As the pro-life movement stares into the new millennium, it begins the process of soul searching and contemplation.
It’s no secret that society has tired of the abortion battle. Preferring to lose themselves in ignorance, the public remain strikingly schizophrenic on the issue of life before birth.
Indeed, U.S. pro-life leader Mark Crutcher went further and warned the movement in 1992, that the day was approaching when the “window of opportunity,” the ability to even reach the public with the abortion message, would close.
Crutcher wrote in Firestorm that “contrary to what a lot of pro-life leaders seem to think, the time allotted for this battle is finite. I think it is totally unrealistic not to believe that people will one day reach a point where they say they simply aren’t going to listen to the abortion argument anymore.”
Well-known pro-life feminist author Frederica Mathewes-Green believes that time has arrived – today.
Says Mathewes-Green, author of Real Choices: “I’ve noticed over the last five years or so that public attention has really moved off the abortion issue. What was once a hotly-debated topic has cooled. We don’t see cover stories of magazines about abortion any more, don’t see televised debates, and when Newsweek ran six pages of text on the two presidential candidates’ opinions on various issues, abortion was not even mentioned. Public attention has simply moved on.”
Indeed, Mathewes-Green served an indictment of the current political landscape in regards to abortion in an editorial published in the Dallas Morning News in March. She wrote: “Pretty quiet out there. Once there were magazine covers devoted to the abortion debate, panels earnestly arguing on TV, politicians sweating out meticulously vacant sound bites. No longer. The issue is fading away.”
Some leaders in the pro-life movement claim that the “silence” or lack of debate is deliberate – and even more pronounced in Canada.
Campaign Life Coalition British Columbia President John Hof speculates: “The abortion lobby in Canada has succeeded in creating an atmosphere where opposition to abortion is tantamount to treason.”
Feminist activist and former Henry Morgentaler associate Judy Rebick would agree. She wrote in 1997:
“The once powerful anti-choice movement in Canada is a shadow of its former self and no politician, not even a fundamentalist Christian like Preston Manning who personally opposes abortion, dares to publicly declare that he or she would recriminalize abortion.”
Hof adds: “We are so far removed from the American situation. Where they view the abortion debate on the brink of closure, we have arrived at that point – and even surpassed it to the point that students exposing the graphic truth of abortion, are attacked – and then the attackers are embraced by the government as friends of choice. It’s frightening!”
What Hof speaks of, of course, is an controversial old tactic wrapped in a new method of delivery, a tactic that is already getting headlines in Canada, and just might be the start of a new debate on abortion: the use of graphic abortion images.
Designed to “kick start” the debate on abortion, graphic images have been around as long as the current battle on abortion began, in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Then as well as now, such disturbing images were the subject of much discussion, debate and controversy.
At the center of those opposing the use of such imagery, is Pavel Reid, director of the Office of Life and Family Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. Reid is concerned that the use of aborted baby photos can and will undermine their current television media campaign featuring the “woman-centred” ads of Paul Swope’s Caring Foundation.
Says Reid: “We do not lend support to less effective or counter-productive messages or methods that work against effective messages and methods. From the empirical evidence that we have gathered, it is evident that GAP (Genocide Awareness Project) undermines the Focus on Life campaign, which is based on very effective campaigns in Michigan and Colorado.
However, Dr. Jack Willke, considered one of the “fathers'” of the international pro-life movement, wrote in his July 2000 newsletter that preliminary polling results, based on a media saturation campaign of television commercials, followed closely by a very public graphic abortion photo display, played a major impact in changing attitudes of women under 25. Stressing that the research is in its early stages, Willke is suggesting that the successful television campaign and the GAP can co-exist, and perhaps even compliment each other, in some areas.
Adds Reid: “The Office of Life and Family holds the UBC Lifeline students in high esteem. The Archdiocese has supported them in their legal battles to ensure their right to free speech on campus – and to ensure that right is protected for all pro-lifers.” So although the Archdiocese does not agree with the tactics of graphic images, they will go to bat on the principle – that is, the right to use this as a tactic in Canada.
Currently in this country, the usage of such photos are conducted by two very similar, yet very different pro-life campaigns, Show the Truth and the GAP.
Where Show the Truth is a presentation, in the public square, of late-term abortions, Gregg Cunningham’s GAP has taken a different turn – emphasizing the humanity of the unborn aborted child at the point most abortions are performed, and then comparing them to victims of genocide throughout the world.
