Thursday, August 7, 2008

Graphic Abortion Pictures

I just posted this on the Catholic Dads blog:

I've written here previously about my work at the Pro-Life Action League (where fellow Catholic Dads blogger Matt Yonke also works).

One of the things we do on a regular basis is to organize demonstrations called Face the Truth Tours, where we line the roads at major intersections with huge graphic signs of aborted babies.

I can't tell you how many times during a Face the Truth day we've heard from people comments along the lines of, "I never knew what abortion was until I saw these pictures..."

One such reaction that sticks out in my mind was from a kid no more than 16 years old, who saw our display in downtown Chicago a few years ago with a group of friends:

Him: "Man, that's what an abortion looks like?!"

Me: Yeah, it is.

Him: (With genuine astonishment) "Damn!"

Other times, people really wish we would just go away. (Like the guy who got arrested for assaulting me on last year's Tour.)

After several years of experience showing graphic abortion pictures out on the streets, we've gotten used to hearing complaints. A while ago, we posted an FAQ page on the PLAL site's Face the Truth section that addresses the most common objections we hear:

  • What if children see these graphic abortion pictures?

  • What effect do these pictures have on a woman who has had an abortion?

  • Doesn't the public display of graphic abortion pictures make the pro-life movement look extreme?

  • Doesn't it dishonor the unborn babies in these pictures to show them out on the street?

As usual, following our most recent Face the Truth Tour a few weeks ago, we got a slew of angry e-mails, the vast majority of which came from parents who happened upon our display and who cite the "What about the children?" concern as their chief complaint.

By far, this is the most common objection we get, and that's why it's listed first in our FAQ. (It's also what prompted me to bring forth the issue here in Catholic Dads-Land.)

I've responded to this type of e-mail often enough before that I now have a form letter that I usually need to modify only slightly to reply to incoming messages along these lines.

I'm a big believer in meeting people where they're at, so I place great importance on taking (or at least trying to take) as understanding — and, it goes without saying, non-combative — a tone as possible in replying to this objection, especially since it's one that I can, on one level at least, legitimately
sympathize with.

What I usually write is this:

Dear [Name],

Thank you for taking the time to write to us about your concerns about the use of graphic images in the fight against abortion.

Like you, I too am a parent. In fact, just recently our daughters (ages 2, 4, and 5) helped my wife and their grandma hold one of our signs showing a baby boy who had been aborted at 21 weeks.

Prior to having them join us, we explained to them that we hold these signs "to show people why it's bad to hurt babies." Those, in fact, are the exact words I used when I explained to them why we show these signs.

Like many kids their age, our girls are easily frightened. However, they weren't at all frightened by the sight of the aborted babies on our signs because they understood why we were showing them.

Until someone tries to convince a child that abortion is okay, she will know that it is wrong to take the life of an unborn baby. Since children are naturally pro-life, and since they don't want to see other children get hurt, once they understand that we are showing the signs to protect other children, they will empathize with children who are victimized by abortion.

You may also want to check out the "What if children see these graphic abortion pictures?" from the "Answering Common Objections" page on our website.

Let me just mention here that one of the main reasons we continue to display graphic abortion signs out on the street is that these pictures save lives.

Every year, women and men who are considering abortion see our signs and choose not to go through with it.

On one occasion during our most recent Face the Truth Tour, a pregnant young woman in Mundelein, IL approached one of our volunteers and said that she had actually had an abortion scheduled, but after seeing our signs, she decided instead to keep her baby.

On another occasion in Rockford, IL, a young mother parked her car, got out and came up to a group of the Tour coordinators and began to tell us about her two-year old daughter Ariana. She started to cry as she told us about how she had been planning to get an abortion but then saw an abortion protest like ours. She said she owed the life of Ariana to seeing those graphic abortion pictures. She thanked us for being there to help other moms see the reality of abortion.

It's stories like these that make us return to the streets year after year with our graphic abortion pictures, as troubling as they are to behold not only for children, but for adults.

Thanks again for writing. I hope these remarks and the more extended article linked to above address your concerns at least to some degree.

Now, of course, "What about the children?" is not the only complaint we receive, although I'm increasingly convinced it might be the easiest (and least bothersome) one to respond to.

Another type of objection, however, that I find it far more troubling to reply to is the charge that showing graphic abortion pictures in public is uncharitable—and, indeed, un-Christian.

Personally, I'm not at all surprised when the average secular (or non-practicing Christian) parents work themselves into a lather upon seeing a display of graphic abortion pictures.

But it troubles me greatly when Christians try to claim that showing the victims of abortion in an effort to awaken people's consciences is actually contrary to the Gospel.

I've responded to a couple e-mails recently that have taken this tack, which has prompted me to come up with another form letter for future such e-mails:

Dear [Name],

As one Christian to another, you know as well as I do that Our Lord Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be mercilessly scourged, crowned with thorns, and marched through the streets of Jerusalem before being nailed to the Cross. It's probably safe to assume that there were children among the crowds that day -- these were public streets, after all.

