A defense lawyer asked a jury Monday to transcend both the politics and unpleasant reality of abortion when it weighs murder charges against a doctor charged with killing a patient and four babies.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is accused of killing babies by "snipping" their 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, or moving or not.
Prosecutors were set to give their closing remarks later Monday afternoon. They describe Gosnell's clinic as a "house of horrors," where untrained, unlicensed staff overmedicated women before abortions performed in dirty surgical rooms. And Gosnell earned millions over the years doing so, preying on people desperate for either work, however unseemly, or late-term abortions, they said.
McMahon conceded Monday that the images jurors have seen in the past six weeks, including disturbing photographs of aborted fetuses, were unsettling.
"Abortion — as is any surgical procedure — isn't pretty," McMahon said. "It's bloody. It's real. But you have to transcend that."
And he 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 Gosnell 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, 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. 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 that only two of 47 fetuses found store in freezers at the clinic during a 2010 FBI raid were arguably past the state's 24-week limit.
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.
Also on trial is former clinic employee Eileen O'Neill, 56, of Phoenixville. She is charged with theft for allegedly practicing medicine without a license.
O'Neill's lawyer said in his closing arguments that prosecutors failed to prove their case against her.