Category Archives: Books

“Gosnell” Book: Tough & Challenging

Cross-posted at EllenKolb.com. This post contains an affiliate link.

Gosnell by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer is not easy to read. The style is smooth and fluent, but the topic’s a tough one: Kermit Gosnell, former abortion doctor, now serving life in prison. He killed children who survived attempts to abort them. He was found responsible for the death of a woman who came to him for an abortion and died under what passed for his “care.”

He committed terrible crimes. He is in prison now. Reporters covered the trial as it happened, once they were shamed into it by people like journalist Kirsten Powers. Three years after Gosnell’s conviction, there is now a book that sets down not only what happened, but tells more about the people who were involved. As McElhinney and McAleer tell their stories, the book becomes less about a court case and more about human beings, capable of good choices and bad ones.

I listened to McIlhinney and McAleer talk about their book at CPAC, a political conference in Washington. An odd venue, but perhaps that was the place to reach readers who might not otherwise hear of the book. McAleer was a quiet man, leaving most of the talking to his co-author (who is also his wife).

McIlhenney was not at all quiet. She was passionate and angry as she talked about Gosnell. She was indignant. She called Gosnell “America’s biggest serial killer,” and she meant it. She made no bones about it: she had no objectivity left regarding her subject.

Familiar as I was with the Gosnell case, and as impressed as I was by McElhinney’s passion, I wondered what could be new in the book. As I read, I quickly realized that the close attention to the individuals involved in the case, starting with the investigators, set Gosnell apart from anything else I’ve read on the subject.

The authors’ perspective is unique as well, as McElhinney explains in the preface: “I never trusted or liked pro-life activists. Even at college I thought them too earnest and too religious.”

Fast forward to April 2013 and Kermit Gosnell’s trial in Philadelphia, when everything changed….[T]he images shown in the courtroom were not from activists, they were from police detectives and medical examiners and workers at the 3801 Lancaster Ave. clinic….What they said and the pictures they showed changed me. I am not the same person I was.

Read the rest of the post at EllenKolb.com.

Book Review: The Walls Are Talking

The Walls Are Talking, by Abby Johnson and Kristin Detrow (Ignatius Press, 2016, 155pp., $17.95)

Abby Johnson gives fair warning in the preface to her new book: “This will not be an enjoyable read. It is a necessary one, however…” She’s right on both counts. The Walls Are Talking gives former abortion workers a voice, and what they have to say is unsettling. “Settled” is not how Johnson wants to leave anyone.

The title was inspired by an old HBO movie called “If These Walls Could Talk,” a paean to abortion providers. Now, twenty years on, Abby Johnson turns that title on its head.

Pro-life readers may pick up the book because of its author’s reputation. Supporters of abortion rights might avoid the book for the same reason. The Walls are Talking is not primarily about Abby Johnson, though, and the experiences recounted in the book are powerful on their own terms. Any current abortion worker expecting ridicule or condemnation in the pages of these book will be surprised. So will any pro-lifer who picks up the book in search of a reassuring pat on the head.

When Johnson told the story of her unlikely departure from Planned Parenthood in 2011’s Unplanned, she ended on an upbeat note, after recounting the personal and professional challenges that faced her as she chose to leave abortion work.

“Upbeat” gives way to uncertainty in The Walls Are Talking.  The willingness of former abortion workers to walk out on jobs with benefits and security is a testament to courage and conviction. Few of the workers who tell their stories in this book expected soft landings after leaving their clinics, yet leave they did.

As one story succeeds another, the book’s major weakness becomes clearer: the anonymity of the people who agreed to be interviewed. Abby Johnson and her credited co-author Kristin Detrow note in the preface their desire to protect their subjects’ privacy. There is probably no one in the country who knows better than Johnson what kind of fallout comes from leaving the abortion industry. She herself faced legal action, among other things, when she left Planned Parenthood. Even so, if the day ever comes when one of the people interviewed for this book makes her name public, her story will become even more powerful.

It’s fair to note Johnson’s response to such a criticism. This comes from the web site of And Then There Were None, the nonprofit she founded to assist abortion workers seeking exit from the industry:  “Our goal is not to create new pro-life speakers. The primary goal of ATTWN is to draw clinic workers out of the abortion industry and set them on a path to recovery. Once a clinic worker has come to terms with what he or she has witnessed and participated in during the time working in the clinic (this can take months, years, or even decades), then they can make a rational, conscious decision whether to come forward and go public with their testimony…”

The Walls Are Talking is about people whose abortion work was motivated by sincere commitment to women’s health. We meet one such worker whose awakening began when a client suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy shortly after being sent home from the clinic. Positive pregnancy test but no pregnancy showing up on ultrasound: “We honestly didn’t have a protocol for that type of scenario.” After the client’s mother called the clinic the next day to report that her daughter had needed emergency surgery, the clinic offered the mother $680 on the condition that she sign a non-disclosure agreement. The worker was stunned, doubly so when the mother accepted the settlement. Women’s health – one particular woman’s health – took a hit that day.

