‘You can’t unlearn,” Ann McElhinney insists, referring to what she and her husband, Phelim McAleer, refer to in the subtitle of their new book, Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer.
In April 2013, the Irish-born investigative journalists focused their attention on the Kermit Gosnell trial going on in Philadelphia, about the abortions performed at the clinic now known by those who didn’t look away as a “house of horrors.” The evidence prosecutors showed in court was grisly. As McElhinney has put it: “The humanity in all the pictures is unmistakable, the pictures of the babies that were shown as evidence in the Gosnell trial were first-, second-, and third-trimester babies, in all their innocence and perfection.”
Coinciding with the 44th anniversary in January of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, Gosnell, their book, is a precursor to a movie they’ve completed production work on. Starring Dean Cain (formerly Superman on the primetime Lois & Clark), the movie is still in need of a distributor. You can imagine how popular such a sell would be in Hollywood — whose stars most recently took the stage in the so-called women’s marches to protest Donald Trump as president and to insist on continued taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.
McElhinney’s interest in the trial was not ideological. She wasn’t pro-life, and she’s quick to tell you that she “never trusted or liked pro-life activists.” And she really didn’t like being shown images of abortions. “If the anti-abortion position was so strong, it should be able to argue without resorting to emotionally manipulating its audience with fraudulent horror pictures,” she has written.
But Gosnell changed things for McElhinney. “I got an education on abortion because of researching and investigating this story,” she tells me. In the case of Gosnell, she has focused not only on the unborn who died and the infants born alive and then killed, but also on “two vulnerable women” who died there, one a young African American and one a refugee, she points out, adding:
Hundreds of African-American babies were born alive and then murdered. Where is the outrage for those black lives that matter? Progressive Pennsylvania with all of its government agencies couldn’t have cared less. Where’s the outrage for that?
Gosnell’s clinic was the epitome of what Pope Francis refers to as a “throwaway society.” People cast aside, treated shoddily, because they are poor and desperate and no one cares to pay attention. It can be easier and more ideologically convenient to look away. So many times when pro-life legislation aims at regulating abortion clinics, it’s not a stealth strategy to make abortion illegal law by law; rather these are often attempts to exercise some oversight and ensure that women are not being forced into an abortion, psychologically coerced by circumstances and a culture that seems to point toward abortion, even expecting or preferring it in certain circumstances.
McElhinney and McAleer are the first journalists to visit Gosnell in prison, and McElhinney says that interviewing him has shed light not only on him but also on the culture of the abortion business:
Gosnell can justify anything and does. He’s very greedy, and that comes across, and he likes power, and it’s a powerful, wealthy industry. I can always see#..#the babies he killed. But it’s also a privilege to know them, to witness for their lives. It’s what journalism is all about or at least what it should be about: to speak for the powerless who cannot speak for themselves. In this case, that is as true as it gets. Those children deserved journalists to tell their stories. They were betrayed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and so many others.
When I ask McElhinney to point to something encouraging she encountered, she names Detective Jim Wood. He is a “a public servant doing all he can every day to bring justice to defend and to protect,” she says. “That he exists makes me hopeful.”
Gosnell’s clinic was the epitome of what Pope Francis refers to as a ‘throwaway society.’
About the movie, McElhinney notes that they have to independently distribute it. She asks: “Investors please be in touch, the movie needs to come out this year. Audiences who have seen it say it’s the best movie ever made about abortion.”
When asked for her advice to the media on abortion and any — God have mercy — future Gosnells, she says:
Just be honest stop being ideological and report the news, even when it makes a lie of their personal beliefs. Do your job, tell the story, and keep your opinions for the opinion pages. . . . Everyone needs to read the book. People think they know what goes on. I thought I knew.
The details are important: what Gosnell did, how he got away with it. The government and the media “betrayed” their responsibilities in the face of “this massive case of mass murder for political reasons.”
Never again, she says, must be the response.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.