A while back I wrotea piece for Live Actionexplaining why I don't advocate the use of graphic images of aborted fetuses in most situations. This was a change from my previous position. I was converted in no small part by viewing graphic images, so I was all for them. But over time, reflecting on my conversion and talking to many people of varying opinions on abortion, I came to believe they do more harm than good.
Surprisingly (to me anyway), this article ignited a firestorm of debate among pro-lifers which apparently is still going on. Recently, Stephanie Gray wrote an article for Live Action explaining why I was super-wrong about this issue, and Paul Pauker responded ably with a rebuttal. The official position of Live Action is that graphic images are a good idea because they work. I disagree.
I have written more than once about my deep dislike of in-fighting. I think it is a silly waste of time for pro-lifers to bicker about tactics. We are on the same side. However, I accept that some feel this is a debate worth having. It seems, from my personal observance, to be almost exclusively the pro-graphic images set who insist on hashing this out ad nauseam. Most of us over here in the "don't hold up photos of mangled babies" camp kind of shrug it off and agree to disagree. I don't think holding up a graphic image makes you less pro-life, or a moron, or a bad person. I just disagree about its effectiveness.
Too often since I wrote the blog explaining why I believe graphic images are a very important tool and should be used, but sparingly and only in certain cases, I have been accused of being not pro-life enough. I have even been told: "It makes me wonder whose side you're on." I have, for the first time I can recall, been accused of moral cowardice, of capitulating to the enemy. It makes me, well, kind of angry, considering I have lost good friends and alienated family members and weirded out professional contacts and been the recipient of disgusting hate mail for my stance on the issue of abortion. Now I get to be on the receiving end of ugly comments from pro-lifers, too.
So let me be very clear, for those of you who have not been reading these blogs since February of 2010: I do not take this position to placate pro-choicers. I do not take this position because I feel scared of what people will do when they see me holding an image of an aborted fetus.
I take the position I take because I believe that when graphic images are held up willy-nilly at every protest and plastered on the sides of trucks, it does more harm than good.
I have come to this decision based on many factors, such as my own feelings and thoughts when I was pro-choice, and the ideas expressed to me by current pro-choicers and converts to the pro-life position. Now, please understand: I am not concerned that these images offend or anger pro-choicers. Our very existence does that. What does concern me is that I sincerely believe that those images, in most cases, (1) fail to accomplish what they are meant to accomplish and (2) have a further deleterious effect.
To wit: (1) they do not make pro-choicers or abortion-minded women suddenly see the human tragedy of abortion, and (2) they make us look like a bunch of crazy people.
I am well aware that this will be an unpopular opinion. I know the feeling pro-lifers get when they hold one of these signs, that righteous feeling of moral certitude. My statement that this makes us look a little nutso is going to fill the comments section with people claiming I am a covert Planned Parenthood operative, a weakling, an idiot, etc. And that's fine.
But remember: I was pro-choice. I looked at those signs. I did not see an aborted fetus. I saw crazy people holding gross signs.
I have many, many pro-choice friends and relatives. There has not been one - not one - that has ever expressed to me that an unexpected, in-your-face graphic image had any effect other than the one I just described.
I don't know how many times I've said this, but I don't think the pro-graphic image people understand: pro-choicers do not see what you see. Priests for Life, a wonderful organization, advocates showing graphic images whenever possible because "America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion." I get that, but what I don't think many of you get is when they see that image, they don't see abortion. They see something icky, forced on them by icky people.
When you hold up a huge dead baby sign in front of a clinic, you don't make pregnant women suddenly realize what they're about to do to their babies and run to you for information and hugs. You make them upset and freaked out, and worse: you make the abortion clinic seem like a safe haven from the scary people outside.
Now, there are many instances where a graphic image of an aborted fetus can be useful. For example, when I was converted, I had been given the pro-choice argument logically and patiently, over the course of a long conversation, at which point I asked to see the photographic evidence to which my friend had alluded. At that point, for the first time ever, I saw those pictures for what they were. I lived in a large city with many abortion clinics; I had seen these images before. But until I was ready to see them, I did not see them.
I think sometimes we forget that half of what we see is objective reality, and the other half is our perception. If we already think pro-lifers are wrong and crazy, all we will see when they hold up a graphic image is a vague idea of something grody. We won't think of it as a baby at all; we have already decided that it's not. We'll think it is untrue and mean, and that's about it.
I am sure there are people who have been converted by graphic images held up in front of clinics. I have no doubt that there are those who will say, "Seeing that photo on a truck/sign/billboard changed my mind." I have, however, never met one of those people. What I have met are dozens upon dozens of people for whom those images had the exact opposite effect, creating a public opinion of the pro-life movement as disrespectful, combative, and cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
That public opinion, as Paul Pauker pointed out, is translated into votes and hence into elected officials, legislators, judges. We need those people to be elected by a populace who does not see the pro-life movement as a bunch of weird lunatics.
Again: I don't mind angering or offending pro-choicers. It happens. Whatever. What I do mind is adopting a tactic that makes pro-choicers think we are crazy jerks, and that also, as far as I can tell from my personal experience, doesn't really work.
I am one of a fantastic group of ladies called New Wave Feminists. When we go do something pro-lifey, we tell people they can feel free to hold up graphic signs, but not if they want to be associated with us. We want to represent the pro-life movement as rational and approachable. We want to be the people the other side might walk up to and say, "Seriously, you look just like me, how could you be so wrong?" That opens up a dialogue that is probably not going to happen if you're holding a giant photo of a dead fetus.
You may have the opposite opinion. You may have different ideas and beliefs about what works, what doesn't, what's acceptable, what's not. And that's cool! The thing I really want the reader to take away from this is that we should not treat each other in this movement like enemies. Abortion is the enemy. We are warriors in the same battle, using different weapons, all fighting for the same victory.