Another person interviewed for the book remembers one abortion client, a girl who spoke no English and who was accompanied by an older American man who filled out the necessary paperwork. The young woman signed her name where the man pointed on the forms. While some of the clinic workers spoke among themselves about calling the authorities to report what was obviously a troublesome situation, they eventually decided on silence. “I pray that my story can serve as a cautionary tale, as a warning to the fence-sitters who claim not to have an opinion about abortion one way or the other….[I went] from someone who personally found abortion distasteful but necessary, to someone who chose abortion for herself, to someone who facilitated abortions. Evil prefers small victories.”

Pro-lifers are spared little in The Walls Are Talking, getting a cringeworthy glimpse of what they might look like to abortion workers. Harsh language comes in for particular criticism. Johnson, who entered the Catholic Church after leaving Planned Parenthood, says “I have heard so much vitriol spewed from the mouths of  ‘Christian pro-lifers’ since becoming pro-life….I am always terrified that clinic workers will see some of the words from pro-lifers. I have been told by several former workers that they will never come forward with their stories, because they are so scared of how they will be treated by us – by us, the supposed ‘Christian’ movement.”

Even more painful (possibly because it hits the bull-eye) is one ex-abortion-worker’s assertion that her former colleagues far exceed pro-lifers in level of commitment. “[T]hey [abortion advocates] are willing to risk their lives and their reputations for what they consider to be the civil right of abortion on demand. Sadly enough, they want it more. They are willing to risk more….The fact is that the people who are committed to the abortion movement are willing to sacrifice their time, talents, and treasure in a way that I have not seen elsewhere.”

It’s doubtful that an unknown author would have been able to find a publisher for this book, in spite of its unique content and viewpoint. Johnson is banking heavily on her reputation with The Walls Are Talking.  She runs the risk of being accused of making it all up. Her major pro-life project since the publication of Unplanned is the best defense against such an accusation: And Then There Were None, and the hundreds of former abortion workers ATTWN has served. In The Walls Are Talking, Abby Johnson is sticking her neck out not for herself but for them.

 

 

For G.K. Chesterton fans

My commercial plug of the day, especially for Chesterton fans: Amazon.com has put on sale a Kindle version of a 50-book G.K. Chesterton collection for $1.99. I don’t know if this is a one-day deal or an ongoing price. Fellow bookworms, help yourself. I’m going to add it to my own collection. Use the link http://amzn.to/1Oz8PM7 to get to Amazon.com and you’ll be supporting the blog at the same time. Thanks, and happy reading!

He said it: Paul Johnson on heroism

Paul Johnson, historian, from his book Heroes (HarperCollins, 2007):

Paul Johnson (at right, with Dr. Norman C. Francis and Ruth Johnson Colvin) receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2006. Whitehouse.gov  photo by "PaulJohnson1" by White House photo by Shealah Craighead.
Paul Johnson (at right, with Dr. Norman C. Francis and Ruth Johnson Colvin) receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2006. Whitehouse.gov photo by Shealah Craighead.

So how do we recognize the heroes and heroines of today? I would distinguish four principal marks.

First, by absolute independence of mind, which springs from the ability to think everything through for yourself, and to treat whatever is the current consensus on any issue with skepticism.

Second, having made up your mind independently, to act – resolutely and consistently.

Third, to ignore or reject everything the media throws at you, provided you remain convinced you are doing right. 

Finally, to act with personal courage at all times, regardless of the consequences to yourself.

On a lighter note: good reading, good viewing

Rather than wring my hands over the fact that a film glorifying sexual abuse pulled in a gazillion dollars last weekend, I’m going to accept and share a challenge from Erin McCole Cupp: shine a light on quality entertainment. As she says, #showusyourlist. This is for everyone, although she is pointing particularly at Catholics who are fuming at 50 shades of whatever. (Hey! That’s me!) Erin complicates matters by making a rule that no non-fiction can go on the list.

showusyourlistlogoSo here I go with this Mardi Gras celebration, letting you in on some of my favorite media where entertainment and food for the soul come together. The items are listed in no particular order, and this isn’t a comprehensive list (no music listed, for example, because I scarcely know where to begin). Comment below with your own lists, so I can enjoy them & learn from you. All kinds of media are fair game. If World of Warcraft is your idea of edifying entertainment, let’s hear about it.  Quibbles, comments and disagreements welcome. That’s what comment boxes are for.

Movies

Groundhog Day. After countless viewings, I still find it side-splittingly funny, and my heart always glows a bit when Bill Murray finally gets the day right.

His Girl Friday. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell: what else do you need to know?

Anything by Alfred Hitchcock from ’39 (Rebecca) to ’58 (Vertigo).

