By Cheryl Magness and Jonathan Lange
On Oct. 12, 2018, the motion picture “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” opened in 668 theaters across the United States.
It documents the case of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who on March 18, 2013, went on trial for murdering one woman — Karnamaya Mongar, who died after Gosnell performed her abortion — and seven newborns, whose spinal cords Gosnell was accused of severing after the children were born.
One of the key figures in the movie, a journalist who helped bring national attention to the story when it was being ignored by most of the mainstream media, is based in part on real-life journalist and LCMS member Mollie Ziegler Hemingway.
In April 2013, almost a month into the trial, Pennsylvania reporter J.D. Mullane shared a photo on the social media platform Twitter of several rows of empty press seats in the courtroom.
Hemingway was the first person to respond. The daughter of an LCMS pastor, and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va., she was writing at the time for getreligion.org, covering how the mainstream press reports on religion.
She has since become a senior editor at The Federalist and a regular contributor on the Fox News Channel.
Mullane’s photo quickly went viral, and there ensued a social media firestorm about the ignoring of the trial by the majority of the mainstream press.
In a recent column reflecting on the events of 2013, Mullane gave Hemingway a large part of the credit for drawing attention to the case, describing her as “relentless” in going after “elite journos for being MIA” on reporting the story.
Informing the public
One such journalist was Washington Post health reporter Sarah Kliff, who, in spite of regularly writing about abortion-related news, ignored what was happening in Philadelphia.
As news of the trial began to spread, Hemingway asked Kliff on Twitter why there was no coverage of Gosnell in the Post.
Kliff responded by saying that she didn’t cover “local crime stories.”
Two days later, after receiving widespread condemnation for her comment, Kliff admitted that she had been wrong and wrote a column for the Post that laid out the facts of the case in horrific detail.
Asked today why she thinks the mainstream press didn’t want to cover the Gosnell case, Hemingway said:
“Our culture doesn’t want to grapple with the Gosnell story because we don’t want to confront all the problems that led to him operating his shop of horrors, such as divorcing sex from marriage, dehumanizing the unborn for the sake of convenience, and valuing the lives of immigrants and other groups less than our own.”
But Hemingway emphasized the need to report on such stories, saying:
“Regardless of one’s personal views on that issue, factual reporting on what abortion is, how it is conducted, why it is so prevalent, who is affected by the practice, and how they’re affected is vitally important for an informed public.”
‘Shop of horrors’
As Gosnell’s trial played out, details about the illegal practices at his clinic continued to pile up.
The crimes had begun coming to light in 2010, when the Philadelphia Police Department joined the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to execute a search warrant on Gosnell’s clinic for suspected illegal prescribing of drugs.
Their discoveries went far beyond the evidence of illegal prescriptions they had expected to find.
In addition to filthy and unsafe conditions, aging and non-functioning medical equipment, untrained and uncertified staff (including teenagers administering medication and caring for patients in the absence of medical personnel), there were, stored in various parts of the clinic, the remains of 45 babies, many beyond 24 weeks of gestation, in violation of Pennsylvania abortion law.
As more evidence emerged, it became apparent that Gosnell had, over a period of many years, routinely delivered babies alive only to murder them within minutes of their birth.
A simple inspection of the clinic would have easily uncovered all of this, but the Grand Jury found that, “for political reasons,” the administration of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge had ordered the state’s health department to stop inspecting abortion clinics because such inspections would put up a “barrier” to women’s access to abortions.
On May 13, 2013, Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder in the deaths of three children, one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, and multiple lesser charges.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Serving the neighbor whatever life’s station
After Gosnell’s conviction and sentencing, the husband-and-wife team of Phelim McAleer and Anne McElhinney began pursuing the making of a feature-length film about Gosnell, but no Hollywood studio would take the project.
McAleer and McElhinney turned to Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, only to have their project taken down due to the story’s subject matter. They moved the campaign to another site, Indiegogo, and raised $2.3 million from almost 30,000 people in only 45 days.
As filming was wrapping up in the fall of 2016, the project hit another snag. None of Hollywood’s major distributors would release the film.
Twelve months later, Judge Jeffrey Minehart, who had presided over Gosnell’s trial, filed a defamation lawsuit, scuttling a hoped-for distribution deal and delaying the release further.
That lawsuit was settled in June 2018, paving the way for the movie’s release the second week of October.
“Gosnell” closed out its opening weekend in 10th place at the box office. The following weekend, with the number of theaters in which it was showing reduced by about 30 percent, it had dropped to 14th in box office receipts.
“Mollie Mullaney,” the journalist in “Gosnell,” is a composite of Mollie Ziegler Hemingway and J.D. Mullane.
In the movie, Mullaney is a young, female, tattooed blogger who is depicted not as a pro-life crusader, but as someone who simply wants to report the truth.
Writing for The Weekly Standard, the real-life Hemingway’s husband, Mark Hemingway, described Cyrina Fiallo, the actress who plays his wife, as “lovely,” but added:
“I hope she will forgive me for also saying that this may be a rare instance of the Hollywood star’s being less attractive than her real-life counterpart. Consider any bias I might have here disclosed.”
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway was pleased with the “Gosnell” movie’s handling of the story, saying that it tells “a gruesome story without being gory.
“The scenes at the trial focus more on the jury’s reaction to learning what happened in Gosnell’s clinic as opposed to depicting the horrors there.
“I’m honored to have been one of the inspirations for the character Mollie Mullaney, and so pleased that the work of a few journalists who brought this story to light is remembered.
“The movie does a great job of showing how we all can serve our most vulnerable neighbors whatever our station in life.”
Posted Oct. 26, 2018