Graphic abortion images have their place, but they don’t belong at the March for Life

Are you going to the March for Life, either in DC or in your state?  If so, are you planning to display graphic photos or videos of aborted babies?

If so, I’m begging you to reconsider.

I understand why people use them. Many Americans are still somehow ignorant about what abortion really is — what it really does to real babies.  They believe the lies about a “clump of cells” or “fetal pole activity,” or let themselves get confused in a cloud of euphemisms about “choice.” Many pro-lifers 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.

These images have their uses.

But a public place is not the place to use these images — ever, I’m convinced.  These images are like a terrible weapon which should be used with fear and trembling, and only as a last resort.  Ideally, they should only be used in the context of a relationship. Why?

Those are real babies.  Christians are almost alone in affirming the dignity of the human person.  The human body is sacred and always worthy of respect.  When we use pictures of real babies as a tactic or a tool, we are allowing ourselves to forget that these are children with an immortal soul, and who have a name that only their Father knows.  They have already been killed.  Let us treat their poor bodies with respect.

There will be children at the march.  Do you let your little kids watch slasher films or play gory video games?  No?  Well, those things show us actors with fake blood, pretending to be tortured and killed, or computer-generated images.  It’s bad enough when it’s fake. Why would you let your kids see the real thing?  The pro-life cause is about protecting innocent life, and that includes protecting the innocence of young children.  Violent images stay with us for a lifetime, and they damage us.

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.

Women who have miscarried 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.

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 if you’re out in public with an oversized photo of gore flapping in the wind.  Yes, your cause is worthy.  No, you’re not helping it.

They’re not an unanswerable argument that pro-lifers imagine, because 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 it’s a foregone conclusion 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).

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, including those who had to spend time up close with the heart-rending remains of babies, rescuing them from dumpsters and photographing them.

But to those who use these images routinely everywhere, indiscriminately, I beg that they 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, perhaps one that emphasizes prayer and reparation.

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These are all arguments against using graphic images indiscriminately, in a public place. Does this mean they should never be used?

Absolutely not.  Bloody and shocking images have their place.  Pro-life activists are right when they say abortion depends on silence and darkness, and that truth must be exposed.  Too many people who are pro-choice because they somehow still don’t know what fetuses actually look like, or what happens to them when they are aborted– or because they’ve simply slipped into a comfortable shelter of euphemisms.  These lies, this comfort must be stripped away.

So when should you use graphic images?  When a teenager shrugs and says, “My health teacher says it’s not a person until 25 weeks.”  When someone who works in the front office of a clinic says she’s doing a gentle, compassionate work of mercy.  When your boyfriend wants you to get rid of “it” before it becomes a real baby.  When a college girl likens unborn babies to tumors or parasites.  Then you can respond to the actual situation, to the actual person.  Then you can take out the picture and say, “Is this what you’re talking about?” And let the poor, dead child speak for you. 

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. 

Abortion is violent.  Abortion is cruel.  Abortion inflicts trauma and pain on the vulnerable.  Abortion is dehumanizing to mother and child. As pro-lifers, we should have no part in any of that.  Let use those graphic images with care and respect, as a weapon of last resort. 

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Photo used with kind permission of the photographer, Matthew Lomanno, from his photo documentary of the March for Life 2014.

 

Catholic pro-lifers at the Women’s March? Get used to it.

Were you surprised, even shocked, to see Catholics and other pro-lifers joining in at the Women’s March — the march that was funded and organized by pro-choicers, and which backed out of partnering with pro-life groups?

Numerous Catholics told me it was a scandal that they were there.

Well, get used to it. The pro-life establishment abandoned women and children when they threw in their lot with Trump. Get used to seeing pro-lifers strike out on their own, welcome or not.

When you in the Republican establishment helped Trump win, you told the world, “This is what a pro-life leader looks like like.” You told the world:

–A pro-lifer is a serial adulterer who proudly thinks with his penis.

–A pro-lifer responds to an unplanned pregnancy by saying, “Oh, great” and asking the mother what she’s going to “do about it.”

–A pro-lifer tells the world that a woman isn’t qualified to lead if we don’t enjoy looking at her face.

–A pro-lifer, when asked about his baby daughter, speculates on how big her tits will be some day.

–A pro-lifer mentions several times in several ways that, if he weren’t Ivanka’s father, he’d be dating her because of her gorgeous body.

–A pro-lifer will appoint ludicrously unqualified cabinet members whose only asset is their promises to cut funding for food and housing, programs which disproportionately support women and children.

–A pro-lifer is enthusiastic about torture, and is proud to turn his back on refugees.

–A pro-lifer thinks that life-saving vaccines cause autism, and is reportedly considering appointing a vaccine skeptic to investigate vaccine safety.

–A pro-lifer has promised repeatedly to repeal the law that has given millions of women (including me) basic healthcare for the first time.

–A pro-lifer appoints an education head who thinks that special needs kids don’t have a right to an education, and that the states should (like Texas did) be free to just stop making it possible for special needs kids to go to school.

–And of course a pro-lifer, as a newlywed, brags about kissing women without consent and then grabbing women by the pussy. And pro-lifers say that talking about “fucking” married “bitches” is “locker room banter” and can be excused as long as we also talk about ISIS.

You elected Trump and told the world that we had to vote for him, because he is pro-life. You even said that it was a mortal sin not to vote for him. And then you told women that they weren’t real Catholics because they marched against him.

Tell me again that women are shameful and disgraceful for telling the world that this man does not represent us. They’re the disgrace. Not him. Tell me again.

Tell me again that Catholic women who marched on Saturday aren’t real Catholics. Tell me again that they are the ones who should be cast out, because they are in the street at the same time as women with silly hats. Tell me that they are the scandal, and not the party who betrayed women and elected Trump.

Tell me again how the true disgrace is when young pro-lifers march in the streets with signs shouting “ABORTION BETRAYS WOMEN,” and the Huffington Post reports it, with numerous photos and ample quotes from pro-lifers. Also Slate, The Atlantic, and numerous other left-leaning websites.

Tell me what a scandal it is that “pro-life feminist” is now a thing.

God bless you, Destiny Herndon De La Rosa, Abby Johnson, Aimee Murphy, Students for Life, and all the strong, smart women who had the courage to face not only the abuse of pro-choicers but the abuse of your fellow Catholics. God bless you for telling the world that abortion hurts women, that pro-life is pro-women. God bless you for turning over your lives to the pro-life cause, when even other pro-lifers refused to help.

And God bless you for being physically there, for putting yourself right next to women who have been told all their lives that pro-lifers are rigid, angry, fanatical misogynists. God bless you for talking to them, showing them that we are human, showing them that there is another way of seeing the world.

You are the ones who are changing hearts; and that is how abortion is defeated. Not by signing bills, not by babbling catchphrases when it’s politically expedient and shrugging them off when it’s not. Not by yanking help away from the needy.

Abortion is defeated when pro-lifers have the courage to go where they are not invited. The election of Donald Trump made it very clear that respect for women is not important to the republican party. So be it. Pro-lifers who do respect women will go elsewhere.

The old categories do not hold. If Trump is the leader of the republican party, then the republican party is no longer the home for people who value family, who cherish children, who respect women. Pro-life American are now politically homeless; and so, like so many of the homeless, they took to the streets.

Expect to see more of this kind of thing. The old categories do not hold.
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Image: Screenshot from Fox News interview with Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists