The White House Is Hosting a Screening of the Gory Anti-Abortion Film Gosnell

In this still from Gosnell, Earl Billings as Dr. Kermit Gosnell sits behind a table in a courtroom.
In this still from Gosnell, Earl Billings as Dr. Kermit Gosnell sits at a table in a courtroom. © 2017 Hat Tip Films LLC

The White House is hosting a screening of the gory 2018 anti-abortion film Gosnell on Friday, according to an invitation sent to pro-life activists and others last week. The film depicts second- and third-trimester abortions in gruesome detail, and the screening seems intended as a gesture of support for the anti-abortion activist community at a moment when “late-term” abortions have become the focus of heated political and cultural debate.

Gosnell, subtitled “The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer,” tells the story of the 2013 prosecution of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder in botched abortions that prosecutors said resulted in live births. Gosnell’s clinic catered to poor women, and prosecutors described it as a “house of horrors” rife with health code violations.

The indie drama, which made its debut in October, became a cause célèbre among conservatives after producers accused the mainstream media and Hollywood of bias against it. The conservative site Newsmax called Gosnell “the movie Hollywood does not want you to see.” The film was screened last year at the Values Voter Summit, and the activist group Students for Life has sponsored dozens of screenings on high school and college campuses. Actor Dean Cain, who starred in the movie as a detective who uncovers Gosnell’s crimes, has continued to give interviews on abortion politics. He told Fox & Friends this year that New York state’s new legal protections for abortion rights “would make the crimes of Kermit Gosnell legal.”

The White House screening of Gosnell takes place just a few weeks after another bloody anti-abortion film, Unplanned, opened at No. 4 at the box office, taking in more than $6 million in its first weekend. Unplanned is a dramatization of the life of a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who became an anti-abortion activist. The film has received public support from conservatives including Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Ted Cruz; Vice President Mike Pence called it “deeply inspiring.” The star of Unplanned, Ashley Bratcher, has become a spokesperson for the film’s pro-life message; she wrote an op-ed for Fox News in December in which she revealed that her mother had planned to abort her before changing her mind.

Friday’s Gosnell screening appears to be the first politically controversial movie to be screened at Trump’s White House. (The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment about the Gosnell screening; this post will be updated if that changes.)

Presidents have hosted film screenings at the White House since Franklin Roosevelt converted a cloakroom into a movie theater in 1942. The theater is sometimes used privately by the president and his family, but has also been used to host small groups for screenings with political or cultural significance. President Obama hosted a screening of The Danish Girl, about an early-20th-century transgender artist, as part of an event honoring LGBTQ activists in 2015, for example. The first movie Trump screened as president was the Pixar sequel Finding Dory. The White House said at the time that he introduced the film but did not stay to watch it.