The sensational and sometimes grisly trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell reached an important point Wednesday when Dr. Gosnell’s defense team declined to call any witnesses – including the defendant himself.
Closing arguments in the trial, now in its sixth week, are scheduled to be heard next Monday, after which the controversial case goes to the jury.
Gosnell faces the death penalty if he is convicted in the deaths of four newborns. Prosecutors allege that the infants were born alive and viable during late-term abortions. Gosnell is also charged in the 2009 overdose death of a Nepalese refugee who overdosed on sedatives while awaiting an abortion.
Gosnell is also charged with racketeering, performing illegal abortions, and failing to counsel women 24 hours before a procedure.
Gosnell had been charged in the deaths of seven children, but on Tuesday Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart ruled that prosecutors over the past month failed to make a case on three of the seven first-degree murder counts, involving aborted babies known as Baby B, Baby C, and Baby G.
Former employees called by the prosecution testified that Gosnell relied on untrained, unlicensed staff to sedate and monitor women as they waited for abortions – many of them beyond the 24-week limit under Pennsylvania law. Three workers have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder charges, admitting they helped medicate the adult victim or had a hand in killing infants born alive.
They told jurors that Gosnell had taught them the technique, and said they trusted that it was legal. At least one, though, admits she grew so concerned about conditions at the clinic that she took pictures of the outdated equipment, messy rooms, and stacked specimen jars containing the remains of aborted babies.
Defense attorney Jack McMahon has maintained that none of the infants was killed, reports CNN. Rather, he said, they were already deceased as a result of Gosnell previously administering the drug digoxin, which can cause abortion.
In what is likely a preview of his closing arguments, Mr. McMahon said, "There is not one piece – not one – of objective, scientific evidence that anyone was born alive.”
The only employee to go on trial with Gosnell, unlicensed physician Eileen O'Neill, is charged with theft for allegedly practicing medicine without a license. Her attorney called character witnesses to testify, but rested her case Wednesday without calling Ms. O’Neill to the witness stand.
Antiabortion activists say the case hints at widespread problems.
"This is a very dramatic case compared to what happens in some other clinics," Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of the antiabortion group Americans United for Life, told NPR. "But in all honesty, it doesn't completely surprise us because we've been trying to get attention to low-grade conditions in abortion clinics across the country for many, many years."
"The fact that we regulate veterinary clinics and beauty parlors more than you do abortion clinics in this country, that's inexcusable," says Ms. Yoest. "And what it leads to is this kind of situation with Gosnell."
Abortion-rights advocates, on the other hand, see the Gosnell case – horrible as it is – as an argument for more publicly-supported facilities and services, especially for low-income women of the type drawn to Gosnell’s lower prices.
Carole Joffe, a sociology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in reproductive health, says a new Pennsylvania law passed in the wake of the Gosnell revelations has resulted in many abortion clinics that were providing perfectly safe care having to shut their doors.
"Pennsylvania used to have 22 facilities; now they have 13," she told NPR. "The city of Pittsburgh used to have four clinics, now they're down to two."
• This report includes material from the Associated Press.