Slate describes the movie “Gosnell” as a “gory legal thriller about abortion.”
This description is a very clever twisting of the truth. Like the best lies it’s based in reality, but just barely.
The film does, of course, involve abortion and “legalities,” but it isn’t a thriller nor is it gory. If you google “gore” the first dictionary definition says, “blood that has been shed, especially as a result of violence.”
And fittingly for this issue, the example sentence reads, “the film omitted the blood and gore in order to avoid controversy.” That description almost perfectly describes “Gosnell.” But Slate isn’t the only outlet that doesn’t realize realize how little was actually shown.
National Review described it this way:
“The film does not shy away from portraying the gory reality of Gosnell’s clinic. In the worst of it, we are treated to visuals of severed feet from aborted babies stored in jars in the freezer and bags of “medical waste” containing fetal remains, as well as a glimpse of intact, late-stage aborted fetuses recovered from the clinic and lined up on an autopsy table for further examination.”
Factually these things are all in the film.
But it’s clear to anyone who has read the book, upon which this movie was based, that the filmmakers did “shy away from portraying the gory reality of Gosnell’s clinic.” Almost nothing is actually shown. And the very few things the audience does see are executed with an almost antiseptic quality. Gosnell’s “clinic” was a literal charnel house of horrors. If they had depicted everything it would have been stomach churning.
And if this movie is a thriller then so was “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Nothing about the pacing or tone evokes excitement or dread. Some people might have been on the edge of their seat when the jury makes their pronouncements, but that’s only one moment.
The filmmakers wanted to make a movie that was as neutral as possible. It’s a dramatic recreation of this true story sans nasty bits. But in order for it to have maximum impact they stayed away from visual depictions of Gosnell’s treasure trove of horrors.
Yet Slate described it as “part legal drama, part horror movie, and part propaganda.” This description says a lot more about Slate than it does “Gosnell.” The subject matter is truly horrific. It’s still not a horror film and it certainly not propagandist.
Are these matters of opinion? To a point, yes. But not all opinions are created equal.
Does anyone claim that “Schindler’s List” is a horror film or a work of propaganda? Maybe David Duke or Richard Spencer. And just as those very bad opinions would reveal underlying worldviews based in racism and identity politics so does Slate’s assessment speak to ugly underlying values.
In context this is the argument for why it is supposedly a piece of propaganda:
“It can’t decide if it’s a story about one rogue doctor or about the abortion “industry” overall. In one scene, a doctor testifies that if she accidentally delivered a living fetus, she would administer “comfort care” until it died of natural causes. “It seems like it would be more humane to just take a scissors…” Gosnell’s lawyer replies, suggesting that Gosnell and the typical abortion doctor are not as different as the latter might think. (Producers say much of the dialogue in the court scenes was taken directly from trial transcripts.) The closing credits are set to a song whose chorus goes: “We are the innocents.””
The filmmakers weren’t confused. They knew exactly what this film was. It tells the scandalously under-covered story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a monster hiding in plain sight. Are there implications for America’s wider debate on Abortion? Absolutely, but that isn’t the fault of the film.
Blame the facts.
Which is why Slate is trying to cast doubt on the facts, which are very uncomfortable for anyone trying to defend mid or late-term abortion. The most disturbing fact of all? How hard it was to convict Gosnell of murder.
It should always be practically hard to convict anyone of murder. Our system of justice is designed, in theory, to make prosecutors fail. Regardless of how despicable this “doctor” was we should all be glad that he received a trial and a vigorous defense.
But that’s part of the framework of western jurisprudence. What is so troubling about the laws in question is not how hard it was practically to convict Gosnell of murder, but how hard it was to get our abstract legal definitions of what constitutes murder to line up with his actions.
He murdered babies. Lots and lots of babies. But the current state of our laws make that claim difficult to maintain legally because Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood removed 14th amendment protections from the unborn.
Maybe the incomparable Antonin Scalia was correct and the constitution simply does not speak to the issue of abortion (hence his consistent pro-life stance on SCOTUS decisions). There is a big difference between a restrained position like Scalia’s and actively removing protections from a whole group of human beings, protections that the unborn previously enjoyed, if not due to the 14th amendment then under many State constitutions throughout America.
Slate suggests that what happened in Gosnell’s trial didn’t really happen in this way. That the issue of normal, “healthy” abortions could never come within the orbit of this murderer’s planet. But the script was based (with some creative license and editing) on the trial transcripts. This film is telling a condensed version of what happened.
But when Slate uses the phrase “producers say” well, that really says it all because Slate could have checked the accuracy. They didn’t because they know it’s based on a heavily researched and thoroughly documented book about Gosnell. In other words they know that in all likelihood the film is basically accurate.
The site wanted to cast doubt on these facts hoping readers wouldn’t check. Because the pro abortion side is losing the debate. It’s the only issue that Americans have consistently moved to the right on.
BONUS: HiT ‘cast Interview with ‘Gosnell’ Producer Ann McElhinney
American progressives should know by now that legality does not equal morality. Racism has been legal in this country. So has sexism. The whole idea of the “right side of history” is supposed to be predicated on moral evolution. But calling facts “propaganda,” or the truth “horror,” is a severe form of moral devolution.
We need to stop making abortion a partisan issue. We need to stop calling democrats baby killers. These people are our fellow Americans and we should want them to become pro life because it is true and right and good. We should want them to stop having and encouraging abortions because it will be better for them. This debate needs to be about truth, not finger pointing.
Let’s not use “Gosnell” as a bludgeon to “own the libs.” Let’s use it as a vehicle for the truth. Let’s use it to persuade our prodigal friends and prepare for peace.
Learn more about Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the trial that sent him to jail for life and much more by reading, “Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer.”