(USA TODAY) -- The conviction Monday of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell on first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges produced rare agreement by opposing sides in the national abortion debate: that the trial was more influential than the verdict, and that the defendant got the verdict he deserved.
But it's unclear whether abortion opponents can use the gruesome deeds of a single clinic operator to advance their agenda, much less end a decades-long political stalemate with abortion rights supporters.
Gosnell, accused of running a "house of horrors" abortion clinic where babies accidentally born alive had their spines severed, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of three fetuses inadvertently born alive. He could face the death penalty. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 41-year-old patient who was given an overdose of Demerol.
Both supporters and opponents of abortion rights said the verdict was just.
"I'm pleased. I expected nothing less,'' said Anna Higgins of the Family Research Council, a pro-life group. Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports anti-abortion political candidates, called Gosnell "thoroughly bad'' and "ghoulish'' and likened him to a serial killer.
Abortion rights supporters also praised the verdict and condemned the defendant. Eric Ferrero, spokesman for Planned Parenthood, which provides reproduction-related health services that include abortions, called Gosnell a "butcher.''
"This was horrifying and he should be punished,'' Ferraro said. "This was not an abortion provider. This was someone preying on women.''
The two sides also agreed that whatever impact the Gosnell case has on the abortion debate, the trial itself was probably more important than the verdict.
"I'm not sure the verdict changes much about how the public views Gosnell, and what he means to the abortion issue,'' said Caitlin Borgmann, a City University of New York law school professor who writes a blog on reproductive rights.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, a federation of state and local organizations opposed to abortion, agreed: "It's more about people learning through the trial itself what was happening at that building.''
She was referring to 3801 Lancaster Ave. in west Philadelphia, which housed the clinic where Gosnell was accused of routinely doing illegal late-term abortions under squalid conditions, assisted by unlicensed, poorly trained assistants.
The trial produced vivid images of late-term fetuses, which the prosecution said were born alive and then killed after botched abortions, and disturbing testimony.
Abortion rights opponents said the trial showed abortion as it is - under-regulated and unsafe. Abortion rights advocates said it showed abortion as it was before it was legalized by the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, and as it will be again if women's access to legal, safe abortion is restricted.
The trial came as some groups are working at the state level to impose new restrictions on abortions and abortion providers; almost 700 were proposed in the first quarter of the year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.
Those for and against abortion rights agreed that the case had strengthened the political hand of the latter. But Ferrero of Planned Parenthood said most recent regulations in states such as North Dakota and Virginia are intended largely to drive abortion clinics out of business. The Gosnell case, he said, shows the real need is to enforce existing regulations.
Gosnell's clinic went for years without an inspection, and two state health officials were fired after law enforcers raided it three years ago and discovered what Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams called "a house of horrors.''
Some abortion critics said the Cosnell trial might change the public's long-standing support for basic abortion rights. "This reminds me of the civil rights cases in the '60s,'' said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, which litigates on behalf of those opposed to abortion. "When you saw what was happening, it completed your understanding.''
He said the Gosnell trial may be the biggest moment in the movement to end abortion since "Operation Rescue" demonstrations outside abortion clinics in the 1980s gained widespread attention.
During the trial, abortion foes had complained about what they said was insufficient coverage by established news organizations. Tobias, of the National Right to Life Committee, said that was beginning to change last month when the trial was overshadowed by several extraordinary news events, including the Boston Marathon bombing and the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion.
Still, she said, "it's added to the distaste in people's minds for abortion ... for the idea that unborn babies are being killed.''
Lydia Saad follows public opinion on abortion for Gallup, whose most recent poll found opinion much where it's been for decades: 28% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all circumstances; 52% say legal in some circumstances; 18% say it should be illegal in all circumstances.
She said the Gosnell case might move some people from the first category (always legal) to the second (sometimes legal), and build support for more regulation of abortion clinics.
But Saad doesn't think Gosnell will change the fundamentals: "This is just one case. I don't see others lined up behind it.''