Artists these days are required to either be atheists or tacitly agree to not, in Alastair Campbell’s mordant phrase, “do God.” For obvious reasons, attempts to confront this tendency fall foul of a booby-trapped secular culture designed to reject anything challenging its five core anti-values: atheism, relativism, consumerism, hedonism, and nihilism.
Certain things—defined and declined by PC statute—are especially impermissible, and foremost among these is the pro-life movie. Since the 1980s, membership in Hollywood has necessitated adherence to a range of certitudes, of which “pro-choice” has been the most absolute. If a movie addresses abortion, there is only one correct way it can go without inviting all hell upon the heads of all concerned.
But with the feature film Gosnell, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer dare to do the impermissible. Their movie, in theaters October 12, tells the shocking story of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, “America's most prolific serial killer.” Both investigative journalists, writers, and film-makers, McElhinney and McAleer are Irish but now operate chiefly in America. They are the real deal: serious investigators, passionate crusaders, indefatigable warriors for the good.
Although convicted in 2013 on several counts of murder and infanticide, for which he will spend the rest of his life in prison, Gosnell is believed to have been responsible for illegally killing hundreds of late-term babies and at least two women who sought late-term abortions. Money—greed—was probably the prime motivation for his now notorious crimes. Gosnell showed a total disregard for Pennsylvania law, which forbade abortions after 23 weeks and six days. He manipulated ultrasounds to alter the gestational ages recorded so he could kill babies well beyond the permitted limit. His specialty was snipping the spines of babies born alive. With a raggle-taggle band of unqualified and illiterate helpers, he murdered countless children—some “legally,” but most illegally—at his house of horrors.
As the film and the McElhinney/McAleer book of the same title show, his clinic was filthy beyond human imagination: Rats and cats ran rampant, their feces littering every floor; fetuses were stored in fridges in jars, bowls, and limeade cartons; single-use instruments were reused multiple times. Amid the chaos, unqualified staff administered medications and anesthetics, essentially executing children who defied their ham-fisted “abortion care” and were accidentally born alive. Police found a collection of jars in a fridge at Gosnell’s clinic, which contained the severed feet of aborted babies preserved in formaldehyde—souvenirs of his deadly operations. He made no attempt to hide them.
Despite innumerable complaints and warning signs, Pennsylvania’s health authorities declined to close Gosnell’s clinic. Officials, loath to give oxygen to abortion industry critics, looked the other way. On the rare occasion when inspectors investigated a complaint, Gosnell sweet-talked them into leaving. He continued practicing in the same manner for 30 years. The eventual grand jury report found that official incompetence and neglect, bureaucratic inertia, and the desire to avoid lighting up the dark corners of the abortion industry had caused the deaths of countless innocent human beings.
Even after Gosnell’s horrors were uncovered in a 2010 raid (narcotics investigators looking for a pill mill), the authorities—police, the DA’s office, and the grand jury process itself—remained wary of stepping on the abortion establishment’s toes. It was determined that nothing about the case should jeopardize “abortion rights.”
The grand jury recommended that Gosnell be charged with seven counts of first-degree murder for babies whose necks he had “snipped”; two counts of infanticide for failure to resuscitate born-alive infants that might have survived; one count of third-degree murder for a woman, Karnamaya Mongar, who had died at the clinic; conspiracy to commit murder in respect of “hundreds of unidentifiable instances” of babies killed after they had emerged from the bodies of their mothers; and multiple violations of the Abortion Control Act, the Controlled Substances Act. Not to mention sundry other crimes of perjury, racketeering, theft by deception, and corrupting the morals of minors—258 charges in all.
Nevertheless, the national media ignored the Gosnell trial for almost a full month, until shamed into reporting on it by a handful of bloggers and social media agitators. When the newspapers finally got around to reporting the trial, their coverage was littered with evasion and euphemism. One story included an eyewitness testimony that in the clinic “it would rain fetuses… and blood all over the place.” But all the AP headline said was: “Staffer Describes Chaos at PA Abortion Clinic.”
“This is not about abortion” was the watermark stamped all over the official version of the Gosnell story. Most of the people involved in collaring Gosnell described themselves as “pro-choice.” Of the paneled jury members, at least nine told NBC 10 News that they were pro-choice, and two said they were neither pro-choice nor pro-life.
But it is about abortion, and Gosnell makes this irrefutable, with facts that speak louder than propaganda. The Gosnell trial was one of those rare moments when abortion supporters were faced with the ugliness of their beliefs. One scene in the movie depicts a moment during the trial when the jury was required to view pictures of babies with their necks snipped. The moviegoer cannot see the images, but can watch the faces of the jurors as their self-delusion is siphoned off as though by a vacuum aspirator. One juror told ABC News that this was the hardest part of the case: “This was what was hard for me,” she said. “To admit that this kind of evil exists in the world.”
“Almost everyone who was in some way pro-choice, who spent significant time at the Gosnell trial, was less pro-choice at the end,” local Philadelphia journalist J. D. Mullane told McElhinney and McAleer. “This change was probably because they were hearing for the first time about abortion from experts under oath.” After the trial, Mullane interviewed three jury members. He reported that all three had by then come to believe that the women who procured abortions from Gosnell ought to have been charged with murder as well, a possibility authorities had gone out of their way to avoid mention of in the court proceedings. When the argument about abortion was removed from its corrupted media context, significant numbers of people left the pro-choice table.
Gosnell was protected by an ideological force field that made him so sure of himself that, to this very day, he remains convinced history will vindicate him and that he will one day be declared innocent. He presented himself as an altruist, a benevolent man of culture. While the police raided his home, he played Chopin on the piano as though providing the backing track of the milieu that supported him and insisting that his clinic was a cultured place rather than a murderous cesspit.
Gosnell is a journey to the heart of America’s hypocrisy. The filth it depicts so graphically is a metaphor for the dirty secret of the abortion-enabling world, the inevitable detritus of a putrefied lie that hides in plain sight because the victims remain invisible. Gosnell confronts the lie of gestation limits and the sleight-of-hand that allows people who call themselves liberal to cheer the mass slaughter of the innocents. It throws down a gauntlet to the world, challenging the most unconscionable “medical” phenomenon of our age on the fault line of its limitless institutionalized hypocrisy.
Frame by frame it tears apart everything America has told itself and the world about abortion. This movie about a case that was “not about abortion” turns that case into a trial of the crime that abortion is, and the duplicity and avoidance that is essential to keep it happening.
John Waters is an Irish writer and commentator, the author of nine books, and a playwright.