I was stuck inside my childhood home, looking for a book to read. Because I was homeschooled, the daughter of passionate book lovers, and one of eight children, our home was full of books of all kinds. It was my goal, at the age of nine, to read all of 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.
Mrs. Lila Rose of Live Action
This is the start of the pro-life account of Mrs. Lila Rose, known for her works in what actually happens in the Planned Parenthood clinic via journalistic investigation done by her organization Live Action. It appears that an image, considered dark and revealing for most people started her pro-life journey towards here current role in American politics.
Her account is a clear example of the impact of images; images that can illustrate and reveal ideas and truths that written word or oral description cannot touch. And many others have felt the same way. Greg Cunningham of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform is a well-known pro-lifer who uses these images publically, and is often the cusp of criticisms against Pro-lifers. Cunningham has created his ministry and organization to perform the task of sharing the graphic images in order to “reveal facts that would otherwise be ignored” were it not for the images.
The problem is that I, along with many other pro-lifers find the use of graphic images in public to a unhelpful and inconsiderate tool since it has consistently creates barriers of dialogue between two divided sides, sides whose understanding of the other are often straw men-esque illustrations that are too often based on a lot of personal emotion and misunderstandings rather than total fact and truth.
But who’s right in this debate? In the following piece, I hope to explore this issue, and present a case that presenting these graphic images in public settings can have notable response rates but detrimental side effects for the long-term. Then, I’ll present a potential model that could overcome these detrimental side effects and change the pro-life movement for the better.
The Power of Images:
Most Pro-choice activists have found issue with the images, since they are offensive to every aspect of the human soul. Most of them wish to say that these images are chosen to quickly offend others and cause controversy, or that these images were faked. But no matter what they want the images to mean, it doesn’t change the fact that they are real. Feminist Naomi Wolf stated herself in an editorial from the 90s that the Pro-Choice proponents cannot say no to these images; that these images are completely true, one cannot fake this reality, no matter how much they want to.
And so, these images are excellent tools for presenting a point.
Consequences of the images
But there are many situations where this can be detrimental to those seeking out the truth. Pro-Life activist Kristen Walker stated in a column that:
I(Kristen) had seen graphic images of aborted fetuses before (She became Pro-life). Almost everyone has at some point. But – how do I explain this? – I did not see them.
In one case, I was attempting to find a website, typed in the URL incorrectly, and ended up with a giant photo of a mangled unborn baby in my face. I remember this well, because it helped form my resentment of the pro-life cause, and helped make me stalwart in my support for abortion “rights.”
This negative response is understandable. When I see an offensive image of, say, a murder on a news website, I likely won’t consider it’s implications. Instead, I’ll ignore it. Others may choose to ignore the validity of the image and just go after the carriers of the image. They insult and attack them in order break focus from the image.
Most proponents of the grahic images would say that this is a necessity of the pro-life cause, that the offensive nature of the image is a testimony to it’s effectiveness. Center for Bio-Ethical Reform Executive director Stephanie Gray herself stated that:
Within the pro-life movement, there should be one, and only one, fundamental principle guiding the choices we make about activism, and that is effectiveness. In fact, at my organization, we have large posters in every office reminding our 19 staff of our guiding principle of effectiveness. We make all decisions through that lens, and our efforts in this regard are complemented by our core values of quality, creativity, and honesty.
This is a really odd statement how can effectiveness act as the main principle for presenting their truth? Shouldn’t there be a wider view of human civility and honorability involved with this?
While the images do have a high response rate, they do have a detrimental effect on the Pro-life movement and it’s ability to take political ground. Pro-life writer Paul Pauker explained this well in his response to Mr. Gray:
It’s a fact that graphic abortion images stir negative emotions. So how many people, after seeing graphic abortion images in public places, have closed their minds to the pro-life message, and therefore also to pro-life politicians? And how many people have then voted only for pro-abortion politicians, or just stayed home? In other words, is the number of people who have voted only for pro-abortion politicians, in whole or in part because of graphic abortion images, higher than the number of people who have converted to the pro-life position, in whole or in part, because of graphic abortion images? This is the most important guide for determining whether or not these images are detrimental.
Pauker’s point is this: While we may have converted X amount of people to the Pro-life position, how many people have we pushed away? How will that impact their election of Pro-life candidates?
Mrs. Gray’s desire for truth is honorable and understandable. But like any method of communication, there are consequences.
So, can one share these truths with minimal consequences that might affect the election process?
Yes, but it must be an act that not only makes the images available and accessible for Americans everywhere, but allows for the Pro-life label to exist without the travesties that people connect the images and the movement to. and less need for these vile acts to be taken by opposition and misused to illustrate and mislabel the Pro-life movement.
This act is simple; it is called”allowing one to choose to view”.
This is nothing new. Originally derived from Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing“, this idea is a revolutionary technique in the last 15 years of marketing that has overwhelmed the historical method of information sharing.
Godin summarized it as:
Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.
It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.
In other words, if an image is out there, one can choose to ignore it If they don’t want to see it. And if they don’t want to see it, they’ll reject it, and the viewing will be useless.
Catholic writer and Activist Jennifer Fulwiler noted this as well:
When someone forces you to look at something distasteful, your main reaction is visceral rather than intellectual. You’re surprised, revolted and offended, and you instantly divert most of your mental energy to regaining control of the situation — usually by averting your eyes. Unless someone were already well versed on the issue of abortion, I think it’s unlikely that a surprise viewing of a deceased child would lead him to a lot of reasoned thought on the issue.
However, I’ve noticed that when people freely choose to see these types of pictures, their reactions are completely different. They know what they’re getting themselves into, so they’re prepared for that initial shock. And by agreeing to look at the image in the first place, they’ve given their assent — consciously or unconsciously — that this is an issue worth exploring further.
While it may not be used underneath the “Permission Marketing” label, we do see that pro-lifers have adopted many of these tactics to great benefit. Here’s one particular case from a commenter on Mrs. Jennifer’s post:
A sidewalk counselor once shared with me a way to put these ideas into practice. At prayer vigils, she carries pamphlets that show pictures of living preborn children, as well as small pictures of abortion victims. When a mother agrees to speak with her, she first shows her what her living baby looks like. Then, with the mother’s permission, she shows her the graphic pictures. She and those who work with her do not use any large graphic signs at their vigils. This counselor had a very high turn-around rate.
The counselor asked permission of the woman to show her the graphic images. The woman responded well, and had a grand result.
Now, other ministries are adopting more indirect techniques for this communication. Ministries like Abort73.com, who use the To Write Love On Her Arms model in a similar manner to encourage people to visit their website (by free choice), where one can (and should) explore further and choose to understand the travesty of what happens. By asking permissions, Pro-lifers could have grander results and be changing more souls for the better.
As I look at this issue of graphic images, it becomes quickly obvious that the issue at hand is one of communication. No matter how convincing a person’s argument is, they should receive permission from the other, otherwise they are like water bouncing off plastic, where it has little to no effect. So, I pray that ministries and organizations like this will consider this as they think through the use of graphic images, and what the results will be.
I know this is a debatable topic; So, I’d love to get your opinion. Yay? Nay? Eh? Tell me in the comments below?