The importance of the Gosnell case

"You can't unlearn," Ann McElhinney insists, referring to what she and her husband, Phelim McAleer, write about in their new book, "Gosnell: The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer."

In April 2013, the investigative journalists focused their attention on the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was charged with and later found guilty of murdering three infants who were born alive in his squalid clinic. The evidence that was shown in court was grisly. As McElhinney puts it: "The humanity in all the pictures is unmistakable, the pictures of the babies that were shown as evidence in the Gosnell trial were first-, second- and third-trimester babies, in all their innocence and perfection."

Coinciding with this month's 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the book is a precursor to a movie starring Dean Cain, currently in need of a distributor.

McElhinney's interest in the trial was not ideological. She wasn't pro-life, and she's clear and quick to tell you that she "never trusted or liked pro-life activists." And she really didn't like being shown images of abortions. "If the anti-abortion position was so strong, it should be able to argue without resorting to emotionally manipulating its audience with fraudulent horror pictures," she's written.

But Gosnell changed things for McElhinney. "I got an education on abortion because of researching and investigating this story," she tells me. In the case of Gosnell, she's focused not just on the unborn children who died and the infants born alive and killed, but "two vulnerable women" who died there, one a young African American and one a refugee, she says.

Gosnell's clinic was emblematic of what Pope Francis has called a "throwaway society." People are cast aside and treated shoddily, because they are poor and desperate, and no one cares to pay attention. It can be easier and more ideologically convenient to look away. When pro-life legislation aims at regulating abortion clinics, it's not a stealth strategy to make abortion illegal, but an attempt at some oversight and to ensure that women are not being forced into an abortion, psychologically coerced by circumstances and a culture that seems to encourage and expect it in certain circumstances.

"I can always see ... the babies he killed," McElhinney tells me. "But it's also a privilege to know them, to witness for their lives. It's what journalism is all about, or at least what it should be about. To speak for the powerless who cannot speak for themselves. In this case, that is as true as it gets; those children deserved journalists to tell their stories. They were betrayed by The New York Times, (the) Washington Post and so many others."

When I ask McElhinney to point to something encouraging she encountered, she names Detective Jim Wood, describing him as "a public servant doing all he can every day to bring justice, to defend and to protect. That he exists makes me hopeful."

About the movie, McElhinney says, "We have to independently distribute it," and asks: "Investors please be in touch - the movie needs to come out this year. Audiences who have seen it say it's the best movie ever made about abortion."

When asked for her advice to the media about how to cover abortion and any - God have mercy - future Gosnells, she says: "Just be honest; stop being ideological and report the news, even when it makes a lie of (your) personal beliefs. Do your job, tell the story, and keep your opinions for the opinion pages."

"Everyone needs to read the book," she insists. "People think they know what goes on - I thought I knew. The details are important: what Gosnell did, how he got away with it. The government and the media betrayed their responsibilities in the face of this massive case of mass murder for political reasons."

"Never again," she says, must be the response.

Email Kathryn Jean Lopez at

© 2017, Universal

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