Defense to begin case in trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor

Joseph A. Slobodzian / The Philadelphia Inquirer /


Published Apr 22, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

PHILADELPHIA — For five weeks, jurors have heard one witness after another tell of beheaded babies, snipped spines, and a filthy clinic.

They have seen color photos of aborted fetuses — some as old as seven months, others allegedly born breathing and moving — and sat just feet from an array of aged equipment from the West Philadelphia abortion clinic of Kermit Gosnell.

Overcoming this pile of evidence may seem insurmountable, but that is the job defense attorney Jack McMahon begins today.

Gosnell, 72, is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder — seven babies prosecutors say were born alive and viable and killed by Gosnell.

If the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury of seven women and five men finds Gosnell guilty of any of those seven counts, it would begin hearing evidence to decide if the doctor should be put to death or serve life in prison with no chance of parole.

Beyond the individuals involved, Gosnell’s trial has become a soapbox for a variety of causes.

Anti-abortion activists cite it as the ultimate impact of legalized abortion. Supporters of a woman’s right to have an abortion say opponents have seized on an aberrant example to undermine the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized the right to abortion.

The race card has been played by all. The Philadelphia grand jury and prosecutors called racist the decade-long failure of state health officials to inspect a clinic that largely served poor, black women. McMahon has called the prosecution racist and elitist for the same reason. And black anti-abortion activists have called Gosnell a “racist of the worst kind” for “preying on girls and women of his own race.”

Conservative media critics lambasted the national “liberal mainstream media” for failing to cover the story and last week triggered a flurry of coverage at what had been a courtroom almost devoid of journalists and spectators.

Gosnell has rejected several plea deals from prosecutors, the last before jury selection started March 4. The offer would have let Gosnell serve life in a federal prison rather than in the Pennsylvania system, and let his wife, Pearl, 52, keep their West Philadelphia home.