‘3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy’

First slide

The Philadelphia Police and FBI raided the 3801 Lancaster building looking for evidence of illegal prescription drugs sales, but what they found would later be described as a house of horrors. Policemen and detectives who first arrived to inspect the chaotic clinic saw clutter everywhere, missing ceiling tiles, dried blood on the floor, frozen fetal remains and a heavy "chemical smell," almost like a morgue, said one officer. "This was different than any job we've ever handled," said another.

The documentary "3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy" tells of the life and criminal trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell; the film was shown at Regal Potomac Yard Stadium 16 in Alexandria Nov. 24. Though the message of the film is inherently pro-life, the details of the case are relayed without bias through the eyes of a Philadelphia crime reporter, Philadelphia policemen and former Gosnell patients. Though a difficult subject matter, the films stays away from being too graphic or heavy-handed. It is a compelling look at the failure of government agencies leading to one man's ability to wreak havoc on the lives of countless women and unborn babies.

Interspersed between testimonies and facts of the case, the film follows the journey of former Gosnell patient Desiree Manning as she travels to testify against the doctor. When she was too far along to get an abortion at a clinic in Hagerstown, Md., Manning was referred to Gosnell, who was known for performing late-term abortions. She shares her story with the hope that nothing like this will ever happen again.

Manning and several other women spoke in the film of the callous, painful and physically harmful treatment they received at the hands of Gosnell. "By the time we made it to my house, my car and clothes were totally bloody," said one girl, whose face intentionally was hidden in shadows. One young African-American woman tearfully told the camera, "As a child I was taught that police and firefighters and doctors are people you can trust. You can't even trust them anymore." As a result of her abortion, she will no longer be able to have children, like many of the women Gosnell treated.

The most chilling part of the film is the phone interviews with Gosnell from prison. While speaking to the filmmakers, he calmly defended his decision to snip the necks of potentially viable unborn babies. At the end, he reads a poem he wrote about the importance of abortion doctors, who save society from unwanted children, and save the children themselves from lives of crime, drug addiction and prison. His remarks epitomize how abortion is twisted to be seen as a societal good.

But the greatest moment of transformation is when the policemen and detective see the humanity of the unborn baby, realizing perhaps for the first time that the fetus is not a blob of tissue. "I didn't think they would look as human as they did," said one policeman of the 45 unborn babies they recovered from the clinic. "They look like my two little girls."

Throughout the film, clips of the grand jury testimony are shown on the screen, revealing the decades-long failure of Pennsylvania state officials to shut down or even inspect Gosnell's clinic. From the clinic's opening in 1979 to 1993, the facility was inspected only three times; multiple violations were found, though no one followed-up to ensure they were corrected. Soon, however, the clinic was subject to no examinations at all. According to grand jury testimony, "With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be 'putting a barrier up to women' seeking abortions." Still complaints came pouring in.

"A doctor from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia hand-delivered a complaint, advising the department that numerous patients he had referred for abortions came back from Gosnell with the same venereal disease (from unsterilized equipment). The medical examiner of Delaware County informed the department that Gosnell had performed an illegal abortion on a 14-year-old girl carrying a 30-week-old baby. And the department received official notice that a woman named Karnamaya Mongar had died at Gosnell's hands. Yet not one of these alarm bells - not even Mrs. Mongar's death - prompted the department to look at Gosnell or the Women's Medical Society," read the grand jury testimony.

Today, Gosnell sits behind bars, sentenced to a life in prison with no possibility of parole. Several of his employees, all of whom were unlicensed, were charged with various crimes. No one in the Pennsylvania Department of Health or Department of State has been charged, the film read at the close. The documentary ends with an implicit challenge for governments and people to keep abortionists accountable, particularly if they treat the marginalized in society.

As the grand jury said, "We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion."

To learn more about, Kermit Gosnell, the documentary "3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy" or to host a viewing, visit here.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015