Graphic Images and the Pro-Life Message…

… Today marks the 41st anniversary of Roe V. Wade and hundreds of thousands of folks took to DC to participate in the March for Life. Therefore, I think it’s timely to take a moment and reflect on Abby Johnson’s words regarding the use of graphic images by pro-life organizations and individuals.

Some background; it all started here.

In response to Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s questions on facebook Abby Johnson wrote back. Simcha Fisher reposted, with permission, her reply. Simcha writes…

She (Abby Johnson) says that, while these graphic images occasionally do change people’s minds, they also often do something else: they tip the balance toward abortion.

She should know. She once managed an abortion clinic, and for many years saw protesters march around with their gory posters.

Abby Johnson’s full response is as follows…

I watched them be ineffective for many years … from inside the abortion clinic. A perspective that most do not have. I watched for several years as women would literally run away from those holding graphic signs. They would come into my office and ask us why those people were holding them. We used that as an opportunity to point out how crazy the prolifers were and that they would do anything to prevent women from making the choices they felt they needed to. It was an AMAZING way for us to build camaraderie inside our clinic.

Then I saw the signs come down…and I actually saw women changing their minds. They started approaching the people on the sidewalk, asking questions…and then leaving our parking lot and going to the crisis pregnancy centers. Once the signs came down, we started to have volunteer escorts so that we could try to convince the women coming in not to talk to the sidewalk counselors…because they were having such an impact. When the signs were out there, we LOVED IT!!! No one was approaching them. We didn’t need escorts.


I remember the first time I encountered signs like that. I was driving into work and the Face the Truth (Warning: graphic and triggering images) folks were waving huge signs from an overpass to those traveling on the interstate below. Aside from almost crashing my car, I had to pull over and violently sob and shake for a good fifteen minutes. When I recovered, the urge to confront them for their insensitivity was overwhelming but I was already late for work. Instead I silently thanked God that my son was not in the car with me. I can’t image how traumatic that might have been seeing those images and then witnessing his mother have a complete breakdown.

The next time I encountered them was at the 2010 March For Life. To be fair, I’m not sure if it was the same organization or not. But at the March For Life… isn’t that like preaching to the choir? They had this huge set up right smack in the middle in the street so that the marchers had to go around them. Their display wasn’t even pointed in the direction of curious onlookers watching the march. Nope, it was pointed right smack dab at all the marchers. Marchers made up of kids, families, and a whole lot of post-abortive women.

And I can tell you from my own observations, no one was approaching them.

I can only image how absolutely ineffective images of aborted babies may be at an abortion clinic if they alienated entire crowds of pro-life marchers at the March For Life, of all places. Having such brutal images stand between yourself and the woman you hope to counsel has got to be the worst possible way to make yourself approachable.

Then there’s the whole idea that the unborn are undeserving of dignity. I’ve written about this before, how I believe overuse of graphic images exploits the dead

If you want to visually make the statement that abortion is the murder of a very real person you’d be more convincing [and compassionate] to show fetal development images and pass out information on the statistics of depression/suicide/drug use of post-abortive mothers. Women need that information more than they need gore and extreme shock tactics.

A much more dramatic and life affirming image

Expanding on this, Jennifer Fulwiler writes; “Thrusting pictures of aborted babies in people’s faces seems unlikely to convert people and… feed[s] the cultural message that these unborn children are less deserving of respect and dignity than other human beings.”

No one is doubting the well meaning intentions of those who use these graphic images to let the public know that abortion is evil. They are passionate about something we should be passionately against. However, the use and exploitation of the dead to promote an agenda – whether it’s one you are for or against – is plainly wrong and strips the victims of the dignity they deserve. It is also the antithesis of promoting a respect for life.

That’s not to say that I am completely against their use. Everything within a reasonable context. Maybe in one of those human sexuality classes high school and college kids take. I definitely think they would serve a beneficial purpose in an environment where sex education consists of nothing more than “use a condom, boys” and “her body, her choice.” I also think it’s a parent’s responsibility to teach their older children about abortion, what it looks like and what it really is.

But other than that… I can’t really advocate their use. Not in public with no discretion or consideration for the viewer. And no, that doesn’t make me any less passionate or not quite pro-life enough.

What women, and men, need is the knowledge that there is help, support, and resources available to them. They need kindness and compassion. These things can’t be thoughtfully conveyed when you intentionally set a barrier between yourself and someone needing help.

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