Monday, November 30, 2015

None of the above

The abortion question yielded some interesting answers during jury selection for the Kermit Gosnell murder trial.

None of the above

Dr. Kermit Gosnell and his lawyer, William Brennan, talks to DN reporter on Monday, March 8, 2010.  (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
Dr. Kermit Gosnell and his lawyer, William Brennan, talks to DN reporter on Monday, March 8, 2010. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer) Daily News/Inquirer

In the beginning, there was anti-abortion and pro-abortion.

Then, in the years after 1973’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, semantics and politics took over and anti-abortion became “pro-life” and pro-abortion became “pro-choice.”

Two weeks spent watching jury selection for the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell makes me wonder if the terminology is evolving again.

Gosnell, 72, the West Philadelphia abortion provider, is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder involving alleged illegal late-term abortions where the fetus was alive and viable. Gosnell is accused of killing them by snipping their spinal cords with surgical scissors. If the jury finds him guilty, he faces the possibility of the death penalty.

So two crucial questions for each prospective juror involved their feelings about capital punishment and abortion. Capital punishment was the easy one and jurors readily told Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart whether they could impose the death penalty if warranted.

On the abortion question, Minehart asked the prospect if they were pro-life, pro-choice or neither. Many, if not most, replied “neither.”

Even Minehart and the lawyers seemed surprised at how often neither was the response. Under further questioning, almost all of the neithers turned out to be pro-choice: they said it was a woman’s right to choose abortion. Some tried to explain how their view of the right to choose involved the circumstances of each woman and her pregnancy. Others, perhaps apprehensive because of the extreme polarization of last year’s electoral campaigns, seemed to seize on neither as a convenient euphemism.

Women were most ready to say they were pro-choice. Interestingly, given the heavy news coverage involving the selection of the new Pope, prospective jurors who identified themselves as Catholic usually said they were pro-choice – despite Catholic teaching that abortion is a sin against God.

Ultimately, Minehart, prosecution and defense lawyers last Wednesday completed picking a jury of seven women and five men and five alternates. How they did will play out over the next six to eight weeks of trial.

Gosnell’s trial is set to begin tomorrow – Monday – at the city’s Criminal Justice Center.

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About this blog
Inquirer reporter Joe Slobodzian covers the courts and writes about the people who find themselves there and what they face.

You can reach Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or Reach Joseph A. at

Joseph A. Slobodzian
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