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers, Rio Grande, Fort Apache. All directed by John Ford. I’m generally indifferent to Westerns, but these four stand up to repeated viewing. Fascinating characters, good stories, great respect for the land where the stories take place. Every time I watch one of these, I see something new.

Of Gods and Men. I’m stretching the no-non-fiction rule here. This is not a documentary, but it’s based on a true story.  A small community of Trappist monks in Algeria lives peacefully with Muslim neighbors during the 1990s, until an Islamist insurgency forces the monks to decide whether to stay or leave. Serious stuff here, wonderfully written and acted. The monks’ choice and its consequences will leave you thinking.

The Lives of Others. Watch what happens when an East German Stasi agent starts feeling sympathy for the people on whom he’s keeping surveillance.

The Harry Potter series (but the books are better; see below). Ditto for Lord of the Rings.

All About Eve. Bette Davis is at her best. It would be tough to find a better what-goes-around-comes-around story.

A Man for All Seasons. I’ve seen this performed as a play, but the 1966 film with Paul Scofield as Thomas More takes the prize.

Books

The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy. For that matter, pretty much anything by Walker Percy. The Thanatos Syndrome is a look at what happens when people are at the service of “science” and not the other way around.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. A spiritually-indifferent woman impulsively calls on divine intervention in a crisis, and she’s stunned when she gets it. Now what?

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I’ve loved this story from the moment I picked up the book from my mom’s night table long ago. A forty-something woman, extremely successful by any measure, enters a convent – and not just any convent, but a monastery of cloistered Benedictine nuns. It’s a book full of surprises – how the main character gets to the monastery, why she stays, how a community of women from wildly-varying backgrounds come together in common purpose, how even in a religious community human nature asserts itself over and over again.

Ben-Hur by General Lew Wallace. Trust me on this: as splendid as the 1959 movie was, the book has a much richer story.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, particularly volumes 4 through 7: HP & the Goblet of Fire, HP & the Order of the Phoenix, HP & the Half-Blood Prince, and HP & the Deathly Hallows. I love the characters. I love the language and the vocabulary. The most compelling idea in the whole series – even more than the fight between good and evil – is that those who deny that evil exists might as well be doing evil themselves.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein is far more thought-provoking and beautiful than any high-budget trilogy of movies could hope to be.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is a serious contender for Book I’d Most Like To Have if I were deserted somewhere. A down-at-heel college boy in England is drawn into his best friend’s rich and nominally Catholic family between the two World Wars. No cardboard-cutout characters here. Cordelia is who I want to be.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. A book about kids, but not a kid’s book until you want your kid to know how messy life can be. The book is unsentimental and perfect. When I was a kid, Francie Nolan and I were both bookworms …and that’s how I was drawn into her world.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Two dissimilar 19th-century French priests, a most unlikely pair of friends, are sent to what is now New Mexico to re-establish a Catholic presence in a newly-outlined diocese. That tells you everything about the plot and nothing about the story. The story comes in the relationships built by each priest with the local settlers, the established (and sometimes resistant) missionaries, and the regional indigenous peoples.

Online

On Patheos, blogs by Kathryn Jean Lopez and Elizabeth Scalia

Anything by Jay Nordlinger.

Right here in New Hampshire is a blog called New Hampshire Garden Solutions that has some of the loveliest close-up nature photography you could hope to find. A feast for the eyes.

Places

New Hampshire’s Cohos Trail, rail trails, state parks … we Granite Staters are lucky people.

So … what’s on YOUR list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encore: look for this basic pro-life reference book

This post was originally published on Leaven for the Loaf on May 4, 2012. The text has been edited.

Voices of Post-Abortive Women

Aborted Women: Silent No More by David C. Reardon. 1987: Crossway Books, ISBN 0891074511.  Reissued 2002: Elliot Institute, ISBN 0964895722

I have the older edition on my shelf. It was the first thing I ever read about post-abortive women, beyond a few brochures from an outfit called Women Exploited by Abortion. With WEBA’s cooperation, Reardon surveyed 252 women in 42 states about their abortion decisions and the aftermath. The survey results would have fit into a short magazine article. What makes the book so enlightening and necessary are the many stories recounted by and about the women who agreed to speak to Reardon.

Reardon surveyed 252 women in 42 states. That’s a fairly small sample, and to a degree it was a self-selected group, since the women were part of WEBA. The stories and the numbers are powerful nonetheless. All the women cited in the book were determined to be “silent no more”. Their stories had, and continue to have, urgency and importance.

One of Reardon’s statistics stands out even today: over two-thirds of the women surveyed felt rushed to make the abortion decision. It’s ironic that lawmakers still argue now over whether a 24-hour waiting period is too great an imposition on a woman’s right to choose abortion.

This book is available on Amazon but might be hard to find in bookstores. Look on your church’s bookshelf. This one made a splash when it was first published, and a lot of faith communities with active pro-life ministries picked up the book.