In the history of the pro-life movement, a handful of flashpoints stand out. Moments that draw our attention to the horrors of abortion and the issues that surround it, and give fresh energy to the pro-life movement. One of those movements clearly came in 2010 when the FBI raided the clinic of a Philadelphia abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell.
What investigators found there and what so many witnessed was truly horrifying. We chat with Ann McElhinney, a filmmaker who has produced a film about the events that followed titled “Gosnell.” This is a lightly edited transcript of The Daily Signal’s Sept. 12 podcast.
“Gosnell” comes out in theaters Oct. 12; click here to see a list of theaters showing the movie.
Daniel Davis: Well, Ann, before we get into some of the substance of your movie, can you give us a refresher on just what happened.
Ann McElhinney: Yeah. It’s an extraordinary case and it’s funny having read, written a book and even now when I’m going to go to certain readings and read our passages of it, I still find it extraordinary when I tell people. Because you sort of say it and think there’s no way this could happen, and this could happen in this century.
In progressive Pennsylvania, here was a doctor, Kermit Gosnell, an African-American, he’s in his early 70s now, who ran an abortion clinic for 30 years, where he routinely, and these are not my words, this is the grand jury’s words, where he routinely delivered babies alive and then cut their necks with scissors.
And he did this for 30 years. That’s why in the eyes of the grand jury and also ABC’s Terry Moran, he was described as America’s biggest serial killer, which is the phrase we use in the film.
There’s so many details that are worth dwelling on in a way. He trained his untrained staff to do this while he wasn’t there, and when I say untrained staff, these are people posing as nurses, who have a seventh-grade education and have a cocktail of alcoholism, mental health issues, and criminal difficulties. People who would not be … as the detective in the case, Jim Wood, said, “You wouldn’t let them mow your lawn, let alone give people anesthesia.”
This is who gave anesthesia and, in fact, the best anesthesiologist in the premises was a 15-year-old. I’ll just repeat that once more for anyone who didn’t hear it. A 15-year-old, one-five, a teenager, who actually took her job very seriously and created a cheat sheet for herself so that she could try to remember, so she’d look at somebody and go, “A bit of pink, a bit of red,” and she would do kind of a cocktail of the anesthesia drugs based on that.
There are cats walking around in this clinic. The doctor, when he did turn up, which was late in the evening, would eat breakfast cereal in the same room where people were having these procedures. Plus, he cut the legs, the feet and legs in some cases, off some of these babies and kept them in jars like trophies.
And two women dead. I’m not going to give you the whole potted version here. Two women dead during that period. I just think let’s get the highlights out here that are really important to dwell on.
Karnamaya Mongar, a Bhutanese refugee, who had been in the country four months and was dead because of a botched abortion at Kermit Gosnell’s clinic. Semika Shaw, young African-American mother, who also died. What is extraordinary about that, Semika Shaw died in 2000, and Karnamaya Mongar died in 2009.
What is really extraordinary about that and the bit that I get super, super angry about, because I kind of get Gosnell, I think he’s a psychopath and there are unfortunately among us psychopaths who do terrible, terrible things, and your audience know that very well.
What is really despicable and very, very hard to stomach is the Department of Health in Harrisburg, with people with beautiful, pensionable jobs, who never got off their bum to investigate these deaths. …
And you know it’s a really weird thing, here’s a sanctuary city of Philadelphia—sanctuary city, right? Here’s a Bhutanese refugee [Karnamaya Mongar]. That’s their people, right? No one investigated her death. Semika Shaw, a young African-American woman in Philadelphia, no one investigated, no one investigated.
So for 17 years, no one from Harrisburg lifted a finger to check out what this guy was doing. That’s sort of a potted version of the story.
Davis: Well, I think what was shocking, to me at least, was that you say nobody investigated, and the media, no one reported, at least so few reported. Why?
McElhinney: There’s the second insult. You start with the fact that while this was going on, he got away with murder under the eyes of all these government agencies. I often say, I speak about this around the country, I say to people, “Why am I conservative?” This is why I’m a conservative, because that’s what big government looks like. There was loads of big government there and here’s what this guy got away with.
