Abortion doctor in the dock

Wednesday 08 May 2013 12.37
Dr Kermit Gosnell is charged with performing abortions after the 24-week limit
Dr Kermit Gosnell is charged with performing abortions after the 24-week limit

Some readers may find the contents of this blog disturbing

The courtroom in Philadelphia is jammed, with standing room only at key times. But strangely the case has not ignited the imagination of the public or the big networks.

CNN isn't there. Nor is ABC or CBS. Just little old RTÉ. When you spend some time in the courtroom, you quickly get to understand why.

RTÉ's Richard Downes reports on the trial of abortion provider Dr Kermit Gosnell

The case is nauseating. On occasion I had to breathe deeply, just to avoid heaving.

The big question in one's mind at all times is: how to report the case in a sensitive manner within the boundaries of acceptable taste. American television networks would find reporting this almost impossible, I would imagine.

As the evidence mounted of the practices and procedures (if you could call them that) of Dr Kermit Gosnell, it was difficult not to be shocked. The sheer filth and disgusting practices in the clinic were revolting. What are we talking about? Dozens and dozens of frozen foetuses, stored in a gigantic freezer, some in lemonade bottles. Yes, lemonade bottles. Filthy equipment. Not just dirty. Absolutely filthy.

But that is not the real reason this case is generating heat in the United States. Anti-abortion activists view the case as a turning point in public policy.

They want to use the case to push home their views on abortion. Pro-choice advocates believe the case is a warning for what would happen if abortion laws were more restrictive. They see it as a throw-back to the days of the back-room abortion.

But it is the anti-abortion activists that are seizing on the Dr Gosnell case. It's not an exaggeration to say that it has become the centre-piece of the pro-life campaign in America.

The vast majority of the spectators in the court are pro-life activists, some of whom have come a long distance to attend. Stephanie Gray and Jonathon van Maren drove more than eight hours from Canada to watch proceedings and they agreed that it was a very significant case.

"This is the place to be", Stephanie told me. "It's a very important case."

"I wouldn't be anywhere else," Jonathon said.

Fr Frank Provone, Director of Priests for Life, says it is not just Dr Kermit Gosnell who is on trial but a key issue. "Abortion is on trial", he told me.

"They may be arguing over the narrow legal issue of when an abortion was performed and whether that was legal, but it is a matter of killing. In other words was the child killed inside the womb or outside?".

Abortion is legal in the United States and in the state of Pennsylvania up to 24 weeks. After that late term abortions are only allowed when the mother's life is in danger.

That was not the case in the four instances at issue here. Dr Gosnell is charged with performing abortions after the 24-week limit and then delivering the babies alive and killing them by cutting the spinal cord of the delivered babies.

This is gruesome stuff indeed.

The prosecution and defence have made their case and now it is up to the jury to make a decision. After weeks of evidence and more than 50 witnesses, that is not an enviable task.

Keywords: philadelphia