter testified about the labor-inducing drugs and painkillers her mother was given as she waited hours for Gosnell to arrive for the procedure. She said her mother was later taken to a hospital, only after firefighters struggled to cut bolts off a side door of the clinic, but she died the next day.
Prosecutors wrapped up their five-week case April 18 with a former worker at Gosnell's clinic who testified that she saw more than 10 babies breathing before they were killed. The defense called no witnesses and Gosnell did not testify in his own defense, but he could take the stand in the penalty phase if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart threw out three of the seven murder charges involving aborted babies for lack of sufficient evidence from prosecutors that those three babies were born alive and then killed.
McMahon reiterated in closing arguments his assertion that Gosnell was targeted because he is black. He said his client's clinic wasn't perfect but it also wasn't the criminal enterprise and "house of horrors" that prosecutors claim.
The jury began deliberating the case this week and has yet to reach a verdict.
Weeks into the trial, some religious leaders and conservative commentators called some media outlets to task for their lack of coverage in the Gosnell case. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said the Gosnell case is "exactly the kind of topic that brings on a sudden case of snow blindness" in the media.
Philadelphia-based news organizations have regularly covered the case since 2011 including the monthlong trial, as has The Associated Press. Some national television news outlets sent reporters to the trial after the allegations of underreporting arose.
Amid the outcry, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked if President Barack Obama was aware of the case. Carney said Obama "does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial," but added that "the things you hear and read about this case are unsettling."
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