PHILADELPHIA — A defense lawyer asked a jury Monday to transcend both the politics and the unpleasant reality of abortion when it weighs murder charges against a doctor on trial in the deaths of a patient and four babies.
Kermit Gosnell, 72, is accused of snipping the babies’ spines after they were allegedly born alive during late-term abortions.
“This case is not about abortion,” lawyer Jack McMahon argued in closing remarks on Gosnell’s behalf. “This case has brought out many pro-life people, many pro-choice people . . . but it’s not a referendum on abortion.”
Instead, McMahon insisted, the government has ridden “a tsunami” of emotion and fear surrounding the case to manipulate eight former employees into pleading guilty and testifying against Gosnell. Four have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.
Yet he said none of their testimony offered definitive proof that any viable babies were born alive and then killed at Gosnell’s busy West Philadelphia clinic. Instead, he argued that the lone movement, breath or cry observed in each baby was an involuntary, post-mortem “spasm.”
Former staff member Lynda Williams, though, has said one baby was alive for as long as 20 minutes before she snipped its spine, as she said Gosnell taught her to do. And another testified that Gosnell “snipped” babies whether they were alive or not, moving or not.
Prosecutors describe Gosnell’s clinic as a “house of horrors” where untrained, unlicensed staff members overmedicated women before abortions were performed in dirty surgical rooms. And they say Gosnell earned millions over the years doing so, preying on people desperate for either work, however unseemly, or late-term abortions.
McMahon refused to back down from aggressive opening remarks in which he called prosecutors “elitist” and “racist” for pursuing his client, who is black and served mostly poor, minority women.
“We know why he was targeted,” McMahon said. “If you don’t see that reality . . . you’re living in some sort of la-la land.”
Prosecutors say Gosnell killed viable babies born alive after putting a steady stream of women through labor and delivery. Former employees have testified that the doctor taught them to cut the 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.
Gosnell is also charged in the overdose death of a patient,Karnamaya Mongar, 41, of Woodbridge. He called the death “a tragedy” but one caused by medical complications.
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.
McMahon has argued that there were no live births at the clinic. And he said only two of 47 fetuses found stored in freezers at the clinic during a 2010 FBI raid were arguably past the state’s 24-week limit.