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Jury in Philadelphia abortion doctor case deliberates for fourth day

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Philadelphia jury began a fourth day of deliberations on Friday in the murder trial of a doctor accused of killing babies and a patient during late-term abortions at a clinic serving low-income women.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, who ran the now-shuttered Women's Medical Society Clinic, could face the death penalty if convicted by the jury, in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia.

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

The seven-woman, five-man jury heard five weeks of testimony before starting the deliberation process on Tuesday.

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

The charges have fueled the debate in the United States about late-term abortions.

It is legal in Pennsylvania to abort a fetus up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Gosnell also faces charges that he performed 24 abortions beyond 24 weeks.

Nine states ban abortions after 20 weeks, according to the abortion rights group NARAL. Other states recently put new restrictions on abortions, with Arkansas banning them at 12 weeks and North Dakota at six weeks.

Most abortions, 92 percent, are performed before 14 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 1.3 percent are performed beyond 20 weeks.

Judge Jeffrey Minehart told the jury that state law defines a live baby as one that is fully expelled from the mother and showing signs of life such as breathing, heart beat or movement.

If a baby shows those signs, he said, "That baby is a human being."

Gosnell's defense contends there is no evidence the babies were alive after they were aborted. In his closing argument, defense lawyer Jack McMahon cited the medical examiner's testimony that none of the 47 fetuses tested randomly from the clinic had been born alive.

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.

Testimony depicted a filthy clinic serving mostly low-income women in a largely black community. McMahon said Gosnell wanted to help the under-privileged community.

Gosnell is also charged with murdering Karnamaya Mongar, 41, of Virginia, who died from a drug overdose after going to him for an abortion, prosecutors said.

Gosnell, who has been in jail since his January 2011 arrest, is on trial with Eileen O'Neill, a medical school graduate accused of billing patients and insurance companies for clinic services as if she were a licensed doctor.

Eight other defendants have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges and are awaiting sentencing. They include Gosnell's wife, Pearl, a cosmetologist who helped perform abortions.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)

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