Gosnell movie on infamous abortion doctor to hit theaters
Was notorious West Philly abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell a serial killer, or just misguided? Gosnell's defense lawyer and a former Philly detective sound off.
The story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a West Philly abortionist currently serving life for the murders of three viable infants, will soon be hitting theaters nationwide, and the film's release is not without controversy.
"What he was doing was just beyond absurd," said former Philly police detective James Woods, one of the first to discover the horrors inside Gosnell's clinic, and the main character in "Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer," portrayed by actor Dean Cain. "It's kind of hard to believe if you weren't really there."
Woods, now an investigator at the Montgomery County D.A.'s office, as is shown in the film, raided Gosnell's clinic at 38th and Lancaster in 2010, looking for the source of illegal drugs. But they also found evidence of other crimes – the remnants of some 45 fetuses aborted at the clinic, stored in various containers, and a row of jars containing aborted baby's feet.
"It was something I'd never seen in my life," Woods said. "I had never been in an abortion facility before. The feet in the jars, I didn't know if that was normal. But come to find out, they were his trophies."
But some have questioned the intentions of the filmmakers – outspoken conservatives who garnered widespread support from the pro-life movement as they crowd-funded the film's $2.2 million budget. Co-producers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney are known for other films criticizing environmentalists, supporting fracking, and for staging controversial plays about the murder of Michael Brown and Hillary Clinton's leaked emails.
After viewing the film's trailer, Gosnell's defense attorney at trial, lawyer Jack McMahon, described it as "fiction" and said he was never contacted by the filmmakers.
"They never talked to me, maybe because they didn't want to hear what I had to say," McMahon told Metro. "They have a right to put out their agenda and have a philosophy, I totally respect that. But if you want to do a movie about an actual incident, don't you think you should talk to the participants in it?"
In the film, Gosnell's lawyer is named "Mike Cohan," physically resembles McMahon, and is played by the film's director, Nick Searcy. But McMahon said some scenes in the trailer were "totally fabricated," like when the lawyer character attacks Woods as "an overly zealous, Catholic investigator." (The full film was not made available for preview).
McAleer claimed they did reach out to McMahon, but didn't get a response. He said the above-referenced scenes did occur, just in different contexts.
"We have conducted dozens of hours of interviews with Kermit Gosnell, both in person and on the phone. He has lodged numerous appeals in various courts. On every occasion, including in court documents, he cites that he was the victim of a Catholic cabal of investigators and prosecutors. It is a significant part of Gosnell's claim of innocence," McAleer said via email. "We rely heavily, very heavily on actual court transcripts — the film represents what happened in this investigation and trial ... We have brought that investigation and trial into a 90-minute movie. ... Every report and film about everything ends up using composite terms and composite writing — it has to be done to tell a story."
The Gosnell film was made in 2015, but release was delayed pending a libel lawsuit filed by respected Philadelphia jurist Jeffrey Minehart, the judge in the Gosnell case, who said the film depicted him as a 'hack judge' and 'drinking buddy' of Gosnell's lawyer. The suit was settled. Minehart and his attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
The Philly prosecutor who tried Gosnell's case, Joanne Pescatore, is currently a supervisor in the trial division of the Philly DA's office and declined to comment on the film. She is represented in the film by character Alexis "Lexie" McGuire, played by actress Sarah Jane Morris.
Actor Earl Billings brings a subtle air of lurking psychosis to the role of Gosnell in the film's trailer. The doctor opened his clinic in 1979. Despite years of serious complaints from patients and other doctors to the state health department, and the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar from a fatal overdose of Demerol during an abortion in 2009, the clinic had not been inspected in some 16 years at the time of the drug raids.
Now 77, Gosnell is currently serving three back-to-back life sentences at the state prison in Huntingdon, Pa. for the murders of three viable infants, plus involuntary manslaughter for Mongar's death. He also pled guilty to federal charges of selling some 700,000 pills worth of prescriptions and was sentenced to another 30 years.
In the film, Gosnell's angular clinic – which still stands at 3801 Lancaster Ave., and still technically belongs to him, despite a multi-million-dollar civil judgment entered against him in a wrongful death suit filed by Mongar's family – is portrayed as a massive, looming fortress.
The film also call Gosnell a "serial killer." But McMahon, who identified himself as pro-choice, said Gosnell was an "educated" man who wanted to help his West Philly community through medical services, and gradually went astray into abortion procedures the jury deemed illegal as he aged.
"Was it the Mayo Clinic? No. But was it this bloody, sloppy, horrific location? No. It was an urban abortion clinic," McMahon said. "The case wasn't a referendum on abortion. ... They portray him as some horrific monster, and there's nothing further from the truth."
Woods said he doesn't think the film has a political slant.
"This guy wasn't doing abortions. He was having babies delivered and having their necks slit as they came out of the womb. He did it that way for expediency. It was an abortion mill," Woods said. "If you see the movie, you could take whatever side you want on it, but we, during the trial, had actual abortion doctors, who were legitimate, testify about why what this guy did was wrong. ... It wasn't made because it's an anti-abortion film. It was just a heinous story. It actually happened right amongst us, in a major city in America."
McAleer said Gosnell's past proves he was no ordinary abortion doctor.
"The jury convicted him of several heinous first-degree murders — not accidental killings," he said. "He was involved in the mutilation of women in 1972 — an event which the press then called the Mothers' Day Massacre."
(Indeed, in 1972, Gosnell performed abortions for 15 low-income women in Philadelphia, using an experimental and destructive device called the 'supercoil,' which left nine victims with severe complications.)
"There is no evidence he cleaned up his act from then," McAleer said. "He has been involved in killings for years. He is America's most prolific serial killer."
Fair or biased? Make up your mind by seeing the Gosnell film for yourself, starting Oct. 12 – theaters listed at gosnellmovie.com.