Philadelphia abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, was found guilty Monday of three of four counts of first-degree murder. Gosnell, the jury found, cut the spinal cords of babies born alive.
Gosnell faced more than 200 criminal charges. The first-degree murder verdicts make Gosnell eligible for execution.
Anti-abortion activists applauded the verdict. So too did pro-abortion rights groups. A verified Planned Parenthood Twitter account tweeted, "A just verdict. The jury has rightly convicted #Gosnell for his appalling crimes, ensuring no woman is victimized by him ever again."
"Justice has been served in the horrific Kermit #Gosnell case," tweeted Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.
Anti-abortion activists said that the murders committed by Gosnell were similar to late-term abortions that are legally performed under certain circumstances.
"Kermit Gosnell was convicted of murder for severing the necks of just-born babies, but those babies would have died just as painfully if he had killed them inside the womb, as most late-term abortionists do," said National Right to Life President Carol Tobias in a statement. "The result is the same for the baby whether it meets its end in a shabby clinic like Gosnell's or a brand new Planned Parenthood facility - a painful death."
Catholic Association policy adviser Maureen Ferguson said in a statement that Gosnell's trial "highlights the tragedy of the over 130,000 late-term abortions that happen legally across America annually - the only difference is that Gosnell was not as competent in killing the baby inside the womb."
African-American leaders opposed to abortion, including several pastors and Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., are hosting an event at the National Press Club Tuesday to discuss the verdict.
Gosnell was also charged with third-degree murder in patient Karnamaya Mognar's death. He was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the Virginia woman's death.
Although several former employees pleaded guilty to criminal charges, a guilty verdict against Gosnell for murder didn't always appear guaranteed. Philadelphia Chief Medical Examiner Sam Gulino testified in April that he examined 47 frozen fetuses recovered from Gosnell's clinic, but found no evidence that any had lived outside their mother's body.
Gosnell was arrested in 2011. A grand jury report vividly described unsanitary conditions at his clinic, saying in part:
This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.
The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment – such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff – was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn't used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains. It was a baby charnel house.
Defense attorney John McMahon said the prosecution was "elitist, racist," a Reuters report notes, and said authorities wanted "to put a Mayo Clinic standard on a West Philadelphia clinic."
One of the witnesses against Gosnell was former employee Stephen Massof, an unlicensed doctor who worked five years at Gosnell's clinic and pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder himself. Massof estimated that the number of babies born alive and then killed could have been as high as 100.
Pennsylvania's death row is the fourth largest in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center, but the state has only conducted three executions since 1976. Executions in Pennsylvania are carried out via lethal injection.