The use of graphic imagery to make the case against abortion is hotly debated amongst pro-lifers. Some are adamant that it is just too horrific, that it subjects the unsuspecting passerby to images for which they are not prepared, and that it causes many to become angry. Other pro-lifers feel that, unless people actually witness the graphic reality of abortion, they will simply never understand how awful it is.
I used to be of the second opinion; I was pretty convinced that people needed to be shocked, because something shocking was going on and they were simply "not getting it".
I realise the video above shows a graphic photo of the hand of an aborted baby, but that is the only image and it isn't gruesome and bloody like the large posters with all the body parts. The message on the video is very simple:
Let us mourn for these children
May our hearts be broken enough
for God to enter and stir us to
action to defend their lives.
Stirred to action, that is the purpose of the pro-life movement - to stir people to action, many people, all people to act for those who cannot defend themselves.
This past weekend, I spent with the director of the local crisis pregnancy centre here in Halifax. It is now called the Pregnancy Care Centre, as teens (those who have the most unplanned pregnancies) cannot relate to the word "crisis". The director is one of the most Christian women I have ever met; she set up this centre and has run it for the past 23 years. She has given tirelessly of her time and energy and she has gone even further, adopting the baby of the centre's very first client and she now fosters four children who would have no home otherwise.
She has seen it all; she was moved to work in this ministry when she cared for a woman who had jumped from the roof of the hospital. After three months of treatment for depression, she escaped the psychiatric ward, found her way to the roof and jumped. Her jump did not end her life; but it did leave her paralysed from the neck down. In the emergency room, she kept repeating "it hurts, it hurts". Willa had been assigned to stay with her and, as she held her hand, she asked "where does it hurt?" The woman shouldn't have felt any pain as her spinal column had been severed and with it all the nerves to her torso and limbs. She said "my heart" and then out came the story of her abortion five years previous. Willa resolved then and there that she would work in this ministry in order to prevent women from believing the lies about abortion.
All those years of experience with girls and women facing unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, some of whom did abort and others who carried their babies to term, and what does this lady have to say about abortion?
Abortion is not the problem. The problem is that these women don't know Christ. They need a relationship with Him first. My job is to use this opportunity to offer them that relationship.
The problem is that our relationship with God our Father has been broken. And it can only be restored by meeting the person of Jesus Christ.
What does this have to do with graphic imagery? Well, that imagery may change someone's mind about abortion, although I suspect that it creates more anger in people than it does a change of mind. But the imagery doesn't bring them any closer to Christ.
I am not saying that graphic imagery should never be used. Actually, I think that it can be used to great effect as the Genocide Awareness Project uses it, on university campuses. This is a venue where students see other displays of graphic imagery and where they are challenged, as in no other time of their life, to think critically about important issues. Those who run the GAP are also there to talk with students who question what they are doing; the signs are accompanied by good information. People are not just shocked by the signs, but are engaged in discussion.
But for the general public, on a busy street, graphic imagery will probably produce more shock and anger than true conversion of mind and heart.
Bryan Kemper, the founder of Stand True, has been protesting abortion for 16 years. He founded the group that goes into schools and organizes the campaign where students put duct tape with the word Life written on it, and they don't speak for the entire day. They are silent in solidarity with the unborn who have no voice. And their efforts meet with great success. Kids love to do something like that, and the last time they did it, 57 girls (across the US) who were pregnant decided not to abort their babies because of the duct tape effort.
Bryan used to go to abortion clinics and protest loudly, holding graphic signs to scare the women out of having an abortion. He thought it was the thing to do and that saving the baby's life was to be done at all costs. Now he says:
Yes, we believe abortion is the act of killing a human person and should never be permitted. Yes, we believe abortion is a sin and is detestable in God's eyes. Yes, we believe we need to stand up against this evil and be there to help people keep from making such a tragic and horrific mistake. But more importantly than all of that, we believe those people need Christ, and we need to love them as Christ would...
We are committed to achieving these goals in love. And we will go to the abortion mills to be a voice for those who are dying horrible deaths there. But we will treat the abortion mill like a mission field (italics mine) rather than a protest zone.
Having organized two campaigns for 40 Days for Life here in Halifax, I have seen the fruits of what a witness of peaceful, non-confrontational prayer can do. We have heard of one girl who changed her mind about having an abortion and we have heard of one social worker who requested a re-assignment away from the abortion clinic. Plus a nurse who thanked us for being there; she has witnessed abortions and felt compelled to seek work elsewhere as she is being compromised in that hospital. Prayer bringing about changes of heart, without violence, without any shouting. We didn't get people shouting at us to leave the sidewalk; most people walk by quietly showing respect for the fact that we are just praying.
I believe that God has called me to be faithful to that prayer witness. To bring graphic signs into it would break that peace. Right now, that public sidewalk has been soaked with the prayers of hundreds of people and we have asked God for His protection on that place. It is a sacred place now, a place where Christ can come and minister. And He always does that in love.
Visit Bryan's site at Stand True