The preliminary poster for "Gosnell," a planned crime drama film that has a budget of more than $2.1 million raised on Indiegogo. Credit: Hat Tip Films
Four years after the ongoing practice of illegal, late-term abortions was discovered inside Kermit Gosnell’s clinic at 3801 Lancaster Avenue, Gosnell is serving life in state prison for three murder convictions. Many believe justice was served and the story is over.
But to Phelim McAleer, the filmmaker behind such right-leaning documentaries as "FrackNation" and "Mine Your Own Business," the true horror of Gosnell’s crime has never been fully appreciated.
“The grand jury said he killed hundreds ... the reality is he killed thousands," McAleer said of Gosnell. “Gosnell was not committing abortions, he was committing murder. These were live, viable babies that were born. They were crying, they were struggling, they were fighting for their lives, they were breathing – and he plunged a pair of scissors in the back of their necks and severed their spinal cords.”
McAleer is now seeking a new goal: to get 30,000 individual donors, even if they only donate $1. The project is currently at 24,667 donors.
“It is about creating an army and telling the networks that there is an audience that they ignore at their peril,” McAleer said in an email about the donor drive.
But the film is still completely pre-production. People familiar with the Gosnell story had varied reactions to McAleer’s proposal to dramatize local history.
“The movie will highlight one sad chapter in our story, but the community can decide we’re telling our positive story at the same time," said Farah Jimenez, executive director of People’s Emergency Center, a homeless service center blocks from the former clinic.
Jimenez pointed out that since Gosnell’s clinic closed, Mantua has been named a federal “promise zone” by President Obama and the long-vacant University City High School was bought by Drexel.
"Without knowing how Phelim will tell his story, I can't comment on his approach. However, I do believe that it’s very important to keep telling this story and raising awareness about what happened at Gosnell’s clinic,” said David Altrogge, director of the Gosnell documentary “3801 Lancaster," in an email.
“Gosnell was charged with seven counts of first degree murder, convicted of three. What he has been convicted of is horrifying and shocking. Just as disturbing is the systems that allowed him to do what he did for so long,” Altrogge wrote. “For over 20 years, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of State received complaint after complaint about Gosnell’s clinic and, for political reasons, refused to act."
Some questioned the movie poster's use of the phrase "serial killer" in reference to Gosnell.
“To call him a serial killer -- I think that sort of impugns the victims of real serial killers. They were hunted by a predatory-type person,” said William Fleisher, head of the Vidocq Society, a local group of criminal experts.
“It lies in what his motives were,” Fleisher said. “Was he cold and calculating? Yes. Did he do it for a profit or did he do it help women? That has not been defined yet.”
Indeed, Gosnell told interviewers he is “spiritually innocent” and maintained at trial that he was simply providing a needed service to women of his community.
But McAleer pointed out that the violence of Gosnell's acts escalated over time.
“If you’re a serial killer you gravitate towards professions or places that will allow you to do it. I think he had this in him and he gravitated to where he thought he could continue doing it uninterrupted,” McAleer said. “I don’t know about the law, but I do know these were murders and that this man was a serial killer.”
Gosnell was performing dangerous abortions as early as 1972, when he was involved in the notorious “Mother’s Day Massacre” – an experiment in abortion technology developed by Harvey Karman that was used on 15 women, leaving nine with serious complications.
By the time Gosnell was caught in February 2010, he was collecting aborted babies’ feet and had packed the clinic’s refrigerator with fetuses. All abortions at that point were performed by inducing labor and then "snipping" infants' spinal cords, and Gosnell aborted many fetuses past the legal limit of six months' gestation, according to the 2011 grand jury report that charged him with murder.
The story needs to be told, McAleer said, because he believes too few people know what happened at Gosnell's clinic.
“I’m not pro-choice, I’m not pro-life, in this case, I’m pro-truth ... I have to put all personal feelings away and make sure that this is an accurate but accessible way of looking at the life and crimes of Kermit Gosnell.”