Response to Simcha Fisher of the National Catholic Register on "Eight Reasons Not to Use Graphic Abortion Images at the March for Life"Monday, January 28, 2013 | 3 comments »
What follows is a response by ACP Co-founder, Tom Herring, to the objections made by Simcha Fisher in her article about the public display of abortion pictures which was published January 22, 2013 by the National Catholic Register. This question of graphic abortion photos used in public needs to be settled because it is so critically important to the success of our pro-life activism.
First, I find it remarkable—perplexing even—that Ms. Fisher opens by stating:
“Many of us remember seeing those bloody images for the first time, and can recall being shaken out of a vague, fuzzy support for the pro-life cause into the realization that this is a life-and-death struggle—real life, and real death.”
She’s absolutely right, of course. Most of us can remember the first time we saw the pictures. Twenty years later, I can still remember vividly the moment in my life when I first saw them: I was at home, in the 8th grade (13 years old) when my dad showed them to me. I could not believe that what I was seeing was perfectly legal in America.
If, as Simcha Fisher notes, the pictures are what shook many [all?] of us out of a “vague, fuzzy support for the pro-life cause” into the full realization and appreciation for what was at stake, and the effort which would be required to stop it, then she has just torpedoed every subsequent argument for hiding the truth and covering up abortion images.
“But a public place is not the place to use these images—ever, I’m convinced.”
Ok, let’s examine her reasons why.
First Objection: Children will be at the March“There will be children at the march. Do you let your kids watch gruesome war movies or slasher films? No? Well, those movies show actors with fake blood, pretending to be tortured and killed. Why would you let them see the real thing? The pro-life cause is about protecting innocent life, and that includes protecting the innocence of young children. Studies show that violent images stay with us for a lifetime, and damage us.”
We know that wherever these pictures are seen minds are changed, and ultimately lives are saved. The author already admitted so herself. So when it comes to children seeing the pictures, we have to decide which matters more: the lives of the unborn children saved by those who see the images, or the feelings born children who will see them? We believe lives trump feelings, so we use the pictures.
As a practicing Catholic, I have to wonder if Simcha Fisher only attends Mass at Catholic churches where the walls are barren, or where all crucifixes have been stripped down and replaced with the Risen Christ. After all, we must “protect the innocence of young children,” and “studies show that violent images [like a man tortured to death on a cross] stay with us for a lifetime, and damage us.”
Second Objection: Post-abortive women will be at the March“There will be post-abortive women at the march. Imagine their courage in being there at all. Then imagine what it does to them to see, once again, the dark thing that keeps them from sleeping at night—the thing that often keeps them in decades-long cycles of self-loathing and despair. We don’t ask victims of rape to look at videos of rape in progress. We don’t ask holocaust victims to look at huge banners showing the piles of emaciated bodies. As pro-lifers, we must remember that every abortion has two victims: the child and the mother. We must never be on the side that hurts mothers. Never.”
No, we don’t ask rape victims to look at videos of rape. And we don’t ask holocaust victims to look at holocaust images. But then, raping a woman is not protected by the law, and killing a (born) Jewish person is likewise illegal.
Yet, imagine if this were not the case—something not particularly hard to do since in Germany it was once perfectly legal to starve and incinerate millions of Jews. If we were living in Nazi Germany and you obtained photos taken from inside Dachau and Auschwitz, would you not send the photographic evidence of what was happening to every newspaper in the modern world? And supposing the press refused to run the images, would you not blow the pictures up yourself, mount them on some hard backing, and stand with them in the public square to show as many people as possible what the Nazis were doing to innocent Jews?
Or, perhaps for the sake of painful memories you know the images would inflict upon Nazi concentration camp defectors, you would hide the photos in a shoebox beneath your bed.
Yes, in every abortion there are two victims. But we must never forget that the primary victim is the baby, tortured to death against her will. If we mistake the mother as the primary victim, and build our campaign of social reform around the sensibilities of post-abortive women rather than slaughtered babies, abortion will not end. As Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League has said, “The truth hurts. But the lie hurts so much more.”
Third Objection: Mothers will be at the March“Mothers will be there. Thousands of the women at the March are mothers—mothers who have already given birth, mothers who are pregnant as they march, and mothers who have miscarried, delivered dead babies. For many of them, the grief over a miscarriage never goes away entirely. Many women stay away from any public march for fear of being subjected to these images so similar to the thing that caused them so much pain. Motherhood makes a woman’s heart tender. The pro-life movement should be a shelter that protects that tenderness—because the world needs it desperately.”
