Changing Baby J’s diaper a few weeks ago, I was half listening, half watching Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life interviewing Christopher Cardinal Schönborn on the EWTN cable channel. The two men, both crusaders for the unborn (and all other human life), discussed legal and spiritual ways to fight the evil of abortion.
The interview didn’t truly catch my attention, though, until photos of the saddest sight possible flashed on the screen: small babies, burnt, dismembered, desecrated. Babies with their eyes open. Babies murdered through abortion.
Seeing those images never fails to immediately bring me to tears. Writing about it, days later, I’m still emotional.
However, whereas I’ve regretted seeing other forms of gratuitous violence, sex or other graphic content on television and in movies (The Dark Knight, for instance, was a great flick, but oy!), I’ve never regretted being face to face with the reality of abortion.
Why? Because: Ignorance is death.
Perhaps nothing divides the pro-life crowd more than the issue of seeing abortion. We’ve all seen the groups that stand outside college campuses or along busy roadsides displaying large poster images of aborted children. They make us wince. They should.
Catholic author and mother Danielle Bean writes that while she is completely pro-life,
“I am not sure anyone should have the right to display graphic and disturbing photos in public places. I am raising my children to be 100% pro-life as well, but I don’t want someone else deciding for me when they are ready to see horrifying images of dead babies.”
Bean goes on to say that these tactics “do very little to promote the cause of life” and that the more powerful image is the one of the baby in utero. I greatly respect Ms. Bean and love reading her work, but I do disagree on this point.
I’ve heard other passionately and actively pro-life women argue against the images as well. “How will a post-abortive woman ever believe she’s worthy of forgiveness when she’s forced to look at photos of what she’s done?” is a reasonable question (and one that I think is sufficiently answered by the wonderful team at Rachel’s Vineyard).
One of the hallmarks of Fr. Frank’s ministry with Priests for Life is that “America won’t reject abortion until it sees abortion.” On their website, viewers can find photo gallery after photo gallery of every aspect of abortion: the abortion procedures, in detail; the abortionists, in their own words; the remains of the innocent. Fr. Frank writes:
“We present here some of the grim reality of abortion. Only seeing such images can bring us to the kind of indignation needed to sustain the sacrifices that will be necessary to finally bring an end to this injustice.”
Perhaps most poignantly, he states: “Abortion is a reality which is so horrific that words alone can never convey its meaning.”
In an age when abortion is euphemized to the extreme (“products of conception,” anyone?), his own words ring true.
One horrifically honest campaign created by Priests for Life is called “Is This What You Mean?” Truncated descriptions of abortion procedures, described by abortionists themselves, are outlined. I can barely read more than five without having to leave the webpage. It’s that awful. And that real.
While I sympathize with Ms. Bean and the many other hard-working, dedicated pro-life individuals that object to the use of these disturbing photos (whether on street corners, in front of abortion mills or on the Internet), I’m firmly in Fr. Frank’s camp.
That’s not to say that showing the humanity of the living unborn baby (as opposed to babies killed by abortion) isn’t thoroughly effective and, at times, the better strategy for reaching hearts. A key moment in the movie Juno comes as the pregnant heroine approaches an abortion clinic and meets a peaceful protester, who happens to be her classmate. The pro-life girl says, “Your baby probably has a beating heart, you know. It can feel pain. And it has fingernails.”
At the mention of fingernails, Juno makes an about-face and says, “Really, fingernails?”
Showing and explaining fetal development is not only useful, but it has saved many, many children.
But in an age when shock sells, sometimes it takes more than the mention of fingernails to get someone’s attention to the reality of abortion. Sometimes it takes the truth—the burnt, bloody and broken truth. Because ignorance is death.