It was a nice sunny day, and the contrast couldn’t have been bigger. My boys, still little at the time, chatted happily in the double stroller. In the zipped pouch behind them was a stack of postcards with pictures of little children whose life had been cut short. I made sure to cover the abortion image on the front each time we stopped to stuff a mailbox. Letting the lid fall shut, I walked down the driveway where two eager faces waited for me. That’s when I heard the door open behind me. While talking about abortion is something I do often, facing an angry homeowner is probably my least favourite. I quickened my steps and breathed more easily when no immediate response followed.
We were half-way down the street when I heard a voice. “Hey! You! Stop!” I turned to see an agitated middle-aged woman rushing down the sidewalk on her slippers. “Did you just put this in my mailbox? How dare you!” “I did, Ma’m,” I responded politely. “And you have children? Do you want them to see this?” She waved the postcard in front my face. “I don’t,” I responded truthfully. “Well, my granddaughter got this out of the mail and almost fainted. Are you happy now?!” I told her I was sorry to hear that and that no, that was not my intention. The conversation didn’t go far; she swore, called me “the worst mother in the world,” and walked away.
“Why is that lady so angry, mom?” a little voice asked from beneath the stroller hood. “She didn’t like the card we delivered, bud,” I answered. “Let’s pray for her,” he responded thoughtfully. That, in my opinion, is never a bad idea. I also reflected on how the conversation could’ve gone better, and have had many such interactions since. So what do you say when someone is upset that their child(ren) saw abortion images?
Since every encounter is different, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We must always use discretion, which begins with listening. “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood,” holds especially true when tension runs high. Where is the parent coming from? Is she angry because she didn’t want to explain to her child that she supports that? Or is she upset that her child for the very first time saw the injustice she also opposes but didn’t want to talk about yet? Those are two entirely different starting points.
In each conversation, we seek to find common ground. Whatever the parent says, affirm that which you can agree with. “This might be hard to believe, but I am really sorry that your child is upset. If I could have prevented her from seeing these pictures, I honestly would have.” It should be evident from our demeanour and tone of voice that we genuinely don’t want children to see abortion images. If the child is also present, asking if it would help if your “Choice” Chain sign is turned away during the conversation shows goodwill and has diffused difficult situations many times before. The latter is essential, for few productive conversations are had with adrenaline rushing or in a state of emotional turmoil. As such, asking questions is another key component. “Can I ask you a question?” rarely gets a heated no in response.
“This may not seem analogous so you can disagree with me on that point,” I’ve said to people who support abortion, “but do you support raising awareness about the war in Syria, for example? Do you think that newspapers with gruesome pictures should be hidden at all costs, just in case children see them, or does the injustice justify running that risk?” Most people will agree with that particular example, but hasten to say that “a woman’s choice” is completely different. This brings the discussion back to abortion. “Then the real question is perhaps not, should children see these pictures, but rather, what is abortion? If it is a human right’s violation, why do we allow it? If it is not, why is it so upsetting to see?”
Once, during “Choice” Chain a little girl pointed at my sign and asked, “Why is there blood?” I waited for the parent to answer. He told her that’s what women have the right to do in our country. “That’s a good thing. But these people are crazy and dangerous,” he continued. The girl looked confused as I smiled at her. When her father swore, she winced. Is it any wonder that she began to cry? Perhaps that’s why people become so upset: because they’re forced to explain to a child, who intuitively knows abortion is wrong, that it’s something they support.
If the person opposes abortion, I’ve asked, “Would you agree that if there was no other way to save pre-born children than by showing these pictures, we should do so even if we run the risk of born children seeing them?” In my experience, most pro-lifers say yes, but add that there are other ways. “You’re right about that,” I’ll say. “There are. Imagine, though, that the most effective way to save the most children is by showing what abortion does. While we try to avoid places with many children, would you understand if we do show it in places where there are many adults who need to be reached with a truth you and I already know?” Reasonable pro-lifers rarely disagree. A father once said, “But then you have to prove to me that these pictures actually work.” I was glad to share with him both statistics and testimonies that prove precisely that.
So what about the children who see an abortion image? Let’s be clear: we wish they hadn’t. One doesn’t need to be a parent to understand the desire to shield children from (learning about) injustice, and no pro-lifer rejoices in the fact that a child came across a picture of a bloodied baby. If there were other ways for us to reach the majority of adults without exposing children to it, we would certainly use it.
Thankfully, there are ways to help our children navigate life’s difficulties. Children under three generally don’t notice what’s on the signs. I’ve done presentations with toddlers blissfully unaware of the abortion video playing in the same room. Older children will be impacted, some more than others, by the knowledge that not all babies are as safe as they should be. However, all children are guided by the way the adults in their life respond, and this is helpful to share with the (pro-life) parent you’re conversing with.
“Oh no! Someone hurt the baby!” I once heard a little boy exclaim as he came across an abortion image. “Yes, isn’t that sad?” his mother responded calmly. He nodded and inquired what had happened. “Someone didn’t want the baby and hurt him. But mommy and daddy love babies and we’re telling people to stop doing that.” His little mind was put at ease. “If they don’t want the baby, we’ll take it, right?” Older kids often process and ask questions later. Why are they showing those pictures? Why don’t people want babies? Who kills them? What do the police do about that? Honest, age-appropriate answers may be difficult, but also instill a sense of justice and responsibility. How many of us weren’t convicted at an early age to make a difference because that’s when we found out about abortion?
There is no particular order or plan for how to converse with someone who is upset because of children (potentially) seeing abortion victim photography, but–in summary–there are several things that should be helpful. Use discretion, find common ground, use analogies, and ask questions. Point out that children are guided by their parents, and the projects continue to change minds and save lives. “If that’s the case,” one father said, “even if my child has a nightmare tonight, which I obviously don’t want, but another child lives, that will be completely worth it.”