It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up. That phrase conjures images of a perpetrator covering up his crimes. Yet what if the cover-up is done by the news media, which seem to be suppressing news of the deadliest serial killer in U.S. history? “Gosnell,” produced by Andrew Klavan, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer and directed by Nick Searcy, explores the crimes perpetrated by real-life killer Kermit Gosnell, but even more compellingly the film chronicles the way they have been ignored.
The movie tells the story of Assistant District Attorney Lexi McGuire (Jane Morris; most characters’ names in this review are fictionalized by the filmmakers and not the real names of the individuals portrayed) and detective James “Woody” Wood (Dean Cain), who, while investigating a drug crime, uncover the horrific facility run by abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell is eventually convicted of murdering children born alive during abortions, manslaughter of a healthy woman, and hundreds of grave health and safety violations. His place of operation—one cannot fairly describe it as a clinic—is a row house filled with unattended and overdosed women patients, bloody linens, reused instruments, cat litter, and hundreds of human specimens, especially babies’ feet, stored in jars.
Dean Cain as the cop next door gives us a relatable everyman protagonist. In stark contrast is the creepy Gosnell (Earl Billings), utterly contemptuous of his patients but truly concerned for his rare pet turtles. Gosnell operates on women far beyond the legal limit for abortion in Pennsylvania, women whose children are viable outside the womb. He induces labor, abandons them for hours while he is at home playing the piano, and returns later to kill any surviving infants. Billings conveys the horrifying contradictions of the mild-mannered Gosnell, smiling as he unabashedly admits to “snipping” the necks of just-delivered, breathing children.
The film has heroes. The very young, untrained workers hired by Gosnell (he uses a 15-year-old as an anesthesiologist) are told by Gosnell to suppress the details of his grisly practice. But a worker called Betty (Dominique Deon) ultimately reveals the butchery they are ordered to carry out. She can’t erase the images of the victims from her mind. In real life, she expressed relief at going to jail rather than working in his house of horrors.
Another genuine hero is tattooed millennial blogger Molly Mullaney. Though she is constantly rebuffed by law enforcement and the conventional press, Mullaney, portrayed with subtle humor by Cyrina Fiallo, persists in investigating Gosnell and recognizes that he is harming rather than helping women. Her tweet of empty rows of seats reserved for the press in the courtroom finally shames the mainstream media into covering the trial.
In a riveting scene, an abortionist who follows the law (expertly played by Janine Turner) testifies against Gosnell. His defense attorney Michael Cohan chips away at the veneer of respectability over her own practices. Director Searcy, as Cohan, powerfully drives home the point: legal and illegal abortion may differ in cleanliness, but not in violence; both result in dismembered babies.
How could these atrocities at Gosnell’s hands continue for decades with no repercussions from legal or medical authorities? The vulnerable patients and workers feared that they were running afoul of the law. The Pennsylvania State Department of Health had been ordered by pro-abortion Republican governor Tom Ridge’s office not to inspect abortion facilities, and that policy of negligence had continued for decades leading up to the discovery of Gosnell’s practices. Neither prosecutors, health inspectors, nor the media wanted to touch the case because it involved the politically radioactive topic of abortion. Gosnell’s monstrous deeds escaped notice because nobody wanted to look.
Viewers may worry that a movie about such gruesome deeds would be too graphic to watch. But the film does not show the grisly crimes perpetrated by Gosnell. Instead, as in “Gone with the Wind,” which focuses on Scarlett O’Hara witnessing amputations in a field hospital, we see the shocked faces of the observers as they react to the gore, filth, and fleas they find in the facility. Jurors, prosecutors, and even cops who are used to seeing the seamy side of life, all express horror at the extent of the depravity.
We may expect a movie with abortion at its core to be filled with politics and religion. This film largely avoids both, as well as the sentimentality of an explicitly “Christian” movie. This film is about crimes that continued, and were hidden, for decades.
The effort to suppress any negative information about abortion may still be operating. As reported by WND, the Hyatt Hotel in Austin, under pressure from Planned Parenthood, recently cancelled a preview screening of “Gosnell,” according to the film’s producers. Distributors have also reportedly had difficulty placing the movie, set to open in theaters this Friday, October 12. In my case, the closest two theaters scheduled to show the film are 89 and 107 miles away. The producers are asking the public to request that their local AMC, Cinemark, and Regal theaters show the film on its opening date. It’s time to end the cover-up.
Dr. Elise Rose is an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.