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Kermit Gosnell abortion trial: Philadelphia doctor testifies

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A Philadelphia doctor testified Monday against a fellow abortion provider charged with killing a patient and seven babies.

Dr. Charles Benjamin is one of about four abortion providers left in Philadelphia in the wake of Dr. Kermit Gosnell's arrest two years ago.

Benjamin, by his own count, has performed 40,000 abortions over a 30-year career. He doesn't do them after 21 weeks, or three weeks shy of the 24-week limit in Pennsylvania, he said.

Gosnell is accused of performing illegal, late-term abortions and running a dangerously outdated clinic staffed by untrained workers. Benjamin said that he has registered nurses on staff to monitor patients, and that only he or a nurse anesthetist give anesthesia, unlike Gosnell's clinic, where workers hired to clean instruments or handle paperwork have testified that Gosnell trained them to administer potent intravenous drugs.

Benjamin also explained that he performs abortions after 17 weeks gestation in a hospital - in contrast to Gosnell, who performed about all of his approximately 1,000 abortions a year at clinics in West Philadelphia and Delaware.

On cross-examination, Benjamin acknowledged that his practice once had an abortion patient die of sepsis, although he said the woman was his partner's patient.

He also conceded that first-trimester patients have the choice to be lightly sedated or only given local anesthesia. Defense lawyer Jack McMahon was trying to counter attacks by prosecutors that Gosnell let patients pick their anesthesia based on how much they could pay.

The trial is now in its fifth week, and could last another month.

An influx of reporters attended the trial Monday, spurred by criticism that some broadcasters were not covering the trial. A gag order prevents lawyers from speaking outside and no cameras are allowed inside the courtroom.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart reminded jurors not to read or view anything about the case.

The second witness Monday was Philadelphia Medical Examiner Sam Gulino, who described his bafflement when police in 2010 turned over bags seized in freezers at Gosnell's clinic that contained 47 sets of fetal remains, along with medical waste and other debris.

"It was really an unprecedented situation," said Gulino, who talked to colleagues and searched medical literature. "There was no guidance for how to proceed."

He decided to thaw the fetal remains gradually, to avoid the deterioration that comes with rapid thawing.

Former workers have testified that Gosnell had the aborted fetuses in the freezer because of a billing dispute with his medical waste disposal company, which had stopped coming.

Gulino classified the remains by gestational age, concluding that 17 were aborted in the first trimester and 26 in the second trimester. He believed that one or two were possibly viable, a finding he was required to note under state law.

Gulino's testimony was expected to continue Monday afternoon.

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