But you bring up a really good point. When eventually this guy was caught up with—and that’s very much thanks to the work of Detective Jim Wood, an undercover narcotics officer, who not only did his own job in narcotics, but went ahead and investigated the murder of Karnamaya Mongar. That comes out, it’s available, it’s being spoken about in Philadelphia, then the journalists decided not to report on it.
And notably, people like Sarah Kliff from The Washington Post, who famously, as you possibly remember, described it as a local crime story. Local crime story? Cats running around an abortion clinic, babies’ severed feet in jars, two minority women dead, and 47 babies found in the basement, and that’s a local news story?
I think Sarah Kliff needs to go back to journalism school, by the way. Now, in fairness to The Washington Post, they did apologize for their lack of coverage and eventually sent somebody. But they sent somebody the day before at the Boston bombing and then they all just left as quickly as they had arrived.
Katrina Trinko: Tell us, why did you decide to make a movie about this? What has that path been like?
McElhinney: Nightmare. Complete nightmare from start to finish. We decided to make a movie because … there’s something really terrible here. This is like a modern-day holocaust. There’s no doubt about that.
I’ve seen the photographs of the 47 babies that were found on the premises, and the only thing I can ever compare it to is Auschwitz, is the Holocaust. And here’s a holocaust that happened in broad daylight in Pennsylvania, and no one knows about it. Trust me, nobody knows about it, because I’m traveling around the country and randomly talk to people, by the way, including conservatives, who have not heard about it.
We thought, you know something, people need to hear about this. And one of the things that we have to acknowledge, unfortunately, as journalists, is that nothing succeeds like a movie in getting a story out.
In fact, an awful lot of people in this country have learned their history, unfortunately, the Vietnam War, etc., from movies as opposed to from history books. We thought, you know what? This lends itself to a movie and we wanted to tell this story in a way that was very accessible, also accessible to young people.
One of the things I think is important that I’ll take the advantage of doing here is for those people listening who have read the book or anyone who would plan to read the book in the future, the book is rough going, because everything’s in there. We didn’t hold back at all, so every piece of information is in there and it’s compelling reading, but you could never show that in a movie, never.
There was one scene I know that we planned to have in the movie, and when we came on set, we just thought, you know what? You can’t do that. We can’t do that. We show nothing in the movie, but we cover everything, but you don’t see anything, because people could not—
Davis: So people talk about it in the movie.
McElhinney: People talk about it. It’s a lot like a “Law & Order” episode.
McElhinney: Why did we do it? Because we’re journalists. It’s a beautiful job, I’m looking at two journalists here, I love it. But it’s an awesome responsibility to tell the people what happened because the people weren’t there, and the people can’t be there. It’s your job. Your job is to tell them what happened. Don’t spin it, just tell them what happened. And you don’t need to spin this story. No one needs to spin anything.
This is exactly what happened. The Department of Health didn’t examine the place in 17 years, and there were cats there and there were women who were left maimed for life, and there were horrific scenes constantly. This is actually what happened.
The night—by the way, I’d love to just throw this in here you know, and it’s worth saying, because this story did not get enough attention at the time, and it still hasn’t gotten enough attention. Still, the number of heads that should have rolled, haven’t rolled.
The night of the raid, two Department of Health’s nurses, nurses mark you, went along with the detective, with the FBI, the DEA, and the local prosecutors. They went on the raid into the clinic, 17 people in all, I think. Among them, two nurses from the department, from this famous Department of Health in Harrisburg.
When they went in, they saw all this stuff—they saw the dirt, they saw all of that. Gosnell was about to do another abortion, and guess what they decided to do? They made a phone call … they phoned Harrisburg, to the better-offs up in Harrisburg who are getting the really good money. You know, the people who run those places and the lawyers, and they decided, let them keep going.
These are the same people in the Department of Health, by the way, who go to, and you guys know this, they go to restaurants or bars, go like this—I’m scraping my hand here along the bench here—look and find dust, particular matter and say, “We’re shutting this place down.” But they didn’t shut that place down.
The fact that that is how sacred abortion is to these people. That is how sacred it is. It’s like a sacrament. There’s no way we’re going to stop doing these abortions and they let him do an abortion in those conditions.