Stephanie Gray, a professional, full-time pro-life activist and founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, answers this objection soundly in her piece published at LifeSiteNews.com titled, “A March for the victims—that excludes the victims.” She writes:
“Any effective social reform movement realizes it does not conform its campaign to the participants, or the public, but rather challenges the participants and the public to conform their lives to truth and justice. It’s not a movement’s fault that some people refuse to be in the presence of victims. The movement which stands for truth and justice must not be blamed for the cowardice of those who facilitate the cover up. Lovers of truth unite. Lovers of comfort divide. Things eventually get uncomfortable, and if the idea of comfort reigns supreme, lovers of comfort will leave when comfort does as well. But the pro-life message isn’t about making born people comfortable. It’s about enabling pre-born people to keep living.”
Fourth Objection: Those are real babies“Those are real babies. Christians are almost alone in affirming the dignity of the human person. Catholics, especially, understand that the human body is mortal, but still worthy of respect. When we use pictures of real babies as a tactic or a tool, we are in danger of forgetting that these are children with an immortal soul, and who have a name that only their Heavenly Father knows. They have already been killed. Let us treat their poor bodies with respect.”
Many images of atrocities are used without a victim’s permission because of the very circumstances surrounding his or her death. We print all sorts of images of the dead in our Christian history textbooks. Many famous paintings depicting dead bodies hang on public display in our museums. Native Americans killed at the hands of European settlers. Civil war battlefields strewn with corpses. Blacks hung from trees by the KKK. Mass graves from the Jewish holocaust, and more.
In our Catholic churches we erect larger-than-life crucifixes, and sculpt statues of Catholic martyrs, still in the agony and throes of a torturous death.
Does Ms. Fisher propose all of these morbid depictions be likewise jettisoned, out of respect for the dead? Or may we continue to use them as an educational tool?
The greatest respect one can pay the dead is in preventing future deaths like theirs. In other words, showing the images, not hiding them, reveres their memory. It creates awareness of an injustice with the expectation that there will be fewer victims in the future because society knows about the victims of the past.
As abortion images have proved to save lives, what greater respect could be granted to the victim than to allow their unjust death to play a role in saving the life of another innocent person?
Fifth Objection: Public image matters“Public image matters. Some people’s only contact with obvious pro-lifers is with people who shout and condemn and terrify. It’s just basic psychology: if you want people to listen to you and have sympathy for your cause, don’t come across as a lunatic. You’re not a lunatic—but to people who don’t already agree with you, you sure look that way. Yes, your cause is worthy. No, you’re not helping it.”
Straw man argument. Is this an article against obnoxious shouting and holier-than-thou condemning, or is it an article against using graphic images?
Silently holding a picture of an aborted baby is not an act of lunacy. Rather, it reveals the lunacy of a society which would accept such an injustice, even condone it as a “constitutionally protected right.”
People always want to attack the messenger when confronted with a message they do not like. But we should not care what people think about us; we should care what they think about abortion. And nothing is so effective at convincing someone abortion kills children, and should therefore be illegal, as a photograph of it.
So long as we continue stating—rather than *proving*—the conclusions we want our society to make, we will be working in vain. It’s been 40 straight years of 1+ million abortions; 55 million whose deaths are protested largely with once-a-year marches, text-only signs, bumper stickers, lapel pins, and red roses. Those are all good things. But is it any wonder we have made such little progress?
Father Pavone explained it this way:
“When you want people to act to reform deeply embedded trends in society, it is not enough simply to know that the trends are wrong. One must be profoundly disturbed so as to be stirred to action. One must perceive the difference between evil and absolute evil, between tolerable evil and intolerable evil. One must be made angry enough to be willing to sacrifice to end injustice—and in this sense, the very reason some say pictures don’t work because they make people mad are really hitting upon the reason why they do work.”
Sixth Objection: Graphic images sometimes push women into abortion“They sometimes push women into abortion. Do these images change hearts sometimes? They sure do. I’ve heard pro-life activists tell stories of women who saw these horrible images for the first time and decided on the spot that no way could they be any part of that. They kept their babies. And I’ve heard pro-life activists tell stories of women who were pregnant, scared, and undecided—and when they were confronted with bloody images, they freaked out and rushed into the clinic as fast as they could, to get away from those maniacs with the signs. So, yes, sometimes they save lives. And sometimes they cause lives to be lost. We don’t do things just because they work sometimes.”
