US abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell guilty of murdering three babies

Philadelphia physician faces death penalty after severing spinal cords of live babies at medical centre for low-income women

A Philadelphia doctor has been found guilty of first-degree murder in relation to the deaths of three babies born alive during illegal, late-term abortions at his squalid back-street clinic.

Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty for Dr Kermit Gosnell, who was acquitted of murdering a fourth baby, but also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 41-year-old woman, who died from an overdose of drugs administered during an abortion.

When the accepted procedure of injecting drugs into the mother failed to terminate the foetuses in utero, the prosecution claimed Dr Gosnell would deliver the babies alive, and then kill them by cutting their spinal cords with surgical scissors. However, the 72-year-old’s defence team argued that there had been no live births at the clinic.

Most national media outlets failed to report Dr Gosnell’s trial when it first began in March, perhaps due to its grisly details, but it has since become a national cause celebre, giving ammunition to both sides of America’s heated abortion debate.

Though pro-choice campaigners condemned Dr Gosnell’s practices, they argued that his clinic was the sort of unsavoury facility to which women would be forced to resort if abortion was more strictly regulated in the US.

Already in 2013, Arkansas and North Dakota have reduced the legal limit for abortions to 12 and six weeks respectively, while several other states including Mississippi are in the process of passing laws intended to close abortion clinics altogether.

When authorities raided Dr Gosnell’s clinic in 2010, they found it filthy and stinking of urine. Foetuses were stored in bottles, instruments were unsterilised; there was blood on the floor, and even a flea-infested cat. The under-regulated facility served mostly underprivileged women who sought cheap, late-term abortions.

Lead prosecutor Edward Cameron told the court that Dr Gosnell ran an “assembly line” for poor minority women, who often ended up ill.

At the heart of the case was the question of whether the foetuses were alive or dead once they left the womb. The defence maintained that the movements seen in the babies were simply post-mortem muscular spasms.The jury took 10 days to reach its verdicts. As well as the murder counts, Dr Gosnell faced around 260 lesser charges, including running a corrupt organisation.

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