A doctor in the US city of Philadelphia has been found guilty of murdering three babies with scissors after they were born alive during late-term abortions at a clinic serving low-income women.
Dr Kermit Gosnell, 72, who ran the now closed Women’s Medical Society Clinic, faces the possibility of the death penalty after the verdicts were announced on Monday.
The case focused on whether the infants were born alive and then killed in an abortion clinic described as a “house of horrors” in testimony read to the court.
Prosecutors said he performed late-term abortions in a state where the limit is set at 24 weeks and that when babies emerged still alive, he used scissors to sever their spines.
However, he denied this, insisting that all babies were already dead as a result of the drug he was using in the abortion.
Witness testimony described the babies as born breathing, moving and making sounds.
The jury, which had earlier on Monday declared itself unable to decide on two counts before going back to try again, had been deliberating for 10 days.
Gosnell also was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the case of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, of Virginia, who died from a drug overdose after going to him for an abortion.
He also was found guilty of performing 21 abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy at his clinic.
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.
The jury will return to court on Tuesday to decide if Gosnell will face the death penalty or life in prison on the three counts of first-degree murder on which he was convicted.
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.