I have never seen anyone look at an abortion picture and then decide—because of what they saw in the picture—to have an abortion. So I do not for a moment accept the premise of this argument. (A woman might choose abortion *in spite* of seeing an ultrasound image of her healthy baby, or *in spite* of seeing an aborted baby. But you will have a hard time convincing me that she will choose abortion *as a result* of seeing an ultrasound or an image of an aborted baby.)
But let’s set rational conclusions aside and assume that it is true: Sometimes lives are saved when you hide the truth. Ms. Fisher’s conclusion is, “We don’t do things just because they work sometimes.”
Well, that conclusion works just as well in the reverse. We don’t do things [i.e., cover up abortion pictures] just because it works sometimes.
Seventh Objection: Desensitization“Desensitization is a real danger—even among pro-lifers. It’s just how humans are made: see something too often, and you stop really seeing it. I thank and bless those who work so tirelessly for the pro-life cause. But I beg them to stop and consider that, like policemen or like soldiers, they are human, and are in danger of becoming hardened out of self-preservation. People who have become hardened must never be the public face of the pro-life cause. If you, as a pro-life activist, see a bloody image and you don’t flinch, then it’s time to take a break—move into a different segment of the ministry, one that emphasizes prayer and reparation.”
Does this reasoning work anywhere else? I don’t flinch when I see a crucifix. Should it come off my wall? No doubt there are driving instructors who don’t flinch when they show drunk-driving accident scenes. Should they stop including these pictures in their classes?
Eighth Objection: People see what they want to see“People see what they want to see. When the apostles begged the Lord to send the dead to persuade people to repent, He said that if they didn’t listen to the prophets, then they wouldn’t be impressed by the dead coming back to life, either. Many pro-choicers speak as if everyone knows that pro-lifers use photoshopped images—that the tiny, mutilated feet and hands and heads are a hoax that’s been thoroughly debunked. It’s a lie, of course. But people believe it all the same, because they want to (and pro-lifers don’t help their cause by being sloppy about things like identifying gestational age on photos).”
So we shouldn’t show pictures of abortion because of those pro-aborts who live in a constant state of denial, and for whom no amount of evidence will persuade? Should we close down all Holocaust museums for the sake of Holocaust deniers? Exactly what sort of logic is this, and how did it get published in such a reputable Catholic newspaper? There are a million reasons why we should not display graphic abortion photos in public, or at our marches. But they are all trumped by the one reason which Simcha Fisher began her piece with: They work.
The pictures galvanize the pro-life movement as a whole. They make abortion impossible to ignore or trivialize. They convert abortion doctors like Dr. Bernard Nathanson, and Planned Parenthood clinic workers like Abby Johnson. They convince the undecided. They compel the indifferent. They convict the nominally pro-life into a life of activism, like Lila Rose, who at the age of 9 stumbled upon them:
“On the bottom shelf of a bookcase, I found something called the Handbook on abortion by Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke. Curious, I opened it. And there they were: pictures. In shock, I quickly shut the book and pushed it away. And then I opened it slowly and looked again. I was looking directly at the picture of a tiny child, maybe ten weeks old, with tiny arms and legs, who had been the victim of an abortion. Right then I knew it was ugly and wrong. But over the next decade I grew in my understanding of the gravity and urgency of this holocaust of unborn children, of our duty to protect them, and of my desire to help. When I was thirteen I wrote in my journal, “God, it’s time I actually do something about abortion.””
How many more Abby Johnsons and Dr. Nathansons would we have today if pro-lifers would hold up abortion pictures during their prayer protests at Planned Parenthood clinics?
How many more Lila Roses would we have today if pro-lifers would hold up abortion pictures during our rallies and marches?
Ms. Fisher’s conclusion:
“I believe that everyone should see an image of an aborted baby once in their lifetime. And I believe that, like any traumatic image, it will stay with you. Once or twice in a lifetime is enough.”
And how, pray tell, is everyone in America supposed to see an image of an aborted baby if pro-lifers must never display them in public? Injustices which are covered up have no hope of ending.
3,500 more babies will be tortured to death today. That’s another September 11th every single day in America. Except Osama bin Laden isn’t killing our children, we are.
Planned Parenthood cannot believe it’s good fortune in a pro-life movement which would actively work with them in covering up the evidence that abortion is an act of violence against a baby. Until the pro-life movement studies the history of effective social reform—from the abolition of slavery to the modern anti-war movements—we will never win this battle.
At the height of the slave trade, English abolitionist William Wilberforce would aquire and then make public displays of the various torture instruments being used on slaves. And he would say to those passing by, “You may choose to look the other way, but you may never again say that you did not know.”
