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Kermit Gosnell, Abortion Doctor, Found Guilty of Murder

The doctor, Kermit Gosnell, 72, operated a clinic in West Philadelphia catering to poor women that prosecutors called a “house of horrors.”

The case turned on whether the late-term pregnancies Dr. Gosnell terminated resulted in live births. His lawyer, Jack McMahon, argued that because Dr. Gosnell injected a drug in utero to stop the heart, the deliveries were stillbirths, and movements that witnesses testified to observing — a jerked arm, a cry, swimming motions — were mere spasms.

But after deliberating 10 days, the jury found Dr. Gosnell guilty in the deaths of victims known as Baby A, Baby C and Baby D. He was found not guilty of murdering Baby E.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty when the trial moves into the sentencing phase next Tuesday.

While abortion rights groups argued that Dr. Gosnell operated far outside the legalities and norms of women’s health care, abortion opponents seized on the case to raise questions about the ethics of late-term abortions. Put simply, they asked why a procedure done to a living baby outside the womb is murder, but destroying a fetus of similar gestation before delivery can be legal.

“What we need to learn from the Gosnell case is that late-term abortion is infanticide,” the Daily Beast columnist Kirsten Powers wrote last week, after starting an online furor earlier with a column suggesting that the news media had ignored the case for ideological reasons.

Abortion rights supporters said it was opponents who politicized the trial. What abortion opponents really sought from the trial, they said, was an acceleration of restrictions at the state level to effectively end legal abortion.

“Justice was served to Kermit Gosnell today and he will pay the price for the atrocities he committed,” Ilyse Hogue, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. “Anti-choice politicians, and their unrelenting efforts to deny women access to safe and legal abortion care, will only drive more women to back-alley butchers like Kermit Gosnell.”

In recent weeks, the case was cited in Congress to support restricting abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy, and it was invoked by an anti-abortion political action committee in radio ads to attack the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe.

Although the trial has not brought new issues or tactics to America’s long-running abortion wars, it provided an emotional jolt through five weeks of graphic testimony and an earlier grand jury report.

“This is a visual argument that no one would ever want to have,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to elect women opposed to abortion. “But if we’re going to have it, let’s go ahead and have it. What are the limits? What are we as a society willing to forbear?”

She and others predicted greater support for laws banning abortions past 20 weeks, which have been adopted in several states in recent years, on the disputed theory that fetuses of that age feel pain. Dr. Gosnell was found guilty of 24 counts of performing an abortion beyond 24 weeks, the limit in Pennsylvania.

Opponents of the restrictions argue that later abortions are very rare: fewer than 1.3 percent are past 20 weeks of gestation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Abortion rights activists say restrictions before fetal viability, generally 24 weeks, violate the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade.

Nonetheless, “the imagery” of later abortion “is very powerful,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion access. “In 2010 Nebraska banned abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization,” she said. “That bill was seen as the type of bill that was going to catch fire across the country. It did.”

Jon Hurdle reported from Philadelphia, and Trip Gabriel from New York.

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