Abortion doctor’s trial focuses on immigrant’s death after procedure

Yashoda Gurung wept softly Tuesday as she stared at a photograph of her smiling mother, who prosecutors say survived two decades in a refugee camp in Nepal only to die under the reckless care of a Philadelphia abortion provider soon after coming to America.

Before the procedure, her mother “was healthy,” Gurung told jurors in the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell. “She did everything.”

Gurung, 26, recalled through a translator how her parents and siblings immigrated to Virginia in 2009. Months later, her mother sought an abortion, saying the struggling family could not take care of another baby. Authorities say 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar was given a lethal dose of drugs at Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic.

Gosnell faces a third-degree murder charge in the death of the woman, and a civil suit filed by her family.

Much of the focus of Gosnell’s trial, now in its fifth week, has been on the seven infants he is accused of killing by severing their spines after they were born during late-term abortions. On Tuesday, attention shifted to Mongar, highlighting the “horrors,” investigators say, that Gosnell perpetrated against the predominately poor black and Hispanic women who came to his clinic. Many were immigrants who spoke little English.

The trial of an abortion provider in Philadelphia has made abortion opponents angry that the case has not received more national attention.

Gosnell’s attorney has suggested that no live births took place and that Gosnell injected drugs to kill the fetuses in utero. If convicted, Gosnell could receive the death penalty.

A 2011 grand jury report called Gosnell’s practice a “filthy fraud in which he overdosed patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments and perforated their wombs and bowels — and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.”

The report includes the incident of a woman left suffering for hours after Gosnell allegedly tore her cervix and colon. A second woman apparently went into shock from blood loss after he punctured her uterus. Others received drugs to induce labor from untrained, unlicensed staff members, the report said.

Mongar’s daughter testified that her mother was 14 to 15 weeks pregnant when she began seeking an abortion. “I did tell her, ‘Let’s keep the baby, it’s already here,’ ” Gurung said.

But her mother said no. The family was living in Woodbridge, getting by on food stamps. ‘‘We can’t support this baby,” Gurung recalled her mother saying.

Gurung said that after being turned down at two clinics in Virginia and one in Washington because the pregnancy was too far along, her mother went to Gosnell’s clinic in November 2009. She was given medication and told to return the next day. After enduring a night of severe abdominal pain, she returned and was given more drugs.

Eventually, she was rushed to the hospital, where she died the next day. Authorities said Gosnell’s staff had given her too much Demerol, a narcotic pain reliever.

Damber Ghalley, who identified himself as Mongar’s brother and said he had driven her to Philadelphia, testified that the scene was chaotic as emergency workers rushed to get Mongar to the hospital. He said firefighters had to use bolt cutters to open a clinic emergency door.

When Ghalley asked Gosnell what happened, “He said, ‘The procedure was done, but your sister’s heart stopped,’ ” Ghalley recalled.

The following day, Gosnell said: “I didn’t do anything wrong. The procedure was done fine,” according to Ghalley.

Gosnell’s attorney, Jack McMahon, has argued previously that Mongar appeared to have respiratory problems that could have put her at higher risk from the drugs’ side effects. A city medical examiner, however, has said Mongar had no significant lung problems.

Jurors also heard from a handful of other witnesses Tuesday, including a registered nurse who had worked for Gosnell during the 1980s and returned briefly in 2009. She said she left after two days because the clinic had deteriorated so badly.

In addition, an official for the Philadelphia Department of Health testified about encountering expired vaccines, dirty fish tanks and a lingering smell of cat urine during a visit in 2008. “I go into a lot of practices, and this was very filthy,” Lorraine Matijkiw told jurors, saying she had reported her findings to her superiors.

The trial is expected to continue into May.

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on food and drug issues.
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