There’s a scene in the new movie Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer that should launch candid conversations around the country. Alexis McGuire (played by Sarah Jane Morris), the lead prosecutor in the case against the Philadelphia abortion-clinic doctor Kermit Gosnell, is depicted at home with her husband, distraught at the reality of the horror she’s had to face in the investigation. She explains:
Mother’s Day 1972. Gosnell and this psychologist bussed in 15 pregnant women from Chicago. Second trimester. They were doing this big experiment. A demonstration. They filmed it and everything. They were testing this new device to make abortion easier. This ball of blades. They put it inside the woman and the blades rolled open. They cut the girls up bad.
Infections. Hemorrhages. One poor girl had to have a hysterectomy.
You know what happened to Gosnell? Nothing. He hid out in the Bahamas for a while. Came back here. Opened another clinic. And since then, he’s been killing babies. He’s been killing babies alive. . . . He’d been delivering babies alive and snipping their necks with scissors, for 30 years. Because nobody wanted to say anything. Nobody wanted to know.
Now “killing babies” is a phrase you tend to hear only from the most dedicated pro-life activists. But please consider it. The Gosnell movie presents facts of the monstrous reality of that clinic; the fact are a prod to the conscience about our own inhumanity. Those words: “Nobody wanted to say anything. Nobody wanted to know.” It’s true of a lot of us, on a lot of fronts. But let’s consider desperate and poor women who found themselves in Kermit Gosnell’s clinic. Women need to be overwhelmed with knowledge of the alternatives in the most tender loving ways.
As Gosnell was hitting theaters, a friend who is a foster and adoptive mother and active in educating and promoting the same highlighted a video from Ryan O’Hara, a father in similar shoes asking: “Are We Ready for the End of Roe v. Wade?” Anthony Kennedy’s leaving the Supreme Court and Brett Kavanaugh’s replacing him obviously have made the question of its possible end a heightened political matter. But instead of falling in line with a politically charged position, this could be an opportunity, as with the Gosnell movie, to consider: What could each one of us be doing to actually help a neighbor in need, someone across town who doesn’t know where to turn?
In his YouTube video, Ryan O’Hara reflects on the possibilities of life after Roe. There will be “more opportunities, not less to love and serve families, kids, moms and dads in need,” he says. “And that’s what I hope the pro-life movement is ready for.” We all should make sure of it, “pro-lifers” and “pro-choicers” alike.
On the day of the Kavanaugh vote, I went to a Saturday morning Mass in lower Manhattan that was being protested. It’s a monthly Witness to Life gathering that includes Mass and then a prayerful procession to the Planned Parenthood clinic a few blocks away. It was a chilling experience, particularly when I heard the chant “Pro-Life is a lie, they don’t care if women die.” At the time, I was standing with the Sisters of Life, women religious whose lives are dedicated to reaching out to and loving and serving women, with a network around the country and Canada of people who will step in when help is needed. The fact is we don’t know basic facts about one another. Maybe we don’t want to know? It’s easier to have a “side.”
And yet: Don’t we want this all to get better? Don’t we truly want to see women helped? Don’t we really want to make sure that children are able to be born into a place of love? Don’t we want more joy for more, as difficult as life always is? Don’t we want it because life is a gift? Don’t we want it for the sake of the future of this place we are only passing through? Don’t we want more love, not less?
There is another memorable exchange in the Gosnell movie. McGuire is warned by the district attorney: “You are prosecuting an abortion doctor for murder. . . . If you try this case and lose, you can kiss any political position with the governor good-bye. You’ll be the prosecutor who went after reproductive rights, and you’ll be a racist to boot.”
“There is nothing that man did illegally for 30 years that protects women and children,” McGuire replies. “And you don’t have to be a prolife activist to see that.”
Gosnell is an opportunity to really take a look at not only the laws but also the culture of abortion. What keeps us from being honest about it, and what more can we do to truly help women, before birth and throughout? We’re in this together. It’s long past time to live like it.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.