Baby killing will continue until people are bothered enough by abortion to do something about it. And nothing bothers them like a picture of a mutilated child. Dr. Martin Luther King was exactly right:
“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
Last week our first-ever billboard began showing in Kitsap County, Washington, reminding tens of thousands of daily commuters to Vote Pro-Life.
Those who see our billboard and visit the special website we have set up at UnjustChoice.com will be welcomed by a message addressed to voters:
When it comes to choosing our representatives, there should be certain positions which automatically disqualify a candidate from earning our vote. For example, a candidate who promotes and advocates white supremacy -- regardless of how much his economic, environmental, or other policies align with our own view -- would never get a vote from people of conscience. The reason is obvious: there exists a hierarchy of values, and at the top of that list is the dignity of all human beings, not just fair-skinned human beings.
In the same way, a political candidate who advocates for abortion should be automatically disqualified from earning our vote.* Abortion is an act of violence which kills a baby. Our pictures prove that fact. And just as there can be no justification for discriminating between human beings of different races, there is no justification for discriminating between human beings of different ages. All human beings deserve human rights.
"A person is a person, no matter how small," said Dr. Seuss. And we concur. Always vote pro-life.
Kenrick Bradley approached Anti-Choice Project co-founder, Andrew St.Hilaire, during a protest in front of Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington, on May 2, 2012, and began cursing us for showing what happens to 68 babies every single day in Washington State, and 3,500 babies nation-wide.
Mr. Bradley grabbed our abortion-photo signs and threw them over a fence. He then tried to steal our video camera, presumably to destroy the evidence of his behavior. Watch the video yourself (WARNING: contains strong language):
Like many Americans, Mr. Bradley finds the sight of abortion intolerable. But this only raises the question: If abortion is too terrible to look at, why are we tolerating it? The Anti-Choice Project knows that injustices which are covered up have no hope of ending. Horrifying pictures always offend but historically, they are the key to social reform. As abolitionist William Wilberforce said, "You may choose to look away, but you can never again say that you did not know."
Today, the ACP joined the March for Life in Olympia, WA! Despite the inclement weather, there was still about 2,500 people in attendance standing up for babies' rights. The ACP was there because pro-lifers -- even dedicated ones who attend marches in the cold -- need to be educated on and reminded of the full extent and brutal reality of abortion.
We received several positive comments, including those from a man who had never seen what abortion looks like. He expressed his shock and thanked us for being there.
Here are a few pictures from the event. You can see the rest on our Facebook page.
We are proud to announce our newest Anti-Choice Project chapter has just been launched in Kansas City, MO. Our good friends Caleb and April Pearson have received a shipment of new signs, and will soon be heading up protests along the busiest streets of Kansas City.
The Anti-Choice Project is making abortion impossible to ignore or trivialize by confronting indifferent Americans with the horrifying reality that abortion is an act of violence which kills a baby. Injustices which are covered up do not end, so our strategy for ending abortion is to get these pictures in the hands of pro-lifers in every American city.
If you are in the Kansas City area and would like to join Caleb and April -- or if you would like to establish an ACP chapter of your own -- please email us at email@example.com.
Almost three years after the Anti-Choice Project began regular protesting with graphic abortion photos in Silverdale, Washington, the Planned Parenthood health center in that town is closing, reports the Kitsap Sun. Kristen Glundberg-Prossor, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, attributes the closure to less federal and state taxpayer funding. The Anti-Choice Project readily concedes that a shortage of government subsidies played a significant role in their decision making. But it is no less true that the nation's largest abortion provider became far less popular as soon as pictures of the dismembered babies leaving Planned Parenthood were put on display along the busiest streets of Silverdale, thanks to ACP.
Injustices which are covered up have no hope of ending. In a democracy, laws which enable victimization of the innocent -- for instance, taxpayer funding of abortion laws -- are overturned only after a majority are bothered enough by the injustice to end it. The Anti-Choice Project is making abortion impossible to ignore or trivialize by bothering citizens with the horrifying evidence that abortion kills children in an increasing number of counties across the country.
As you know, we have a handful of our protest videos posted online. Recently -- in the past month or so -- the viewership of our Chad Smalley video has been growing exponentially. This is fortuitous because not only do viewers get to witness the irrational vitriol and violence which so commonly spews from pro-abortionists, but they also get to see the mangled, blood-drenched bodies of 10 week old babies killed by abortion - many for the first time. The video has been posted for well over a year now, and has almost 50,000 views. A month ago it was at 30,000. We are getting almost a thousand views a day now. (If you haven't already seen it, watch below [Warning: extreme language].)
