PHILADELPHIA — At the time, it must have seemed like the ultimate work-study program.
Ashley Baldwin, a 15-year-old sophomore at University City High School who was thinking of becoming a doctor, got a job at one of the busiest clinics in West Philadelphia.
She was paid, and in no time went from answering phones to doing ultrasounds, administering intravenous medicine, and, ultimately, assisting in abortions performed by her mentor, Kermit Gosnell.
Now 22 and the mother of a 2-year-old son, Baldwin on Thursday told a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury hearing Gosnell’s murder trial of her unusual hands-on medical apprenticeship.
Baldwin also told the jury about seeing at least five aborted babies moving, breathing, and, in one case, “screeching” after late-term procedures at the clinic.
In Pennsylvania, abortions are legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. After that, medical experts say, a fetus is capable of living outside the womb.
“They looked just like regular babies,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said one baby was so big that Gosnell joked that “this baby is going to walk me home.”
She said the joke bothered her and she talked to her mother about it. Baldwin’s mother, however, was also a Gosnell employee. Tina Baldwin had worked there since 2001.
Ashley Baldwin said she assisted Gosnell in abortions, applying pressure to the mother’s abdomen, handing the doctor instruments and equipment.
She said she also saw Gosnell use scissors to “snip” the neck of newborns who were moving after the procedure.
Although she sometimes felt uneasy about what she saw, Baldwin said, Gosnell always had an explanation: “He told me that’s how it was supposed to go.”
Baldwin’s tale of her teenage years in an abortion clinic was received calmly by the jury of seven women and five men who have already heard a four-week parade of horrible testimony.
Gosnell, 72, is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of seven infants born alive during abortions and killed by cutting their spinal cords with scissors. If the jury finds him guilty, Gosnell could be sentenced to death.
Gosnell lawyer Jack McMahon has argued that none of the infants was killed, that they were in death throes from the abortion drug Digoxin that Gosnell administered earlier.
Baldwin’s testimony ended the fourth week of the trial. Testimony resumes Monday before Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart. The lawyers and witnesses are under a strict gag order.
Like other Gosnell workers, Baldwin testified that Gosnell taught her the rudiments of using an ultrasound, administering IV medicine, and some lab work. She said he told her she was working legally because, as a doctor, he had “grandfathered her in.”
“We talked a lot,” Baldwin said, and Gosnell gave her medical books so she could read more about what she was doing.
When it came to learning how to start an intravenous line, Baldwin said, Gosnell got a bag of saline solution and a “butterfly needle,” rolled up a sleeve, and let her practice on him.
“How much training did you get?” asked Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore.
“Not much, just a little time,” replied Baldwin, who described many of the procedures as “not that hard.”
Baldwin said she could not remember how much she was paid. Other Gosnell workers have testified that workers were paid, under the table, $10 an hour, and $20 an hour on nights they assisted in late-term abortions.
By the time authorities raided the Women’s Medical Society clinic in February 2010, Baldwin said, she had been there almost four years, and was going to school and working up to 50 hours a week, sometimes to 1 or 2 a.m.
Once, when it neared midnight, Baldwin said she told Gosnell she wanted to go home.
“It was a time when other people were leaving and he said he needed me to stay,” Baldwin said.
Ashley Baldwin has not been charged with any crime. Tina Baldwin, 47, has pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy, and corrupting a minor — her daughter.
Tina Baldwin also testified Thursday about working the clinic’s reception desk.
Baldwin said her daughter’s job was not unusual, because Gosnell often hired West Philadelphia high school students and students from his alma mater, Thomas Jefferson University.
Tina Baldwin was not asked about why she let her daughter work at the clinic. Ashley Baldwin said her mother was concerned by her late hours but deferred to her own judgment about the job’s demands.
Gosnell also is charged with corrupting a minor, Ashley Baldwin, and with one count of third-degree murder in the Nov. 19, 2009, death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, a Virginia woman allegedly killed by an overdose of Demerol by Gosnell’s untrained staff.
Ashley Baldwin said she was in the clinic on the night Mongar went into cardiac arrest. She said Gosnell was pumping on Mongar’s chest and called to her to plug in a defibrillator.
“I got a small shock when I plugged it in,” Baldwin added. “It didn’t work.”