Inside the courtroom, jurors faced a difficult legal quandary: To find Gosnell guilty of murdering the babies, they first had to agree that the babies had been alive outside their mothers’ wombs. The scientific evidence on that question appeared inconclusive, and jurors were left to rely largely on poorly educated, untrained former employees who testified about seeing babies squirm or make noises after mothers delivered them at the clinic.
Gosnell did not testify, 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 the fetuses with a drug to stop their hearts. He also argued that Mongar died from unforeseen complications rather than from a reckless overdose of drugs.
Those nuances seemed to matter little outside the courtroom, where the case grew into a national spectacle. It became the territory of cable news talk and op-eds. Television cameras sat camped outside the courthouse each day. Protesters gathered across the street, waving posters with gory pictures of aborted fetuses.
Beyond Gosnell’s crimes, the case also spotlighted the failure of regulators to crack down sooner, despite repeated complaints and evidence of health violations at the clinic. Problems surfaced as early as 1989, according to a scathing grand jury report. But regulators rarely visited the clinic and allowed Gosnell to continue to operate, despite complaints from hospital workers who had treated injured patients, reports about a 14-year-old girl receiving an illegal abortion at 30 weeks of pregnancy, and the deaths of Mongar and another patient.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has called the lack of oversight by state officials “despicable.” He fired or suspended some workers for negligence and announced that abortion clinics throughout the state would be subject to annual inspections and periodic unannounced visits.
Only in 2010, when authorities raided the clinic over its allegedly rampant distribution of painkillers, did authorities uncover evidence that led to Gosnell’s capital murder trial.
Gosnell also was found guilty Monday of numerous other crimes, including infanticide and racketeering. He was found guilty on more than 200 charges that he did not observe Pennsylvania’s 24-hour waiting period between first meeting with a patient and performing an abortion. He also was convicted on 21 of 24 charges of performing illegal late-term abortions.
Gosnell still faces federal charges for allegedly distributing prescription drugs, and a separate trial is scheduled for later this year.
Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report.