If Money Talks, the Anti-Abortion Side is Shouting

About Alex DiBranco

Alex DiBranco is a PhD Student in Sociology at Yale, studying social movements and the U.S. Christian Right. She was formerly PRA's Communications Director and has written for outlets such as Alternet, The Nation, and Change.org.
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image via the Indiegogo campaign for the proposed Gosnell movie

image via the Indiegogo campaign for the proposed Gosnell movie

“So far, the biggest ‘crowd funded’ film of all-time is the Veronica Mars movie, a teen detective story that asked for $2.1m and raised $5.7m, we think the Gosnell movie is more important, we think you do too.” So read the Indiegogo fundraising pitch for a project to create a scripted drama “about America’s biggest serial killer, abortionist Kermit Gosnell and the media cover-up.”

While it didn’t break the Veronica Mars record, the campaign did surpass its stated goal before ending yesterday at $2,241,043. (I’ll confess that one dollar of that total figure is from me—I donated so I wouldn’t miss any updates sent to supporters.) Anti-abortion rights groups such as Personhood USA and Lila Rose’s Live Action helped promote the fundraising campaign while regularly misusing Gosnell’s crimes as an excuse for their agenda to end legal abortion. They aren’t the only ones: this week, the Heritage Foundation and American United for Life (AUL) hosted a discussion (including a speaker from the Charlotte Lozier Institute) for the one-year anniversary of Gosnell’s conviction and promoted a Senate bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Reproductive justice and pro-choice organizations, like the Center for Reproductive Rights, have also condemned the doctor, calling for “No more Gosnells.” Yet their approach is to protect—or, in some cases, create—women’s access to safe, legal reproductive care, so that desperation and a lack of options do not force them into the hands of a criminal like Gosnell.  These efforts, though, continue to face tough opposition from conservatives. In an action alert sent yesterday, for example, CRR warned that “Senator Lindsey Graham is using the horrific case of rogue abortion provider and convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell to pit a proposed national ban on abortion against the Women’s Health Protection Act.”

The filmmakers for the project, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer (a married couple), are already right-wing darlings for their anti-environmentalist films, which offer conservative rebuttals to documentaries such as Gasland and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.They also work with a third collaborator, Magdalena Segieda. McElhinney advertises herself as “voted the most popular speaker after Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter at CPAC.” Their films have beenpromoted by Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, Tea Party groups, the Heritage Foundation, the Independent Women’s Forum, and the State Policy Network, and they have been funded by Donors Trust/Donors Capital, which funnels money anonymously from right-wing backers.

While anti-abortion themes are not their usual forte, it is unsurprising given the anti-choice, “family values” groups supporting the filmmakers.

Gosnell’s ability to prey on vulnerable women by providing cheap, unsafe, and illegal services stemmed in no small part from the continuing lack of access to reproductive care faced by many low-income women, especially women of color, who comprised the majority of his patients. As Carol Joffe writes in Dispatches from the Abortion Wars, clinics like Gosnell’s flourish amid a “a ‘perfect storm’ caused by the marginalization of abortion care from mainstream medicine, the lack of universal health care in the United States, and the particular difficulties facing undocumented immigrants in obtaining health care.” Many liberal and progressive media outlets would agree—and have pointed out—that the mainstream media failed to cover the Gosnell trial adequately: it failed to pay attention to the root systemic causes of race, class, and gender injustice that allowed him to prosper.

Unfortunately, we cannot expect Kermit Gosnell: America’s Biggest Serial Killer, to pay attention to such nuance or structural issues, given the conservative filmmakers’ track record and its support from right-wing groups bent on banning abortion from the moment of conception. In fact, anti-abortion films have a long history of using emotional footage to motivate anti-choice political action: films such as Francis Schaffer’s 1974 Whatever Happened to the Human Race? and 1984’s The Silent Scream helped mobilize the U.S. Christian Right movement. More recently, Citizens United has claimed that its 2011 film, The Gift of Life,helped persuade Republican presidential candidates to support making abortion illegal in all cases.

I’ll close by noting a contrast: After Tiller, a recent documentary on late-term abortion doctors created in the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, raised $11,000 from 176 backers on Kickstarter to produce the film. The Kermit Gosnell film, meanwhile, raised more than $2 million from 26,574 backers to produce a lurid movie dramatizing the Gosnell trial in what will most likely be anti-abortion propaganda. If money talks, the anti-abortion side is shouting.

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