Dr. Robert J. Sherman, the Washingon abortionist charged in the death of a 16-year-old abortion patient, was sentenced to a minimum of 2 1/2 years in jail for perjury yesterday.

Sherman, who the prosecuting attorney likened to a "butcher" because of the way he performed abortions, pleaded for leniency because he said that his personal and professional lives were destroyed by the trial.

But Superior Court Judge Fred B. Ugast held that Sherman, 66, undermined "the judicial process" with his perjury and ordered him to serve between 2 1/2 and 7 1/2 years in jail.

Testimony during the trial showed that, among other things, Sherman had used unclean surgical instruments and had given patients green trash bags to collect fetuses expelled from their bodies at home following his incomplete abortions.

Expert testimony also showed that the death of Rita Mc"dowell was the result of blood poisoning and shock tSherman's inincomplete abortions.

Sherman pleaded guilty to 25 counts of perjury last April in exchange for the government's promise to dimiss a charge of second degree murder brought against him in connection with McDowell's death.

"Rita McDowell's death was not the product of a merely careless accident," Assistant U.S. Attorney Whitney S. Adams argued. "It occurred because Dr. Sherman consciously practiced medicine by lying, cheating, and defrauding his patients out of the medical care they were entitled to.

"Dr. Sherman is the classic, ruthless white-collar criminal, and more," Adams said. "He acted out of greed. Yet he stole more than money from those he victimized. He stole something of even greater value -- good health and life."

Adams and the principal assistant U.S. attorney. Carl Rauh, asked Ugast to send Sherman to prison for a term of five to 15 years as a deterrent to others in the medical profession who might contemplate committing perjury.

Robert F. Muse and Constance O'Bryant, of the city's Public Defender Service, who represented Sherman, presented seven character withnesses on Sherman's behalf and pleaded with Ugast not to send their client to prison.

Sherman was brought to trial last October 26 following an extensive government investigation, prompted by McDowell's 1975 death, of the practices and procedures at his abortion clinic at 1835 I St. N.W.

The trial, which lasted eight weeks, was plagued with many problems, including charges that defense witnesses were harassed and Sherman's own claims of a heart ailment just as the case was about to go to the jury for deliberation.

A woman juror, at one point, was dimissed from the case after she suddenly disclosed that she knew a former patient of Sherman who was about to testify for the government. Ugast declared a mistrial December 15 after another witness said she had received threatening phone calls about the case.

Lupe McDowell, the mother of Rita McDowell who appeared at yesterday's hearng with her daugther's 5-year-old, son, said she was "happy that he [Sherman] will be going to jail." CAPTION: Picture, Dr. ROBERT J. SHERMAN . . . pleaded for leniency