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Jurors hear graphic details about a drug to cause "fetal demise" in a controversial case.

New York Times

PHILADELPHIA - They are known as Baby Boy A, Baby C, Baby D and Baby E, all of whom prosecutors call murdered children and the defense calls aborted fetuses - the very difference in language encapsulating why antiabortion advocates are so passionate about drawing attention to the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, which wrapped up Monday with summations by both sides.

In five weeks of testimony, jurors were told that Gosnell, 72, had performed late-term abortions by injecting a drug to stop the heart of the fetus, but when one jerked an arm, cried or drew breath outside the womb, its spinal cord was cut with surgical scissors.

To antiabortion leaders, the accounts have the power to break through decades of hardened positions in the abortion wars, not just because of the graphic details but because they raise the philosophical issue of why an abortion procedure performed in utero is legal, but a similar act a few minutes later, outside the womb, is considered homicide.

Abortion-rights groups have a different view. They say that Gosnell was a rogue practitioner, and that if abortion is further restricted, more women will be driven to clinics like his, which prosecutors called a "house of horrors."

Last week, Judge Jeffrey Minehart of the Court of Common Pleas threw out three of seven first-degree murder charges against Gosnell. The doctor's defense lawyer, Jack McMahon, argued Monday that none of the remaining four cases had resulted in live births.

Because the women were given injections of the drug digoxin, which causes "fetal demise," he argued, any postdelivery movements were involuntary spasms.

But Edward Cameron, an assistant district attorney, countered that testimony showed Gosnell did not always use digoxin and that it did not always work as intended.

Eight workers from the clinic, the Women's Medical Society in West Philadelphia, have pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the case, including Gosnell's wife, Pearl, a cosmetologist who helped perform abortions.

If convicted, Gosnell could face the death penalty. Gosnell is also accused of third-degree murder in the death of a 41-year-old patient from Virginia, who visited his clinic after being turned away by three other clinics closer to her home, according to testimony by a daughter of the woman.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations today.