Monday, September 23, 2013

Do Graphic Abortion Images Help Or Hurt The Pro-Life Cause? UPDATED

Image taken from CCBR site

Yesterday was a busy day. While I was protesting abortion outside another local parish, a young Catholic man greeted me, passed by my sign and without travelling too far, turned about and returned to speak to me. He was quite disturbed about the graphic abortion picture which I was displaying. He explained to me that he was actually the leader of one of the local Catholic pro-life groups but that he had learned to get past the extremism of graphic imagery and to take a more compassionate view when dealing with people on the subject.  He told me that he was currently dealing with a “poor” woman who had had an abortion and who was attending Mass there at that parish today. He thought that my sign might destroy some of the good work he was doing in embracing her, welcoming her back to the community and evangelizing her. He was hoping to direct this woman to the Archdiocesan Counselling Center where she might get some help in overcoming the trauma of her past abortion but he saw my approach as detracting from, possibly undoing altogether, his efforts. He pointed out that the Bible doesn’t tell us we should show pictures of aborted children. Moreover, he said, the Bible also doesn’t tell us we should go around offending people.

Much has been written on the use of graphic abortion imagery in turning the hearts of society towards the plight of unborn children. The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) continues to do outstanding work in providing an apologetic for their use of such imagery. By following this link you will discover one of a great many of their arguments. Another link dismantles the pro-abortion charge that graphic pictures traumatize small children. Their apologetics arsenal on the use of graphic images is immense and worth exploring in greater detail.

I have written several posts on the subject myself. Cheryl Sullenger of Operation Rescue wrote an apologetic for the use of graphic images, including a special section addressing the arguments against subjecting children to the images. Abort73, a great resource, has a concise rationale for the use of these images as well.

I would like to have had more time in discussion with the young Catholic man I mentioned above. In fact, I would be glad to have an open debate with him and his young pro-life friends on the subject of graphic abortion imagery.

One final note: There is an interesting expression found in Western society, “The law is teacher.” We learn much from our laws. In Canada we have no current law respecting abortion. When no law exists to limit an evil action it becomes extremely difficult for individuals to comprehend the depth of evil and injustice associated with that action. Regardless of the objective facts, a huge, almost insurmountable, obstacle prevents individuals from grasping or acknowledging the true severity of the crime evil action. Thus, the unborn child (sometimes even the newborn child) in Canada has a sort of phantom, uncertain identity which precludes the possibility of placing them on the same moral level as other children. We just don’t rate them as equal human beings (again, because the law is teacher, and teaches us that we can “dispose” of them). The young Catholic gentleman to whom I referred above said not a word about the murdered child. He saw only the “poor” woman, the only survivor of the crime evil action, and yet the only individual who had full power to prevent the murder of her child. But when he saw the graphic abortion image, immediately the “phantom” vanished and he was forced to see the awful reality of a dead human being. Instinctively, I believe, he feared this is also what the woman would see in that graphic image. His heart was certainly in the right place but he was missing a key perspective on showing the truth.


I’d like to comment further on a couple of things this Catholic pro-life gentleman stated.

Since the woman was at the very center of this man’s argument for not showing the pictures, I would like to say from my heart that my actions in protesting abortion and in using the tactics that I do, are in no way opposed to the following statement by Blessed Pope John Paul II from his encyclical "Gospel of Life":

“I would like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors that may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that, in many cases, it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly, what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try, rather, to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitely lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living with the Lord” (99).

Now on to a couple other points: I was told that Jesus nowhere instructed us to use graphic abortion pictures. True, but only in the literal sense. Jesus didn’t specifically tell us to take that approach. However, He left us a powerful example.  “The cross itself was a bloody, public image of incredible brutality.” The linked article is very insightful and worthy of the reader’s attention.

