Dr. Kermit Gosnell ran a late-term “house of horrors” abortion business for one reason, prosecutors claim: money.
"He had high volume and maximum profit,” Philadelphia prosecutor Joanne Pescatore told jurors. “This is not a case about abortion; this is a case about murder.”
That was the theme of the lead prosecutor’s opening argument this morning as the trial of the West Philadelphia doctor got underway.
Pescatore said babies were born alive at Dr. Gosnell’s clinic at 3801 Lancaster Street and that he would use scissors to snip their spinal cords, killing them.
Gosnell, 72, performed late-term abortions at his clinic, according to Pescatore. He’s charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of seven babies and third-degree murder in a woman’s 2009 death during a botched abortion.
For the first day of his trial, Gosnell entered court in a suit and tie and with a cheerful disposition, smiling at his attorney. He took notes at a furious pace during the opening statement, which lasted just under an hour.
Pescatore’s demeanor seemed angry and her voice took on a defiant tone as she outlined her case against Gosnell. [She's pictured to the right, standing, in the court sketch by Susan Schary]
“He was like a sheep in wolf's clothing,” who preyed on women and staffers, she said.
Pescatore said Gosnell told his staffers that everything they were doing was legal. She called his anesthesiologist “pathetic” and told jurors that Linda Williams had only a 6th grade education. She promised jurors they'd see the “deplorable” conditions at the clinic.
“We’re going bring the facility to you --- you’re going to live it with us,” she said.
When investigators raided Gosnell’s clinic in 2010, according to Pescatore and earlier court documents, they found it was a filthy, blood-stained and macabre place where fetal body parts were kept in jars and in the same clinic refrigerator where staffers stored their food.
Staffers told investigators that because they induced labor in women, babies sometimes were born on a recliner, at other times, fell out onto the floor and sometimes were born into a toilet, Pescatore said.
For late-term abortions, Pescatore said, staffers would perform ultra-sounds on the women and that Gosnell would go back and re-work the dates so that “magically, every file would be 24.5 weeks.”
“I hate to tell Mr. Gosnell, but that’s still illegal,” Pescatore said.
The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act says women who want an abortion cannot be more than 24 weeks pregnant. Late-term abortions can only be performed to preserve the life of the mother or "prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of bodily function."
The prosecution said Gosnell ignored the 24-week ban as well as the 24-hour rule, which prevents doctors from performing on-the-spot abortions. Women must first go through a counseling session and then wait 24 hours for the procedure.
“In at least 200 cases, that did not happen,” Pescatore said.
Pescatore said women who went to Gosnell's clinic had to pay for different levels of anesthesia. She accused him of treating white women differently than everyone else, meeting with each one face-to-face in a separate office, a level of attention he did not offer up to minorities.
When staffers asked him about it, according to Pescatore, he said, “It’s the way of the world.
Gosnell has pleaded not guilty, insisting that he helped many vulnerable women and teens get the medical care they needed. The only child of a gas station operator and government clerk, Gosnell had been a top student at the city's prestigious Central High School. He became an early proponent of abortion rights in the 1960s and ‘70s, and returned from a stint in New York City to open up a clinic in the impoverished Mantua neighborhood, near the working-class black neighborhood where he grew up. His Women's Medical Center treated the poor, immigrants, teens and others without regard for their ability to pay, Gosnell has said.
"I feel in the long term I will be vindicated,'' Gosnell told the Philadelphia Daily News in a March 2010 interview.
The defense gives its opening statement next and then testimony begins.
Gosnell faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder. Check back with NBC10.com for updates.