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Philadelphia clinic doctor's trial alters tactics of abortion debaters

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 5:06 p.m.

For weeks, jurors in Philadelphia heard grim testimony about deaths and squalor in Dr. Kermit Gosnell's inner-city abortion clinic. While they listened, the murder case reverberated far beyond the courtroom, changing — at least for the moment — the tone of the national debate on abortion.

Groups supporting legal access to abortion, after major successes in the 2012 national elections, find themselves on the defensive as they distance themselves from Gosnell.

“All of us are appalled by the substandard illegal practices,” said Vicki Saporta, who as CEO of the National Abortion Federation represents hundreds of abortion clinics. “But to make the leap to say that's indicative of the state of abortion care throughout the U.S. is absolutely false.”

Anti-abortion activists, in contrast, are energized by the case, citing it in fundraising appeals and renewed efforts to expand state restrictions on abortion.

“It's very seldom we get such an opportunity to look at the realities of what's happening in abortion,” said Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Gosnell, 72, is charged with killing five people — a patient and four viable babies that prosecutors say were born alive. Among scores of other counts, he also is accused of performing abortions after Pennsylvania's 24-week limit.

Jury deliberations began on April 30 and are scheduled to resume on Monday.

Anti-abortion groups have seized on the case as a chance to reach an audience beyond their regular followers. Those efforts were enhanced midway through the trial when abortion opponents used social media to accuse some national news outlets of a “blackout” of the case, resulting in increased news coverage.

The trial “shows people that abortion is about killing human beings that have arms and legs and in this case, a lot of attention has been focused on necks and spines that can be cut. They're alive and something has to be done to them to cause them to die,” said David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee.

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