PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia prosecutors predicted two years ago that the indictment of an abortion provider charged with killing babies would be exploited by both sides of the nation’s polarized abortion debate.
The seven-week murder trial, which moves to closing arguments Monday, has proved them right.
Abortion foes have accused the media of under-publicizing the trial out of fear it would weaken public support for abortion rights. Abortion-rights advocates have said the grim testimony points to the need for the procedure to be accessible, safe and legal.
“The case is not about that controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants,” prosecutors wrote in the 2011 grand jury report. “We find common ground in exposing what happened here.”
They accuse 72-year-old Kermit Gosnell of operating “a house of horrors,” where desperate women sought late-term abortions they could not get elsewhere. And he got rich doing so, they said, making millions over a 30-year career (see previous story).
Prosecutors say Gosnell killed viable babies born alive after putting a steady stream of often low-income, minority women through labor and delivery.
Former employees have testified that Gosnell taught them to “snip” babies’ necks after they were delivered to “ensure fetal demise.”
“Why would you cut a baby in the back of the neck unless you were killing them?” Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron argued last week, as he asked a judge to send all seven first-degree murder charges to the jury.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart, though, threw out three of those counts for lack of evidence they were viable, born alive and then killed.
Gosnell is also charged in the overdose death of a patient, 41-year-old refugee Karnamaya Mongar, of Woodbridge, Va.
The jury must now weigh the five murder counts, along with lesser charges that include racketeering, performing illegal abortions after 24 weeks, failing to observe the 24-hour waiting period and endangering a child’s welfare for employing a 15-year-old in the procedure area.
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon has argued that there were no live births at the clinic, and he found some support from a prosecution witness, Philadelphia’s top medical examiner. Dr. Sam Gulino, who examined 47 aborted fetuses stored in freezers at the clinic, said he could not definitively say if any had taken a breath because the lung tissue had deteriorated.
The prosecution’s other evidence to support the live birth argument comes from former employees, who testified that they saw aborted babies move, breathe or even cry. McMahon challenged them on cross-examination, questioning whether they had instead seen post-mortem spasms.
“You have to have definite, voluntary movement,” McMahon argued.
The jury has seen a graphic photograph of some of the aborted babies and a worker testified that Gosnell joked that one was so big “it could walk to the bus.”
Lynda Williams, Adrianne Moton and Sherry West, all untrained clinic workers, and unlicensed doctor Stephen Massof have each pleaded guilty to third-degree murder charges and testified against Gosnell. And four others have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including Gosnell’s wife, Pearl.
Gosnell did not testify, but could take the stand in the penalty phase if he is convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Prosecutors say Gosnell is a misogynist for the way he treated female patients while the inner-city doctor described himself as an altruist in a 2010 interview with the Philadelphia Daily News.
“I wanted to be an effective, positive force in the minority community,” Gosnell said.
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