Davis: Well, who are you hoping to reach with this movie? It comes out soon. Who are you hoping to reach?
McElhinney: Absolutely everyone. Everyone. This film is for everyone. I think one of the big … I think what’s really missing, and it’s interesting that now with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the eyes of the world, but particularly obviously the eyes of the American people, are back on this Roe v. Wade, on this abortion issue, and here’s what I think is missing: information.
If you like abortion, then let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about what it is and do we like that? Do we like in America that you can have an abortion at nine months? Do we like that? Because if you like it, that’s fine, as long as everyone’s on the same page here, and people have voted for it, and people are happy about that.
I can tell you what I found extraordinary in this story was the number of people in Pennsylvania who didn’t know the law in Pennsylvania. When I say, didn’t know the law, I’m talking about the lawyers.
The two ADAs on the case, two women, highly intelligent, very smart girls and mothers, like those kind of sassy, smart, smart women. Neither of them knew the law, which was 24 weeks. As they said, which was six months, and they basically looked at each other, these two women who came on the case and went, “You can have an abortion at six months in Pennsylvania.”
Well, I have news for you honey, you can have an abortion at nine months in this country. I think people should talk about that.
What this case does, which I think is really important, is it focuses people’s minds on the children in a way that we maybe haven’t had a chance to do before.
At the very center of this story, there is a baby called Baby Boy A, who was born, who shares a birthday with my own father, July 12, and he was born in 2008, and lived and died on that day, but had such an impact on the workers there that two of the women took a photograph of him, Adrienne Moton and Kareema Cross.
Kareema Cross was asked on the stand, by the way; none of this was news worthy—I think it’s worth constantly mentioning that to the listeners. None of this was news worthy. At one point, Kareema Cross was asked to stand up and to show the jury what the baby did when they threw him into the Tupperware container. They said, “Do you mind standing up, do you mind standing up and showing?” Then she curled herself into the fetal position in front of the jury, who gasped.
Adrienne Moton, who also took a photograph, and when the cops caught up with her, they came, and it’s amazing, and I interviewed Adrienne and she handed them the phone that she had kept. You know the way you get a new phone, and you have an old phone you just throw it, whatever. A lot of people throw them out. She kept the phone, and she knew someone was going to come one day.
I said to her, “Oh my God, what was it like?” Because all of the workers were arrested, because all of the workers killed babies, too, who were alive, so they all did time, and Adrienne Moton was one of them. I said, “Oh God, what was it like? Was it terrible to get arrested?” She said, “I wasn’t arrested, I was saved.”
McElhinney: She admitted to so many things, and then she said, “You know,” she said, “There’s a photograph in there,” and she handed the phone to the cops who had to send it to Quantico. She said to them, “I’m so relieved, because now I’m free. Now I’m free.” I’ve spoken to her, I met her, I said to her, “Was it terrible to go to prison?”
It was an amazing story, which is covered in great detail in the book. But I said, “Oh my God, it must be terrible to go to prison.” I was empathizing with her as a person because I always think it’s like the worse thing you’d imagine, being deprived of your freedom, and she said nothing, nothing to me.
She even described as she and the other women went into this women’s prison, how the other women shouted, you can imagine, I’m not going to use any bad language on the show, but you can imagine the kind of language that was used against her and they all shouted.
The women threw stuff at them because the whole thing of the honor among thieves, and of course she’s the lowest of the low, she killed babies, so they were all very, very abusive.
And I said, “Was that terrible?” She said, “No, no, no, no, no.” I said, “Well, did anything—was anything upsetting to you?” She said, “Oh yeah, I didn’t like … I didn’t want them to turn the light out. I didn’t like the darkness.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Oh, because I could see him.”
McElhinney: That’s what I thought. She said, “No, I saw Baby Boy A, and all I could do,” she said, was say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” This is the story that didn’t get reported. This is the story that we think is worth bringing it to the public.
I want to say as well, because I think it’s really important, because it’s a really … I mean, you know, all your listeners are listening and thinking, “Oh my God, I could never go to see that film, I don’t want to know anything more about this,” maybe some of you are thinking that.