Just as our faith demands that we face squarely the brutality that Jesus underwent for our sake in His Passion and Death, and to share this truth with our children ("Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not turn away from it" --Proverbs 22:6), our duty as Christians and as American citizens requires that we face squarely the brutality being done to unborn children.

(For a more thorough response on what children are able to handle regarding discussions of abortion, I'd suggest this article by Fr. Frank Pavone. Although he is writing primarily about talking and preaching to children about abortion, much of what he says is also applicable to displaying graphic abortion pictures.)

The first Christians weren't popular for proclaiming Jesus "and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), nor are we popular for showing what abortion does to unborn babies -- but it has to be done.

You may also want to read our reply to a question we often get, "Doesn't the public display of graphic abortion pictures make the pro-life movement look extreme?"

The first two paragraphs of that response are:

The very reason we are out there on the streets showing abortion pictures is that so many Americans need this reminder. They're not thinking about abortion. Much less are they thinking about the pro-life movement — when they're not thinking of us as extremists, they're not thinking of us at all.

If in the wake of our Truth Tours, a thousand conversations begin with "I saw a bunch of anti-abortion wackos today" and end with a frank, and long overdue, discussion of abortion, we consider our image worth the sacrifice.

The reality is that following Jesus Christ is not easy. In fact, it's extremely demanding, and can be very dangerous ("Behold, I am sending you out as lambs among wolves" --Luke 10:3). And, it always requires sacrifice.

If our intent as Christians who show graphic abortion pictures were rooted in pride and vindictiveness, I'd absolutely agree with you that doing so would turn people off to our mission.

It isn't, however. Rather, our intent is rooted in love: love of God, first of all, and also love of the babies He created who are victimized by abortion, as well as the parents who are considering abortion, as we do not want them to do something wrong that will cause them enormous hardship, and also love of those who have previously been involved in abortion -- that they may seek the mercy and healing that can only come from God.

One woman who has been participating in our Face the Truth Tours for years -- and who is one of the holiest, most loving people I know -- remarked to me on our most recent Tour that she never looks forward to going out on the street and showing graphic abortion signs. In fact, she said, she dreads it.

She dreads it because she hates the fact that we have to do it. She prays for the day that we do won't have to.

It is only when we show the horrific images of what abortion actually is that the abortion issue comes front-and-center in a community. Precisely because abortion is so harmful -- and has touched so very many lives -- nobody wants to talk about it. As the advocates of unborn babies, we have to break that silence.

(I should also make clear: I'm not saying I believe that every Christian must personally take part in a demonstration like one of ours. Clearly, many are not called to do that, as they are called to other apostolic efforts.)

I hope these remarks have clarified our position. May God bless you!

Coming to a Police State Near You

This post has turned out to be much longer than I had originally intended, but in closing, I just want to mention that 18 members of another pro-life group — Baltimore-based Defend Lifewere arrested without warning in Bel Air, MD during their own Face the Truth Tour last Friday.

This outrageous violation of basic rights guaranteed by the First Amendment should gravely concern all of us. You'll notice in this picture taken by Defend Life staff member Joe Healy that the pro-lifer getting arrested is wearing a shirt that says, "Pope Benedict XVI says: DEFEND LIFE":

Something tells me, though, that Defend Life isn't going to take this sitting down.


The Dutchman said...

John, I just don’t know.

Let me start by saying that I’m Pro-Life and find abortion as abhorrent as you do. I support what you are doing and that’s why I stopped by last Tuesday on my way to work to shake your hand and see how you were doing. As someone who has been personally affected by abortion I fervently hope that your signs cause women to reconsider making such a devastating mistake.

But I wonder what the net effect is?

Years ago, when my college age daughter was a pre-schooler, we were out for a walk on Grand Avenue when we suddenly were confronted with protestors carrying very graphic signs in front of an abortion clinic. (I didn’t even know the clinic was there!) Unlike you and your daughters, I had no chance to prepare my little Pumpkin for what she saw and she was quite traumatized by it. She remembers it to this day, and it had a negative effect on her! She’s “Pro-Choice” and, if the issue comes up, she always brings up that “those anti-abortion people are just nuts! I remember seeing their gory pictures when I was little and I have to wonder what kind of nut would let children see things like that?” I’m not going to say that this experience caused her to turn pro-abort (having a pro-abort mother probably had much more to do with it), but I’m sure it made her more bitter about it.

I don’t think we can get rid of abortion anytime soon; it’s just too widely accepted by the larger culture. I hope instead for incremental change, things like parental consent laws, restrictions on late term abortions (which Roe v. Wade would allow), and perhaps a counseling requirement like they have in Germany, and I think that our chances of getting these improvements would be greater if the two sides weren’t so polarized. The tone of the debate right now is being set by radical feminists on the one side and “no compromise” activists like Judy Brown on the other. While most Americans think first-trimester abortion should remain legal, only a tiny minority favors easy access to late term abortion and I think it is a shame that there seems to be no effort to ban these most horrific abortions.

Having said that, let me make it clear that I am only concerned here with what tactics will save the most babies. In truth I really admire you for standing out there with those signs. You are doing God’s work.

Anonymous said...

Unborn children should have the right to keep and bear arms - and legs and ears and eyes etc.! John