Deal spares abortion doctor death penalty


Dr. Kermit Gosnell is escorted to a waiting police van upon leaving the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Monday, after being convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies who were delivered alive and then killed with scissors at his clinic. (Yong Kim/AP)

A day after his conviction for the murders of three babies at his West Philadelphia clinic, abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell on Tuesday agreed not to appeal the verdict in exchange for being spared the death penalty.

After making the deal with prosecutors, Gosnell was sentenced by a judge to two life terms without the possibility of parole in the deaths of Baby C and Baby D, whose spines were severed after being born alive during abortions.

Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart is expected to impose another life sentence Wednesday for the murder of another infant, Baby A. Gosnell also will be sentenced for the involuntary manslaughter of a 41-year-old immigrant woman, Karnamaya Mongar, who died at his clinic after receiving an overdose of drugs, and for more than 225 lesser charges, including racketeering and performing illegal late-term abortions.

Gosnell had been expected to undergo a post-trial “penalty phase” next week, in which a jury would weigh whether to impose the death penalty or life in prison. Gosnell’s attorney, Jack McMahon, said in an interview Tuesday that such a proceeding probably would have involved having Gosnell’s wife and children testifying on his behalf and that the ­72-year-old doctor did not want to subject them to public scrutiny.

“He just didn’t want to do that. They’ve gone through a lot,” McMahon said. “That was the motivating factor here.”

Gosnell’s case, which unfolded over the past two months in a downtown Philadelphia courtroom, drew national media attention and aroused intense feelings on all sides.

At the heart of the case was a difficult legal issue: To find Gosnell guilty of murder, jurors had to agree that the infants he allegedly killed first lived outside their mothers’ wombs. Short on scientific evidence, they had to rely largely on the accounts of former employees.

Ultimately, jurors convicted Gosnell on three of the eight murder charges he originally faced. They acquitted him of third-degree murder in the death of Mongar, who had lived briefly in Virginia, opting instead for involuntary manslaughter. They also acquitted him of murder in the death of another infant, Baby E. Minehart had dismissed three other first-degree murder charges, each involving infants.

Gosnell did not testify during his trial, and the defense called no witnesses. McMahon argued that no live births took place at the clinic because Gosnell terminated the pregnancies in utero by injecting fetuses with a drug to stop their hearts. He also argued that Mongar died from complications rather than from a reckless drug overdose.

As Gosnell made his deal with prosecutors Tuesday, a group of conservative black activists and pastors in Washington called on Congress to investigate whether substandard abortion providers are more prevalent in poor and minority communities.

The group argued that Gosnell was not an outlier, as abortion rights groups have suggested, and that such doctors target black women.

“Kermit Gosnell is a racist of the worst kind, because he preyed on women and young girls of his own race,” Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union, said at a news conference in Washington. “He got away with what he did because he could. Because no one really cares about poor black babies, do they?”

Gosnell’s clinic in West Philadelphia, which prosecutors called “a house of horrors,” served primarily poor, black and immigrant women. It remained open for decades despite numerous disturbing complaints filed with regulators. A grand jury called it a massive regulatory failure.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organization, 30 percent of U.S. abortions were obtained by African Americans in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. Blacks make up less than 13 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau.

Antiabortion groups have
increasingly reached out to
African Americans, particularly religious leaders. Participants
at Tuesday’s news conference
included activists from the
Web sites BlackGenocide.org and ProtectingBlackLife.org.

The religious leaders, who were brought together by the conservative think tank Center for Urban Renewal and Education, said abortion clinics seem to be clustered in poor and minority communities.

According to Guttmacher, which conducted a survey in 2008, 63 percent of abortion clinics in the United States were in predominantly white neighborhoods, 12 percent were in Hispanic neighborhoods and 9 percent were in black neighborhoods.

The black community is generally supportive of abortion rights — like the country overall, polls show. Monica Simpson, executive director of the abortion rights advocacy group Sister Song, said the ministers didn’t represent the views of blacks as a whole. If the women who turned to Gosnell lacked options, she said, it was because women of color in poor communities face greater barriers in virtually every area, including health care.

Jon Cohen contributed to this report.

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