Naturally, the number of comments made on the video is also increasing exponentially. Someone just wrote in complaining that the word "babies" is emotionally charged, and that we should only be referring to them as "fetuses." Using the maximum character limit, here was Tom's reply:
"Fetus" is used deliberately as it makes them seem less human. In order to kill other innocent human beings, it is always necessary to first de-humanize them. It is why in 1857 the Supreme Court declared blacks "a subordinate and inferior class of beings." It is why Hitler described Jews as "parasites" in Mein Kampf. As Ben Stein wrote, "Pro-aborts are like the Germans who refused to think about what was happening at Dachau and then vomitted when they saw and never wanted to see again."
You can read the 1,500 other comments, or join the conversation yourself by visiting the page.
Pregnancy Resource Services, a crisis pregnancy clinic in Bremerton, WA, held a banquet this past week which featured nationally known, pro-life speaker, Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute. Scott gave a fantastic talk on how pro-lifers can make a clear and convincing case for life. You can watch similar talks on YouTube.
Afterward, ACP Directors, Tom Herring and Andrew St.Hilaire got to meet Scott and tell him a bit about the ACP.
|ACP Directors, Tom Herring (Left) and Andrew St.Hilaire (Right) with Scott Klusendorf|
What Scott Klusendorf has to say about the use of graphic images in the fight against abortion:
When it comes to moral persuasion, many times images of death work better than images of life.
To cite a parallel example, the modern environmental movement got its start with graphic pictures in the late 1960’s. As activist Jerry Mander points out in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, initial attempts to mobilize public support for preservation of the giant redwoods produced a giant public yawn. Breathtaking photographs of majestic trees, though inspiring, did little to incite public anger at the timber industry. So, activists took a lesson from the Vietnam War. Instead of showing pictures of pre-cut trees in all their glory, environmentalists began circulating before and after photos. ‘We started carrying around photos of acres of stumps where hundreds of redwoods had been cut down. I don’t know if you have ever seen a field of tree stumps, but it is a horrific sight, not unlike a battlefield.’
The public outcry was immediate. ‘At that moment,’ Mander concludes, ‘I realized that death is a much better subject for television than life. Images of life—whether of trees themselves or the finely-tuned Vietnamese culture—accomplished nothing. They only put people to sleep.’
The same can be said of abortion. The use of graphic pictures is not manipulative, but consistent with other mainstream campaigns of social reform. Shocking pictures have traditionally been used by social reformers to dramatize the injustices of child labor, racial violence against African-Americans, U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, etc. What has changed is that for the first time in recent history, political conservatives are using this tactic in an effort to reform an abortion-tolerating public.
This tactic is appropriate, given we live in a culture that thinks and learns visually. As Neil Postman points out in Amusing Ourselves to Death, with the advent of television, America shifted from a word-based culture—with an emphasis on coherent linear thought—to an image-based one where thinking is dominated by feeling, intuition, and images.
Postman’s point (and mine) is that visual learners have short attention spans. They make decisions based on intuition, feeling, and images. That doesn’t rule out the presentation of facts and arguments, but it does change how they are communicated. It means we must change how people feel as a predicate to changing how they think. Disturbing images change feelings in ways that words cannot.
Thank you PRS and Scott for the great work you are doing on behalf of women in crisis pregnancy and their unborn children!
In her August 18th letter, Danielle Rye says she is offended when she sees our aborted baby pictures along the streets of Kitsap County. She imagines this disruption of her otherwise pleasant commute as a bad thing, but effective social reformers know that individuals need to be bothered about an injustice before enough people will rise up to stop it.
The Anti-Choice Project uses pictures to bother those with a functioning conscience because we realize that injustices which are covered up do not end. When abortion is hidden, abortion is tolerated. When it is seen, everything changes. As abolitionist William Wilberforce once said, "You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know."
Ms. Rye is outraged that her child saw our signs, but these images save lives and lives trump feelings in our book. The law, of course, is on our side: “It would therefore be an unprecedented departure from bedrock First Amendment principles to allow the government to restrict speech based on listener reaction simply because the listeners are children.” (9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Center for Bioethical Reform v. L.A. County Sheriff Dept.)
Ms. Rye ought to realize that we are here because abortion is here. The only question we have for those who can't bear to look upon "Choice" is—If it's wrong to SHOW what goes on in an abortion clinic, why isn't it wrong to DO what goes on in an abortion clinic?