As gory details of the practices at the clinic came to light, the case proved deeply embarrassing to state health officials — Pennsylvania authorities had failed to conduct routine inspections of all of its abortion clinics for 15 years by the time the clinic was raided and closed down. Two top state health department officials were eventually fired, and Pennsylvania imposed tougher rules for clinics.
Judge Jeffrey Minehart of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas gave the case to the 12-member jury on April 30.
Gosnell did not testify in his defense or call witnesses in the eight-week trial. Prosecutors called 54 witnesses.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Mr. McMahon told the jury that there was no “scientific evidence” that any of the fetuses were alive when their spinal cords were sliced, and the death of Mongar, 41, was a “tragic accident.” Gosnell was providing medical care to poor, mostly minority teens and women, and the prosecution’s case was “elitist” and “racist,” Mr. McMahon said. Any movements were attributed to involuntary spasms or reflexes, Mr. McMahon said. “These are not the movements of a live child.”
The prosecutors said it was murder. “Why would you cut a baby in the back of the neck unless you were killing it?” Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron asked during the trial.
Gosnell also was convicted on dozens of offenses relating to illegal abortions of fetuses older than 24 weeks, running a corrupt business, and violating laws on informed consent and 24-hour waiting periods.
Four staff members pleaded guilty to third-degree murder changes and testified against Gosnell.
Four others — including Gosnell’s wife, Pearl, who helped him abort the “really big ones” on Sundays — pleaded guilty to certain crimes, including conspiracy and performing illegal abortions.
The case quickly galvanized pro-life leaders of dozens of organizations, who said the trial had “historic significance” similar to that of the release of Holocaust survivors and the funeral of 14-year-old racism victim Emmett Till. “Let the history books be written that these are the last days of legalized abortion on demand,” leaders of groups such as Pro-Life Action League, Susan B. Anthony List, National Black Pro-Life Union and Priests for Life said in a recent open letter.
But NARAL Pro-Choice America spokesman Tarek Rizk called Gosnell a “rogue operator” and his actions “reprehensible” and “illegal.”
Mr. Rizk also blamed Pennsylvania’s abortion laws for driving people to someone like Gosnell. “When states go to extreme lengths to restrict abortion, unscrupulous providers like Gosnell are often a woman’s last resort,” he said. “This is why we work every day to protect the constitutional rights of women to access legal and safe abortion care regardless of income and geography.”
For many years, Gosnell ran the Women’s Medical Society at 3801 Lancaster Ave. in West Philadelphia, unburdened by visits from state or city health officials.
In 2010, that changed: The FBI raided the facility in search of drugs and instead found an active abortion clinic amid unsanitary conditions.
A 2011 grand jury concluded that the clinic was a “prescription [pill] mill” by day and “abortion mill” at night.