Book Review: Gosnell

Gosnell:  The Untold Story Of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer, by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer

Having already seen the movie for this book [1] and having written at least occasionally on abortion before [2], I found this book to hit me a little less hard than the movie did.  That isn’t to say that the book isn’t good–the authors do a great job at detailing the investigation and prosecution of the titular serial killer and demonstrating what it was that made him a serial killer of such neglected importance–but rather that the issue of abortion is one where images matter a great deal.  Whether one is looking at the image of baby feet being kept as trophies by Gosnell in his wretched Philadelphia clinic or one is looking at the picture of babies having been born alive before they are slaughtered, or looking at the way that the baby’s remains were kept in the clinic, the movie gives one a visceral feel of how disgusting the scene was.  The book cannot help to compete with that visual horror, although it is certainly a horrifying enough picture even in words, and a book that gets to the heart of why Gosnell and his crimes are so problematic in our contemporary culture.

This book is over 300 pages long and contains thirteen chapters that give a chronological detail of the investigation and prosecution of Gosnell from start to finish.  Viewers of the film will find much of the basic story of the film–although not all of its incidents–confirmed here.  The authors discuss of how the Philadelphia police and others first became interested in Gosnell because of his roll in pill pushing narcotics for profit (1) and then look at how he was committing murder in plain sight (2).  The authors provide grim detail about the dereliction of duty of Pennsylvania’s public health agencies in stopping Gosnell from his murderous spree (3) and looks at the willing accomplices who worked in Gosnell’s clinic in considerable detail as well (4).  After this the authors turn to the sensational case of Karna Mongar, a Nepalese refugee who died in Gosnell’s clinic during an abortion (5), and the babies that were found in the clinic that had been killed after birth (6).  After this, the authors spend some time looking at Gosnell on Trial (7), Gosnell’s attempt to defeat the prosecution’s witnesses (8), and the portrayal of Gosnell’s attorney that the abortionist was some sort of heroic figure (9) despite not having presented any witnesses whatsoever.  After that the authors talk about the lack of media coverage of the case (10), how Gosnell stacks up against other serial killers (11), and what it was like to meet the creepy killer in prison (12), along with the aftermath of the trial (13) and an appendix that includes some of Gosnell’s poetry.

In reading this book, I was struck by a complex but generally unpleasant set of thoughts and feelings.  How many people have gone into abortion because of their desire to kill?  Is it possible to maintain a strong pro-choice feeling while being fully aware of the horrors of what goes on when the unborn are slaughtered?  Is the lack of willingness of much of the media to cover Gosnell’s trial or stories in general that portray abortionists like Planned Parenthood in a negative light an uneasy sign of complicity in the horrors they commit?  What responsibility do we have–do I have–for this horror continuing?  What could ordinary people do about this and how is it possible to encourage not only the protection of the unborn but better life and hope for all of God’s potential sons and daughters?  This is not a book that provides such answers–it is a procedural sort of nonfiction book that writes about crime and punishment and portrays Gosnell as a sleazy and generally unpleasant fellow who enjoyed manipulating others and finding ways of satisfying his greed and lust–but it certainly provides a lot of unpleasant matters for its readers to think about.


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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