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National News

April 17, 2013

Guide to the Philadelphia abortion doc murder case

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is on trial for murder in the deaths of a female patient and seven babies allegedly born alive at the abortion clinic he ran. A look at the facts in the case:  

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THE INVESTIGATION

In February 2010, agents from Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI who were conducting two raids on 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.

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THE GRAND JURY REPORT

A nearly 300-page grand jury report released in January 2011 described Gosnell’s clinic as a filthy, foul-smelling “house of horrors” that was overlooked by regulators.

Prosecutors said Gosnell made millions of dollars over three decades performing thousands of dangerous abortions, many of them illegal late-term procedures. His clinic had no trained nurses or medical staff other than Gosnell, a family physician not certified in obstetrics or gynecology, yet many allegedly 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, 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, investigators said, since the clinic opened in 1979. Several state employees were fired and two agencies overhauled their regulations in the wake of allegations.

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THE CHARGES

Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder. He stands accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of seven newborns and third-degree murder in the 2009 death of a 41-year-old Bhutanese refugee who allegedly received lethal doses of sedatives and painkillers at the clinic while awaiting an abortion. He is also charged with violating Pennsylvania abortion law by performing abortions after 24 weeks, operating a corrupt organization and other charges.  

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 charged with Gosnell have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges, including his wife, a beautician accused of helping him perform illegal third-term abortions. 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 role in the woman’s overdose death, or for cutting babies in the back of the neck to ensure their demise.

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THE DEFENSE

In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News after his 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 and challenges the alleged gestational age of the aborted fetuses. He has also 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 a year, and at least 16,000 over his long career, with a lower-than-average complication rate.

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THE TRIAL

After about a week of jury selection, seven woman and five men were chosen along with six alternate jurors. The trial began March 18 and is expected to last about two months.

Gosnell’s former employees have 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 he 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.

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