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US abortion doctor given life in prison

Kermit Gosnell avoids death penalty for murder of three babies during abortions by agreeing not to appeal conviction.

Last Modified: 14 May 2013 23:01
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Dr Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of performing 21 abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy at his clinic

A doctor in the US city of Philadelphia has avoided the death penalty for murdering babies during late-term abortions by agreeing not to appeal his convictions.

Dr Kermit Gosnell, 72, was sentenced to life in prison, the city prosecutor said on Tuesday.

He was convicted on Monday on three counts of first-degree murder, which raised the possibility of the death penalty. The case focused on whether the infants were born alive and then killed.

In the agreement that spared his life, Gosnell waived his right to appeal his convictions and was immediately sentenced to life in prison on two murder counts, Philadelphia District Attorney R Seth Williams said in a statement.

Gosnell is due to be sentenced on Wednesday on his other convictions, including the murder of a third baby and the involuntary manslaughter of a patient who died after a late-term abortion, Williams said.

He was accused of delivering live babies during late-term abortions and then severing their spinal cords at the now-shuttered Women's Medical Society Clinic.

The facility served a predominantly black and low-income community in West Philadelphia.

Convicted of infanticide

He also was found guilty of performing 21 abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy at his clinic. It is legal in Pennsylvania to abort a fetus up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

In his instructions to the jury, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Minehart said state law defines a live baby as one that is fully expelled from the mother and showing signs of life such as breathing, heart beat or movement.

If a baby shows those signs, he said, "that baby is a human being".

Gosnell was also convicted of infanticide and conspiracy in the babies' deaths.

In addition, he was found guilty of 211 counts of failing to comply with a state law that requires a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion is performed.

Gosnell has been in jail since his arrest in January 2011.

"He is disappointed, and he is upset," defence attorney Jack McMahon said after the verdict was read.

Intense national debate

The jury cleared Gosnell of one charge of first-degree murder related to one of the babies he was accused of killing.

Gosnell's defence had claimed there was no evidence the babies were alive after they were aborted and that any noise or movement would have been involuntary spasms.

His crimes horrified Americans on either side of the intense national debate on the rights and wrongs of abortion.

Anti-abortion rights advocates hailed the verdict as evidence that laws restricting abortions must be strengthened, while abortion rights groups said Gosnell was an aberration and the case underscored the need for women to have access to safe and legal abortions.

Eight other defendants have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges and are in jail awaiting sentencing. They include Gosnell's wife, Pearl, a cosmetologist who helped perform abortions.

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