The media has been in an uproar over the last few weeks over the postcards featuring abortion victims that are being distributed across the country. Journalist after journalist asks the same question: Why do you use abortion pictures? Why not something less shocking?
Of course, very few of those journalists actually want to know why we use that imagery—they simply want to find people who oppose their use. One journalist actually told a lady who supported our postcard campaign that they weren’t interested in her feedback, because they were looking for someone who disagreed with the postcards. And we’ve been very careful to craft responses to all of the frequently asked questions, detail the historical precedent for using horrifying imagery, and highlight the successes that have led us to consistently expand these campaigns. We’ve even made sure we respectfully respond to those journalists who, because of their general disinterest in the rationale behind the use of abortion victim photography, inevitably get most of the facts wrong.
But one answer to the question of why we use photos of abortion victims to stigmatize a procedure that quite brutally destroys those victims was highlighted in the National Post, in an article titled Activists trying to ‘normalize’ abortion by talking about it openly, frankly
The article begins by highlighting Lucy Flores, a Democrat politician from Nevada. Flores, according to media outlets, broke ground by admitting that she had an abortion—and not being sorry about it. I wrote about the story when it broke last July, and noted that the crowing and celebration on the pro-“choice” side of the culture war divide simply highlighted that they are, in fact, pro-abortion. No surprise there.
But the real story, according to the Post, is that there is a full-out attempt by abortion activists to thoroughly destigmatize a procedure that in the United States, has been successfully stigmatized for decades:
Younger activists are shaping the dialogue, taking cues from the Internet, where conversational norms reward unabashed honesty about the female experience — sometimes to maximal shock value — whether with a dozen “this is so brave” retweets or a byline in the “It Happened to Me” section of XO Jane. To them, excising the word “abortion” from abortion rights work makes little sense. “I am very deliberate about using the word ‘abortion’ versus saying I am pro-choice,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, a 29-year-old NARAL board member who has written a guide to abortion story-sharing. “I didn’t have a pro-choice. I had an abortion.”
Advocates and politicians are also putting a human face on the procedure: Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards wrote about her abortion for Elle magazine; Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, a Democrat, told her abortion story in her memoir; clinic counselor Emily Letts filmed her own procedure. Organizations that encourage abortion story-sharing, including Exhale, Advocates for Youth and the Sea Change Program, have created platforms and guides for women who want to speak out. So many women told their abortion stories in 2014 that several journalists and commentators deemed it “the year of the abortion story.”
But as I noted when activists began promoting the de-stigmatization strategy last year, this is actually just a do-over:
I was at first a bit surprised to see that this was a “new” strategy, considering the famous photo of Gloria Steinem, arms lifted in victory at the defeat of her hapless fetus, wearing a t-shirt labeled “I had an abortion.” Further, the left has proven brilliantly manipulative at conflating actions with people over the last several decades—on almost every issue, they have attempted to neutralize criticism by claiming that condemning specific actions or behavior means condemning people in their entirety.
Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry have already tried this. Unshockingly, their “I had an abortion” T-shirts didn’t sell very well.
But as the Post notes, they’re trying it again:
While advocacy organizations have long used the horrors of dangerous pre-Roe abortions and particularly tragic stories of rape or severe fetal abnormalities to illustrate the need for abortion rights, younger women are pushing back on what they call the narrative of “the good abortion.”
And that, in a nutshell, is why we use pictures of abortion victims: To show people that there is no such thing as a good abortion. There is a dead baby at the end of every abortion, a dead human who had his or her rights violated in the most grotesque and permanent fashion. Abortion activists would like to distract from this reality by focusing the debate only on the women or the abortionists involved in the procedure, not on the tiny human who gets discarded at the end of their interaction. They want to tell human stories, but leave one human out of the stories.
Our pictures tell the story of those forgotten humans. And our pictures are extremely successful when it comes to stigmatizing abortion. Abortion activists themselves have admitted this time and time again.
The abortion wars do often boil down to these efforts: Those who support abortion try to destigmatize abortion by refusing to recognize what happens to the pre-born child, and we counter them by showing people what they’re talking about when they say “abortion.” We’ve seen thousands of people change their minds after seeing that part of the abortion story.
And that is why we are telling this story to millions of people—so that abortion becomes stigmatized for the human rights violation it is, and so we can start telling stories with happier endings.