Gosnell: America’s Biggest Serial Killer is a gruesome but important film

Editor’s Note: This review includes details that may be disturbing for some readers.

In May of 2013, Dr Kermit Barron Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, one count of involuntary manslaughter, 21 felony counts of illegal late-term abortion, and 211 counts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

On February 18th, 2010, the Women’s Medical Society, Gosnell’s clinic, was raided by the FBI, DEA, state police, and Philadelphia PD. What they found was a filthy, unsanitary, outdated medical facility in which cats roamed and defecated freely. Semi-conscious women moaned in waiting or recovery rooms, sedated by unlicensed staff who could not accurately recall the dosages they had given the patients. Equipment was rusty, unsterilized, and often coated in blood or dust. Fetal remains were strewn around the clinic in bags, old milk and juice cartons, and even cat food containers. Investigators found jars containing the severed feet of aborted babies. Intact bodies were found in freezers and refrigerators, including at least two viable infants. In short, it was a scene out of a horror movie.

The evidence from this raid and testimony by employees, victims, and doctors was presented to a grand jury in May of 2010. On January 19th, 2011, Kermit Gosnell was arrested and charged with eight counts of murder: seven babies born alive after failed abortion attempts and one patient, Karnamaya Mongar, who died in his care. The DEA, the FBI, and the Office of the Inspector General also sought a 23-count indictment of Gosnell with charges related to his thousands of fraudulent prescriptions for OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, and more. It was Gosnell’s “pill mill” that originally caused the raid on his clinic, not any suspicion of abortion malpractice.

The 280-page grand jury report, released in January of 2011, documents countless horrific cases of Gosnell’s abuse of medical practice and consistent disregard for the women and born-alive children in his “care”. Though Gosnell chillingly comments that he treats his patients as he would his own daughter, the evidence shows that he cared little for the standard of care he administered with his abortions. But the report carefully insisted that it was not a question about the abortion issue, but rather “about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants.”

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, a 2018 drama about the investigation, trial, and conviction of Kermit Gosnell, should be considered in that light. Filmed in 2014 on a $2.4 million dollar budget raised entirely via crowdfunding, it was delayed for four years before it opened in 650 theaters across the United States on October 12th and earned a remarkable $1.2 million its opening weekend.

The movie, which follows a Philadelphia police officer and assistant district attorney through the raid, arrest, and trial, is firm and clear in its pro-life message. But this should not and cannot mean that Gosnell can simply be written off as “anti-abortion activism.” Regardless of one’s opinion on the abortion issue, this is a movie that needs to be seen, and a story that demands to be heard.

Gosnell, like the trial of its namesake, has received almost no major media attention. Comments on “a woman’s right to choose” are untouchable, as a judge in the film reminds the prosecutor. People choose to look away, to avoid confronting the reality of the abortion industry. In the same way, this movie is painful to watch. The reality of Gosnell’s clinic is disturbing. The desperation and pain his patients experience is heart wrenching. The images of children, born into this world alive, crying, and moving, only to be killed by a pair of scissors cutting their spinal cord, is gut wrenching.

Perhaps it should be. The reality of the clinic should disturb us. The desperation and pain of women who feel they have no choice but to abort their children, even post-viability, should wrench our hearts. We should be gutted when we hear children’s cries silenced and see their kicks cease.

We cannot look away from evil simply because it makes us uncomfortable.

It is all too easy to strip abortion down to questions of autonomy, women’s health, and empowerment. But abortion is not empowering. The reality is painful. It is easy to frame it as a woman who makes the “best choice for herself”, has the abortion, and moves on, but Gosnell shows the terrifying side of abortion. It is the women who are terrified and alone and choose a dirty and unsafe clinic because they feel it is their only option. It is the women who feel they have no other choice because of pressures by their community, financial situation, family, or even the abortionist they consult. These women deserve better than abortion.

All women deserve better than abortion.

Do we avoid watching this movie because it conflicts with our beliefs? Because it makes us uncomfortable? Because it is disturbing? It’s undeniable that Gosnell is a pro-life movie and its content can be disturbing, but it is a movie that every single person should see. Yes, Dr. Gosnell is representative of the worst abuses of doctors in the abortion industry. Yes, the vast majority of clinics perform only legal abortions. Yes, the vast majority of clinics ensure only licensed physicians and nurses are administering treatment and medication. Yes, the vast majority of clinics keep their facilities clean and women safe. But the reality of the most careful, legal, and sterilized abortion is still the death of a human being, often following the choice of a mother who is frightened and feels as if she has no other option. The reality of all abortions is disturbing, heart-wrenching, and gutting.

Perhaps it takes a monster like Kermit Gosnell to move hearts and minds to recognize the reality of abortion, whether performed illegally or by the letter of the law.

The seats in the courtroom at Kermit Gosnell’s trial were largely left empty. It took a murder conviction to get people to pay attention. This movie, and its theater seats, should not be ignored in the same way.  It is a timely, powerful, and thought provoking film that cannot be set aside.

Maggie Garnett is a freshman studying Theology and Constitutional Studies. You can contact her at mgarnet2@nd.edu.