by Edna King
Last October, the most popular movie in American was the horror movie Halloween, but Halloween was not actually the film most people were too afraid to go see. Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer is the movie that we’re reluctant to view. Gosnell is much scarier than Halloween, because it’s a true story about a topic most of us are viscerally sickened and horrified by- late term abortion.
No one I know is eager to see Gosnell. One the one hand, it’s a powerful depiction of a compelling true story, one where we know they get the bad guy. On the other hand, most of us would rather not know details about late term abortions- it’s too disturbing.
In Philadelphia, that instinctive desire to look away from what really happens in late term abortion made it possible for an abortionist, Dr. Gosnell, to not only run a filthy, rat infested, uninspected clinic, but to also have untrained teenagers give out medications and sometimes even perform late term abortions. Sadly, those weren’t his worst offenses. As Dr. Gosnell grew increasingly hardened and lazy about what he was doing, he became unthinkably sloppy, and cruel about the abortions he performed. Unrestricted abortion was legal until 24 weeks*, but in his mind, 28 weeks gestation was just about the same thing, so why not? If 28 weeks is close enough, maybe 32 weeks is also OK. Telling himself he was doing a community service, he started delivering viable babies alive but then snipping their necks with scissors to kill them (thankfully these images don’t appear in the move). Dr. Gosnell may have killed thousands of babies this way- that’s why he has been labeled America’s most prolific serial killer. His clinic was a place of horror, one that even staunch abortion proponents saw as evil.
In the name of protecting a woman’s right to choose, by order of both the Republican and then later the Democrat governor, no health inspections were done at any abortion clinics in Pennsylvania for decades. No one--not social workers, not the Health Department, not even other physicians who referred patients there- no one checked on Gosnell’s clinic, even while rumors spread about the filthy conditions, the incompetence, and the venereal diseases patients would catch there. The death of one of his patients, a refugee, was not enough to trigger a closer look. It was only the fact that illegal prescription drugs were being sold that brought in the police and the FBI. The drug bust exposed the hellish conditions of the clinic and eventually brought about murder charges for Dr. Gosnell.
So, are you thinking you might pass on viewing this movie? My son said he didn’t want to see this movie because he wouldn’t want to give this murderer any more attention, but this movie is not really about the title character. It focuses not on what made Gosnell who he was, but on how he was able to get away with murder for so long, how the truth was uncovered by the increasingly horrified police, how Dr. Gosnell was tried in court by a pro-choice prosecutor, exposed by a journalist who was more interested in truth than ideology, and eventually sent to prison for murder.
Dr. Gosnell is not given the cool criminal treatment. The actor who portrayed him did an impressive job of showing how smug people can be in their deluded self-righteousness, even when their sin is obvious to everyone else. The audience relates instead to the police and prosecutors who stand with disgusted, baffled faces as Dr. Gosnell cheerfully plays piano in his bathrobe while other police officers search his flea infested basement for stolen files and baby parts. Often, instead of exposing the movie audience to graphic scenes, we experience much of the trauma through the emotion on the actors’ faces. Given the content of the movie, it’s a respectful way to depict the events of this film.
Still wondering if you can handle seeing Gosnell? Are you more afraid of the experience in the theater of or the change it might make in your attitude toward abortion, especially late term abortion?
You’re still reading this review and that is an act of bravery. Gosnell is an upsetting movie, but it wasn’t as graphic as I feared. No actual abortion was shown- which was what I most dreaded being exposed to. I was hesitant to go see it, much as you probably are, because I like for movies to be entertaining and fun. Gosnell is neither. It’s also not a clichéd Christian propaganda piece. Gosnell was crowd- funded because no major studio would touch it, but the actors are mainstream talent and the filming was well paced and not overly emotional. The truth behind the story needed no smarmy exaggerations, but it’s such a disruptive truth that this story has been swept aside first by the silence of the press when the trial was taking place, later by the New York Times, which refused to place the book this movie was based on at the top of their best seller list even though it belonged there based on the numbers of books sold, by the studios who wouldn’t film it, and lastly by the theaters which have yanked it even when it was performing pretty well.
Maybe this movie and this issue deserve our attention, however unpleasant that may be. How should we as Orthodox Christians deal with issues like late term abortion and uncovering other ugly truths in our society?
You can view the trailer and find out more here:
*late term abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania up until 24 weeks. For information about your state click here: