A jury in Philadelphia has ended its first day of deliberations without reaching verdicts in the murder trial of a doctor accused of killing babies and a patient during late-term abortions.

Dr Kermit Gosnell, 72, who ran the now-closed Women's Medical Society Clinic, faces the death penalty if convicted.

The case focuses on whether the infants were born alive and then killed.

A seven-woman, five-man jury in Common Pleas Court, where the trial is in its sixth week, was to begin deliberations today, after receiving instructions from Judge Jeffrey Minehart.

The charges against Dr Gosnell and nine of his employees have added more fuel to the debate in the United States about late-term abortions.

It is legal in Pennsylvania to abort a foetus up to 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Other states have recently put new restrictions on abortions, with Arkansas banning them at 12 weeks and North Dakota at six weeks.

Dr Gosnell is charged with first-degree murder for delivering live babies during late-term abortions and then deliberately severing their spinal cords, prosecutors said.

His defence contends there is no evidence the babies were alive after they were aborted.

Defence lawyer Jack McMahon, in his closing argument yesterday, cited testimony by Medical Examiner Sam Gulino, who said none of the 47 babies tested randomly from the West Philadelphia clinic had been born alive.

"You may not like that evidence, but it is the evidence," Mr McMahon said.

Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron said in his closing argument that witnesses testified that one of the aborted babies was breathing before its neck was cut, another made a whining sound and another moved its arms and legs.

"You have three witnesses who saw a baby breathe and move, and he killed it," Mr Cameron said.

RTÉ's Richard Downes reports from Philadelphia on the high-profile trial of abortion provider Dr Kermit Gosnell