Movie Commentary: Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer

*Spoilers–duh!*

UW Students for Life recently had a movie day where we shared snacks and watched the 2018 movie, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. As soon as the film began I knew that it was serious. The production value and quality of the acting were significantly better than what I had expected. There was depth to the characters, humor and serious content wrapped up elegantly in a film. And it had a pro-life message that shone through. It was not in your face and arrogant but it was part of the story nonetheless, as a gentle nudge in the right direction. A true story documented in the film. The facts are laid out clearly. Now you make your decision.

I definitely would recommend this movie, particularly to those who are pro-life “except when x, y or z” or people who are just unsure about where they stand. It makes for an excellent conversation starter. It addresses common pro-choice arguments in a powerful way.

For example, for those who say that abortion should be made legal to make it safe. The heart of the argument is that, if it is made illegal, women will want to get abortions anyways and will resort to unsafe methods to terminate the pregnancy. The Gosnell case highlights an extreme situation where standards of sanitation were disregarded altogether and untrained personnel performed procedures and administered anesthesia. Surely this would be a point in favor of the pro-choice argument, no? Well, not exactly.

There is a court case scene where the director of a legal, more conventional abortion clinic was being interrogated. The attorney arguing in defense of Gosnell painstakingly asked about the abortion procedure. He revealed that, while Gosnell would simply snip the necks of fetuses delivered alive, the conventional abortion clinic would give “comfort care” to fetuses delivered alive. The fetuses would be left to die. In both cases, there is no safe abortion. In every abortion, at least one person is killed–the child. It is amusing to see the lawyers jump around and avoid the abortion debate. The court case must be focused on the children killed post-delivery or past an arbitrary point of viability. To mention a fetus killed in the womb somehow becomes a threat to the “women’s right to choose.” The personhood of the fetus is determined by its age and location. How progressive.

In addition, in the film, we see something of particular interest. There is a photograph of one of the aborted children, taken by one of the staff members at the Gosnell clinic, that was presented to the jury. Ultimately it was this photograph that made the urgency of the case clear to all present. The picture of baby boy A shows a 32-week (7 month) old baby boy. He was one of the babies who were born alive and killed post-partum. On November 16, 2019, I went to see an event hosted by Toronto Right to Life “From Abortionist to Pro-life Advocate: Dr. Anthony Levantino.” Before the impactful talk given by Dr. Levantino, Toronto Right to Life gave a spectacular pro-life presentation. During this presentation, they highlighted the importance of using images when doing activism. They gave various testimonials about people who have changed their minds by seeing the reality of what abortion is. I have always been a bit hesitant to use graphic images in my pro-life activism. I am aware that it is difficult for people who have had abortions or miscarriages. However, pictures show the truth about what abortion is and speak louder than any argument will. We must make counseling services available to women who have undergone tragedies but also not shy away from showing the victims of abortion. It is easy to dehumanize and dismiss a fetus as a clump of cells when you cannot see it. Putting the tragedy of abortion on display is difficult but it may be the best tool we have to change hearts and to achieve our goal to make abortion unthinkable.

Emmanuel Levinas was a philosopher who wrote extensively on “The Face of the Other.” He insists that the faces of our neighbors demand respect from us. The face, being naked and full of living presence, forbids us to kill and demands justice.

Pope John Paul II sums up this philosophy when he says:

 “Jesus has a unique relationship with every person, which enables us to see in every human face the face of Christ.”

When we use images, we wish to present the Face of the Other, for all to see. When you see the face of Christ in the faces of the unborn children, people are presented with a choice: to harden one’s heart and cowardly look away or to have compassion and fight for the rights of those without a voice.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the movie. It is a great shame that it was not allowed to air in Canada. In Canada, the abortion discussion is definitely one that is swept under the rug. It has become a taboo topic. To discuss abortion in a meaningful manner is almost impossible, especially in a political context. We must never forget the reality–there is no law in Canada to protect the lives of the unborn. It is the reason I have gotten involved with the pro-life club on campus. These are issues that need a voice; the conversation cannot be stifled.  Let us continue to fight valiantly for the unborn and for the women in our community that need our help.

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