Excerpted from Chapter 5 of Jonathon Van Maren’s recent book Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion, which can be purchased here.
Your signs just make people angry. How is that going to achieve your goal?
It is unreasonable to assume that we can broach the public on a controversial issue without any controversy occurring as a result. Without exception, every social reform movement has found their truth-telling responded to with anger from some quarters. Injustice that is pervasive creates much collective guilt, and those who try their utmost to keep the victims hidden and consciences silenced cannot be expected to respond calmly.
A better question to ask would be this one: Shouldn’t abortion make people angry? Shouldn’t the fact that tiny human beings are being dismembered every day cause people to be disturbed? If we trigger an emotional reaction because we are being uncharitable, then we must immediately cease what we are doing and rethink our strategy. But if people are angry because they do not want to see evidence of what is going on behind closed doors, we are dealing with something entirely different.
TIME Photographer James Nachtwey documented images he took in the 1990s in his book Inferno. Nachtwey traveled to many dangerous parts of the world and photographed disturbing scenes in places like Rwanda, Sudan, and Bosnia. “I am trying to upset people,” he noted. “I am trying to interrupt their day.” That is precisely what pro-lifers must do, as well—interrupt people’s day with the sad truth that as they go about their business, human beings are being killed. Too often we view complacency as “peace” when that is not the case. Complacency and silence are a lethal combination.
It’s also important to note that minds are changed even when people are angry at those who are delivering AVP postcards or holding signs. We have found time and again that people are often angry because their opinion is impacted, and they find the pro-life position to be very inconvenient. Staff at crisis pregnancy centres have told us that girls coming in from campuses where we’ve displayed our projects are often upset or angry by the fact that they no longer feel abortion is an option, but after seeing what abortion does, they can no longer go through with it. One girl who yelled and swore at us during one campus display came up to us a year later and revealed that when she found herself pregnant several months later, she couldn’t go through with having an abortion—even though she had hated us for showing her the pictures, she couldn’t escape the truth those pictures conveyed. Her baby was saved as a result.
We’ve had many similar experiences with our campus displays. One year, a nursing student named Julie came to speak with us. She had been one of the heavy debaters the year before, angrily defending the pro-choice position for hours. Apparently even after she went home, the debate continued in her head:
Um, I remember when you were here about 3 years ago. And I was like a lot of the angry people out here. I walked by and I was so furious. I was pro-choice, and, um, I looked at this and I thought it was disgusting. Like…your point must be so weak that you would do this. But what it comes down to is very basic: We don’t want anyone to impose feelings on us. And these pictures make you feel guilty and sad and they’re bad feelings, and someone else is putting those on you, and it’s a stranger, but you can’t look at that and really, seriously support it. I saw these pictures and I went home and looked up a video of an abortion, and I cried until I thought I was going to puke. And I changed, because of this, to pro-life. It all comes down to, you don’t want someone else to impose bad feelings on you. These pictures do that. But it changed my life. I support it, and I appreciate it.
The pictures, she told us, “followed her home.” Julie is not alone. We’ve heard that same story from hundreds of people who came up to tell us that their anger was a reaction to what they were seeing, but that once the image lodged itself in their minds, it fundamentally changed the way they saw abortion. Unlike a lecture or a presentation, images have staying power. That power has saved countless lives already.