Further, Jesus did not prescribe in great detail what every man and woman should do to lead their daily lives of faith and obedience. We are to obey His commandments, certainly, as well as the commandments of His Church, but beyond that each believer must listen attentively to the Holy Spirit, Who will lead us in love to do the will of God. Thank God no two believers act exactly the same in trying to live out a life of holiness. If someone maintains that actions of Christians that lead to offense by others is always an indication of a lack of love, that is a ridiculous over-simplification. If true, it would make Jesus out to be a loveless fraud. When Jesus confronted people in their sin, it was often accompanied by great offense, but Jesus, the incarnation of Love itself, and out of love, chose not to allow people to continue in their sin.

Another point I’d like to make regards the question of murder. I noted to my fellow pro-lifer that everything on my signs was 100% faithful to the Catholic Catechism. He agreed but took issue with my approach. I’m sure he would agree that abortion is murder because it not only fulfils the formal definition of murder but the Catechism places it in the context of murder and Popes have specifically called it murder. So when he protests the showing of the image of a murdered 10 week old baby and voices concern about the harm it will do to the woman, it leads to an obvious question: If the woman had murdered her neighbour, would he protest to the court that gruesome pictures of the victim not be shown as they would certainly hamper the rehabilitation of the “poor” woman? Here is where we normally hear the common retort: But it’s not the same thing! What exactly is not the same? Is it our understanding of murder? Clearly not, because we all know well the implications of that word. Is it our understanding of the victim? YES. OF COURSE. Any human being killed intentionally by an attacker is tried in our courts for murder and courts regularly use graphic photos of victims as “truth” evidence in administering the full scope of justice. Don’t the pictures add their own special, unique dimension to the truth of the heinous crime perpetrated? So we have identified where the disconnect lies: The murdered child is said to be human but in reality believed to be something less than human, i.e. dehumanized in our thinking. That is why “It’s not the same thing!” But doesn’t God, who at conception says Amen! and breathes a soul into that little one,  consider the child fully human? Yes, of course, and the Church says so. So why should we hold a distinction in our minds and hearts?

One final thought that at times comes to me in regard to assessing the actions necessary to put an end to abortion can be summed up with a quote from a letter I once sent to a Canadian Bishop:

Further to the subject of disrespect of remains, etc. and admittedly on a hypothetical note, wouldn’t the Unborns involved have given their permission to take and to show pictures if done in an effort to save their fellows from equally horrid deaths? One could not imagine an answer in the negative. Is not true respect for these precious little souls best shown by a respect for what is very likely their last wishes? At memorial services for those we love, we regularly use this same criterion in determining the method of honouring their life and memory.

Personally I often find myself asking a very simple question when in doubt about a course of action in defense of the Unborn. When courage is questioned, when persecution looms, when clear thinking seems elusive, the difficulty can often be resolved by asking: What would the Unborn have me do in such a situation? In virtually all cases the answer immediately presents itself and all peripheral issues fade away. Would the Unborn want the CCBR to represent them in the fashion they do, despite the fact that perhaps no other group takes a similar approach? Obviously the answer would depend on whether the Unborn saw hope for their cause from the efforts of CCBR. I believe even a short analysis of the work of CCBR and a reading of the testimonies of the many individuals won to the plight of the Unborn by CCBR will attest to the effectiveness of their tactics and so I say a resounding Yes! The cause of justice for the Unborn is being well served by CCBR and the Unborn would encourage such efforts.

Always I am challenged deeply, yet often inspired, by the words of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae.

(#73) “Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them [emphasis mine] by conscientious objection.

“It is precisely from obedience to God -- to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of His absolute sovereignty -- that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for ‘the endurance and faith of the saints’ (Rev 13:10).”

(#90) “I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law.”

Yes, challenging, because I must ask myself: If my obligation to oppose them is “grave and clear,” what actions must accompany an obedient attitude? Certainly this would demand serious steps. The matter of “obedience to God” to the point of imprisonment or at the risk of physical injury speaks to the seriousness of these crimes and to the seriousness of my response as a Christian.

Much controversy over the use of graphic images has taken place in Canada in recent years. Even the pro-life movement seems unsure and timid at times. I hope my comments will help us all get on the same page so we can stop the killing.

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