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Trial begins for abortion clinic doctor

PHILADELPHIA -- A doctor goes on trial Monday for murder in the deaths of a woman patient and seven babies allegedly born alive in a case that prompted tighter rules for Pennsylvania clinics that provide abortions.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell set out to offer women safe, legal abortions in the 1970s, but that's far from what state investigators say they found in his West Philadelphia clinic in 2010. By then, Gosnell had gone years without health department inspections, perhaps because state officials preferred a hands-off approach to a political misstep in the abortion quagmire.

The result, according to a grand jury report, is that Gosnell's patients received the equivalent of the back-alley abortions that advocates of legalized abortion had hoped to eradicate.

The devastating 2011 grand jury report describes nearly unfathomable conditions: fetal body parts stored in glass jars and staff refrigerators; filthy, bloodstained operating areas; women and teens maimed after Gosnell perforated a uterus or colon.

"Anybody walking into that clinic should have known immediately that it should have been shut down," said Bernard Smalley, a lawyer for the family of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, a refugee from Bhutan who died after being given too much anesthesia and pain medication during a 2009 abortion.

Eight clinic workers charged with Gosnell have pleaded guilty, including his wife, a beautician accused of helping him perform third-term abortions on Sundays.

Philadelphia prosecutors accuse state and local authorities of turning a blind eye to laws requiring regular inspections.

"Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news . . . But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion," said the 2011 grand jury report, released by the district attorney.

Mongar had fled Bhutan and spent 19 years in refugee camps, some in Nepal, before arriving in the United States in 2008 with her husband and three children. When she discovered she was pregnant, she went to a clinic in Virginia, where she lived, but was referred to Gosnell because she was in her second trimester. She was 19 weeks pregnant when her adult daughter brought her to Gosnell's Women's Medical Center.

The thin, 4-foot-11 Mongar, who spoke no English, was allegedly given a lethal dose of Demerol and other drugs before Gosnell, the only licensed doctor on staff, ever arrived.

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