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HARPER: Film will tell the abortion doctor murder story that media didn’t
Question of the Day
He has been called the most successful serial killer in U.S. history. But few people recognize the name Kermit Gosnell — not the way they know Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy.
That's because Gosnell's crimes involved killing babies as an abortion doctor and he was convicted only of the first-degree murders of three children and involuntary manslaughter of one mother.
But two filmmakers hope to change the lack of notoriety for Gosnell, who is serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania for his crimes.
Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, who created the documentary "FrackNation" to counter claims of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania, have launched a massive campaign to raise at least $2.1 million to produce a made-for-television movie.
"The media basically ignored his crimes and his trial. They ignored the facts that emerged from the trial, like the fact that the babies he murdered suffered terribly," the team said on the fundraising website Indiegogo.com/projects/gosnell-movie. "In a 30-year killing spree, it is thought he killed thousands of babies. And that wasn't a national story?"
As I wrote almost exactly a year ago in this column, I, too, was perplexed why the national media had essentially ignored Gosnell's trial while obsessing on others such as the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case.
Some basic facts: Gosnell performed abortions in his West Philadelphia clinic, mainly to a clientele of poor black women and recent immigrants. He became wealthy from his practice. Police found $250,000 in cash during a 2010 search of his home.
The grand jury report described how Gosnell's patients were induced into labor with drugs generally considered dangerous and outdated. Many abortions happened in the third trimester, which violated Pennsylvania law, by snipping the spinal cords of the infants with scissors after the children were delivered alive. The grand jury wanted to indict Gosnell for more murders, but evidence had been destroyed or was unavailable.
Moreover, the grand jury report also found that the Pennsylvania Department of Health decided to stop investigating abortion clinics because "officials concluded that inspections would be 'putting a barrier up to women seeking abortions.'"
Despite these charges of murder and government malfeasance, the three rows of seats set aside for the press in the Philadelphia courtroom stood empty much of the time. One of the filmmakers, Mr. McAleer, stopped by the trial while promoting his fracking documentary and was dumbstruck by photographs of the aborted babies presented by the prosecution. That was when he decided to start researching a television movie.
In May, a Philadelphia jury found Gosnell guilty on three counts of murder and a variety of other crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole after he waived the right to any appeals if the death penalty was taken off the table.
But the filmmakers want to make certain his story lives in infamy — as it should. Gosnell's story is not about abortion; it is about mass murder.
The grand jury made a special point to try to remove abortion from the case. That was simply the way Gosnell murdered people. The grand jury noted that what occurred in the clinic "is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants. We find common ground in exposing what happened here, and in recommending measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again."
The filmmakers hope to help reach that goal.
• Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and "20/20." He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @charper51.
About the Author
Christopher Harper is a professor of journalism at Temple University. He worked for The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20” for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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