Dr. Kermit Gosnell , shown in a March 8, 2010, photo was charged with eight counts of murder Wednesday related to his abortion practice in Philadelphia. ((Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News/Associated Press))

A U.S. doctor who gave abortions to minorities, immigrants and poor women in a "house of horrors" clinic was charged with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, Philadelphia prosecutors say.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 69, made millions of dollars over 30 years performing as many illegal, late-term abortions as he could, prosecutors said. State regulators ignored complaints about him and failed to inspect his clinic since 1993, but no charges were warranted against them given time limits and existing law, District Attorney Seth Williams said Wednesday.

Nine of Gosnell's employees also were charged.

Gosnell "induced labour, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord," Williams said.

Patients were subjected to squalid and barbaric conditions at Gosnell's Women's Medical Society, where Gosnell performed dozens of abortions a day, prosecutors said. He mostly worked overnight hours after his untrained staff administered drugs to induce labour during the day, they said.

Early last year, authorities went to investigate drug-related complaints at the clinic and stumbled on what Williams called a "house of horrors." Bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses "were scattered throughout the building," Williams said. "There were jars, lining shelves, with severed feet that he kept for no medical purpose."

The clinic was shut down and Gosnell's medical licence was suspended after the raid. Gosnell and four workers were charged with murder, while five others were charged with controlled drug violations and other crimes.

None of the employees had any medical training, and one, a high school student, performed intravenous anesthesia with potentially lethal narcotics, Williams said. All 10 defendants were taken into custody, authorities said.

Gosnell has been named in at least 46 malpractice suits, including one over the death of a 22-year-old mother who died of sepsis and a perforated uterus in 2000. Many others also involve perforated uteruses.