Propaganda Film Exploits Gosnell Tragedy to Promote Conspiracy Theory
A new documentary film on the Kermit Gosnell case, titled 3801 Lancaster, was recently released online and can be viewed at 3801Lancaster.com. It’ll receive a Philly premiere screening Sunday night as part of The Justice Conference’s Justice Film Festival.
On the website, the filmmakers claim that the goal of the project is to “make the public aware” of the case, to give Gosnell’s victims an outlet to tell their stories and to “help find and shut down clinics that continue to operate in the same manner.” Unfortunately, upon watching it, it becomes clear that the filmmakers have additional goals: 3801 Lancaster is a propaganda film that promotes views espoused by the National Black Pro-Life Coalition, a radical anti-choice fringe group who advocate, in short, that abortion is black genocide concocted by “the abortion industry.”
Scenes espousing the Pro-Life Coalition’s views are the film’s centerpiece, while factual counterpoint is omitted throughout the film — particularly in the exposition. For example, through interviews, the filmmakers depict Gosnell as a well-respected doctor with no hint of a troubled past. This isn’t true; in fact, Gosnell was a “key figure in a disastrous abortion experiment” that left nine women with severe complications back in the 1970s.
In the first minute of the movie, a neighbor of Gosnell’s old clinic says, “How it went so wrong is anybody’s guess.” Actually, it’s not “anyone’s guess.” The political back story of how and why the powers that be made the very misguided decision to stop inspecting Pennsylvania abortion clinics is documented clearly in the Gosnell grand jury report — which the filmmakers ignore, except for one particular point: the jury’s conclusion that race played a factor in lack of state oversight.
As a former worker in Gosnell’s clinic told the grand jury, Gosnell, a rich black man, treated poor brown and black patients differently than middle-class white patients. From the report: “Like if a girl — the black population was — African population was big here. So he didn’t mind [having clinic workers] medicating your African-American girls, your Indian girl, but if you had a white girl from the suburbs, oh, you better not medicate her. You better wait until he go in and talk to her first.”
Also from the grand jury report: “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.”
Now, it’s indeed clear that white affluent male legislators in Harrisburg were not particularly concerned with the health of poor black and ethnic women in Philadelphia by way of institutionalized classism, racism and sexism. That, however, is a completely different concept from claiming that abortion is a scheme concocted by the powers that be to kill black people in utero, which is the view pushed by NBPLC.
The filmmakers attempt to conflate these two thoughts anyway. Their technique is subtle: They toggle the lens between district attorney Seth Williams reiterating the grand jury’s take on the role of race in the state’s failure to inspect Gosnell’s clinic, and the words of NBPLC protestors.
According to their website, the NBPLC “is a network of prolife and pro-family organizations committed to restoring Life, Family & Hope.” Their goal is to promote “traditional family values” from “a Biblical worldview.” The group’s website makes false claims that Planned Parenthood “barely” offers services other than abortion, when in fact abortion only represents three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services.
The Black Pro-Life Coalition was recently in the news for being part of a coalition protesting the NAACP Image awards. From their website: “Perhaps the greatest example of this is the NAACP’s evil connection with Planned Parenthood and their immoral and sinful plot to control the Black population in America and in the Black diaspora … Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry with the full support of the NAACP are responsible for depopulating the demographics of Black America.”
Right Wing Watch took notice of the group for posting billboard campaigns in Atlanta with slogans like, “Abortion Makes Three-Fifths Human Seem Overly Generous.”
Meanwhile, 3801 Lancaster has been championed online by anti-choice groups, many of which also espouse conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood and assert that the Gosnell tragedy is a typical abortion clinic — a claim loudly made by activists, despite evidence to the contrary, as a reason to shut down clinics.
The irony is that shutting down clinics only makes it more difficult for poor and working women to obtain the reproductive healthcare, education and contraception necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancy: Studies show that while unplanned pregnancies have been steadily decreasing among middle-class American women, it has skyrocketed among poor women, increasing by 50% between 1994 and 2006.
It’s a shame. While on the surface, the filmmakers seem to align themselves with the poor, mostly minority female victims of Gosnell’s clinic, in reality, they are more closely aligned with the right-wing legislators in Harrisburg — those other out-of-towners shameless enough to distort and exploit our city’s tragedy for political gain.