Frederica Mathewes-Green views have shifted on the public use of such images. She believes that, given today’s climate, the time has come to aggressively challenge a culture that refuses to think on the issue:
“In the early ’90s I was convinced that graphic images of aborted babies were useful as a record of atrocity, in order to motivate pro-lifers and move them to prayer, but that they should not be used with the general public. Polls showed that these images were not effective in changing minds, but caused the viewer to get angry at the person who showed the image to them. The pro-lifer showing them the image lost credibility and the viewer was no longer willing to listen to their pro-life arguments. For these reasons I thought it was unwise to use graphic images in public presentations, because they tended to backfire. ”
But given the situation and attitude on abortion today, Mathewes-Green has shifted her thinking: “In this situation, I think there is room to diversify tactics. Some pro-lifers could well spend their effort using more provocative means to revive attention in the debate, for example by using graphic images.”
“This approach could be especially appropriate in a college campus setting, where free-inquiry is expected. The Genocide Awareness Project clearly juxtaposes images of aborted babies with those of other victims of injustice and violence, taking the initiative to frame the issue in a clear and forceful way – better than using happy-baby and fetal-development images, which make it look like pro-lifers are concerned with cuteness, not justice. I liked as well that the GAP keeps [representatives] present at the site to dialogue with onlookers and explain things, and that they post signs at the perimeter warning those who’d rather not be exposed to the images to avoid the site. All of this seems responsible to me, and the best way to use graphic images.”
At the forefront then, of the debate is the Center for Bioethical Reform’s (CBR) Gregg Cunningham. Cunningham is perhaps the most articulate of the advocates for graphic abortion images, but even his tactical views on such images are evolving. Where the use was once restricted to controlled settings, such as school or public talks, fully warning people of what lies ahead, that strategy has needed to be re-evaluated.
Says Cunningham: “I’m being forced out into the public square simply by the fact that traditional doors are being closed to show these images. Martin Luther King enjoyed a sympathetic media; the pro-life movement does not.”
Scott Klusendorf of Stand to Reason concurs: “The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the culture is far too comfortable with abortion. That has to change, even if it means pro-lifers must become uncomfortable themselves exposing injustice. I say do whatever it takes to show the pictures.”
To that end the CBR plans on driving large trucks with images mounted on the sides up and down designated freeways in California, beginning this summer.
As the leaders debate tactics, and refine their apologia on the issue, those in the trenches are slowly being swayed by such public discussions. Patty Nixon, the Executive Director of Alberta Pro-Life cited fear of persecution in her hesitation to embrace graphic images.
“Rarely have I been involved with initiatives that used graphic pictures of abortion … largely because of my own personal fears which regretfully I have passed on to those around me …. and mainly the fear of persecution. Although I have never blocked the use of them by refusing to send them to anyone requesting them, I have not encouraged their use either.”
John Hof feels that the current discussion is positive: “We will not be in a position to challenge the culture on abortion if we do not know why we need to do it, how to do it, and when to do it. To get to that position, we need to make a commitment to sit down and talk, to find out and examine the history of the civil rights movement, to discover how ethnic and environmental groups have successfully used graphic images in their campaigns – but most importantly, to discover that we can shift our country into a debate mode … where the public know what we mean when we say “abortion” or “choice” and get the pro-choice movement to defend what cannot be defended. Where it will be Judy Rebick who cannot dare publicly proclaim her support for the killing of children.”
Gregg Cunningham believes Canadians are at an important crossroads.
“Canadians need to focus on what free speech actually means. They need to develop their resources to ensure that free speech on controversial issues is not just tolerated but embraced. And then they need to work towards making abortion intolerable. And you can only do that be creating an image in the mind of the public.”
If there is a next step in this debate, it will be to sit down at the table and discuss some real strategy for Canada. Not just political strategy, but a strategic plan to challenge the country and its thinking on abortion. It might mean some of us won’t be nominated for the Citizen of the Year Award.
But as Greg Cunningham has stated: “Pro-lifers suffer from the misconstrued concept that to be successful, they have to be popular.”
Adds John Hof: “The next wave of the pro-life movement is on its way. Today’s youth have the courage to do what is required to take our message out to the public square. They are open to new ideas, new strategies, and most importantly, they want to win, and they don’t want to spend time spinning their wheels on strategies that don’t work. That’s the group I want to be part of.”Patty Nixon muses: “At the bare minimum it will reopen the abortion debate like nothing else I can imagine. It will kindle a wide range of emotions from both sides of the debate and will force people to take a position. It will most assuredly challenge the traditional models of pro-life organizations and activities. And that’s a good thing.” !– end content here –>