By the way, everyone has to go and see it, that’s your duty, that’s your patriotic duty, by the way, and if you don’t want to go yourself, you buy a ticket anyway for the local theater and, by the way, that’s a really great gesture, because it’s really important. We have a big weekend the first weekend.
Trinko: Yes, please. The first weekend is October 12?
Trinko: Will it be in—
Davis: October 12.
Trinko: … theaters across the nation or?
McElhinney: Across the nation, exactly. Seven hundred and fifty theaters.
Davis: Wow, 750.
McElhinney: Yeah. If it does well the first weekend, it stays and it gets expanded on. But here’s what’s really important. There are heroes in this story and that’s what you come away with. You come away with the heroes that are in this story.
Detective Jim Wood, who is just a rock star. ADA Christine Wexler, ADA Joanne Pescatore, ADA Ed Cameron, who put this guy behind bars forever. There are other heroes, too, and there is the child that got away.
The baby that got away, which is a very significant story in this whole nightmare, in this kind of a diabolical world. There’s the baby that got away and that’s the last thing you see in the movie. You see that child, the one that got away, whose mother changed her mind, who went to the clinic, spoke to Gosnell, and started to get second … and she was seven months pregnant.
She said to Gosnell, “What happens to the babies afterwards?” And he said, “Oh, we burn them.”
Trinko: Oh my gosh.
McElhinney: She went home—and when you’re very pregnant like that, it’s a three-day process. So she went home, talked to her cousin and her cousin phoned Gosnell, “You’re not getting your money back. You’re not getting your money back,” is what he said. “I don’t do reversals.” Here she is, in the grand jury, and she says this, and Christine Wexler said to her, “What happened?” She went, “Oh, don’t you know? My baby started kindergarten today.” The grand jury stood up and applauded.
McElhinney: No one had ever heard of that before.
McElhinney: I talk very quickly, I’m sorry.
Trinko: No, this is great. So there is some hope in this movie, which is good, because it was—
McElhinney: There’s a lot of hope, there’s a lot of hope in this movie. I think people will feel a duty and I think it’s a duty of people to witness. I remember saying to David Daleiden, and I’d love to just get this story out, because I love David Daleiden, and you know who I’m talking about.
McElhinney: … who is a national treasurer and should be getting the congressional medal of freedom or whatever is the highest order that you can give to a person in this country, that is what should happen to David.
Trinko: Just remind our audiences, he’s the one who exposed the sale of fetal body parts.
McElhinney: Yeah, and took those videos and stood there. I’m a friend of David’s and I’ve traveled around with him, and we’ve done speeches together.
I remember hearing him make a speech one time and I just loved it, and I think it’s applicable also to the Gosnell movie.
I said to him, “How could you do that? How could you stand there? How did you do that?” He said, “It was a privilege to be a witness to the children who nobody else witnessed for.” Their own mothers didn’t want them, but he wanted to be there and to remember them.
By being there, record that they lived. That’s what we feel of our Baby Boy A. It’s something that’s said in the film. The witness, Adrienne Moton is asked, on the stand by the way, “Why did you do it? Why did you take a photograph?” She said, “He was so big. He could have been somebody’s little brother. I wanted to take a photograph so that we would remember that he was here for a little while.”
I think his impact will be forever. I have watched people change their minds about abortion just by hearing about him. I compare it to the Holocaust, as I said to you before. And you know the way sometimes with the Holocaust there’s this huge number of people, it’s like millions of people died and it’s really hard. How do I get my head around millions of people about died? I think in the very same way, I think the “Schindler’s List” had the child in the red coat, do you remember that?
You saw at the end, you saw a little child, a little toddler, during the middle in the film, and the film was all sepia tinted, but there was this one red coat, do you remember? You saw it, and you said, “What’s that about?” Then at the very end of the film, you saw a whole pile of bodies, and in the middle it was the red coat, and you thought, “Oh my God, that’s that little darling.”
That’s exactly what this film is about, because we make—Baby Boy A becomes a real person that will change the whole world.
Trinko: OK. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Ann. Again, Oct. 12 is when the movie is out in theaters nationwide.
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