Case of US abortion doctor accused of running "House of Horrors" goes to jury soon

PHILADELPHIA - The attorney for a Philadelphia doctor accused of killing four infants and a patient during late-term abortions wrapped up his defence on Monday, arguing that prosecutors hyped the case for publicity and denied his client's clinic was a "house of horrors."

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, who ran the now-shuttered Women's Medical Society Clinic, faces the death penalty if convicted. The jury in the six-week-long trial was expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday.

The charges against Gosnell and nine of his employees have added more fuel to the debate in the United States about late-term abortions.

It is legal in Pennsylvania to abort a foetus up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Other states have recently put new restrictions on abortions with Arkansas banning abortions in the 12th week of pregnancy and North Dakota at six weeks.

The Philadelphia case focuses on whether the infants were born alive and then killed.

Gosnell is charged with first-degree murder for delivering live babies during late-term abortions and then deliberately severing their spinal cords, prosecutors said.

His defence contends there is no evidence the babies were alive after they were aborted.

Defence attorney Jack McMahon cited testimony by Medical Examiner Sam Gulino who said none of the 47 babies tested randomly from the West Philadelphia clinic had been born alive.

"These babies were not alive," McMahon said. "You may not like that evidence, but it is the evidence."

Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron in his closing argument to the jury said witnesses testified that one of the aborted babies was breathing before its neck was cut, another made a whining sound and another moved its arms and legs.

"You have three witnesses who saw a baby breathe and move, and he killed it," Cameron said.

Cameron accused Gosnell of being concerned only about money, rather than the health and welfare of the women seeking abortions at his clinic.

"He stopped thinking about the patients and started thinking about himself and how to make a buck," Cameron said.

Wheeling on Gosnell, who was seated at the defence table, Cameron asked, "Are you human, to stick knives into the backs of babies?"

'House of Horrors'

The clinic that prosecutors call a "house of horrors" has been cited as powerful evidence by both abortion and anti-abortion rights groups.

Reverend Frank Pavone, director of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life, said the often gory trial testimony "will change the conversation ... It'll help people engage and make them realise they're not just talking about a theoretical idea."

Abortion-rights activists said Gosnell is an outlier among predominantly safe and legal abortion providers.

"Gosnell ran a criminal enterprise, not a healthcare facility, and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Gosnell's defence attorney disputed the prosecution's characterization of the clinic, blaming Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore for using the phrase at trial.

"It makes good press, makes good headlines," McMahon said. "It is the most extreme hype in the history of the criminal justice system. They want these crimes to be a house of horrors."

Testimony has depicted a filthy, squalid clinic serving mostly low-income women in the largely black community. McMahon said Gosnell was a physician who wanted to help his community.

"Dr. Gosnell never turned down a desperate and troubled young lady because they didn't have any money," he said.

Gosnell is also charged with murdering Karnamaya Mongar, 41, of Virginia, who died from a drug overdose after going to him for an abortion, prosecutors said.

The defence attorney said Mongar was given guideline amounts of the drug, Demerol, as an anaesthesia during the abortion, as had hundreds of other women at the clinic.

Gosnell, who has been in jail since his January 2011 arrest, is being tried along with Eileen O'Neill, a medical graduate student accused of billing patients and insurance companies as if she had been a licensed doctor. Eight other defendants have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges and are awaiting sentencing.