Guest Blog: Gregg Cunningham’s Reply to Simcha Fisher’s Demand that the Pro-Life Movement Cover Up the Horror of Abortion

AFLC is pleased to post a guest blog by Gregg Cunningham, the Executive Director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which works to establish prenatal justice and the right to life for the unborn, the disabled, the infirm, the aged and all vulnerable peoples through education and the development of cutting edge educational resources. Mr. Cunningham, who is a long-time client and friend of AFLC, is widely considered to be one of the leading pro-life warriors in America. The following blog is posted with Mr. Cunningham’s permission.

In a National Catholic Register essay titled “Eight Reasons Not to Use Graphic National Abortion Images at the March for Life,” Simcha Fisher breathlessly proposes one self-defeating solution to a litany of problems which exist largely in her fertile imagination.  She concedes that “Americans are tragically ignorant about what abortion really is …” but then lurches to the head-scratching conclusion that abortion photos should never be shown in public – and only in private “as a last resort.”  Ms. Fisher, after forty years of failed effort to outlaw abortion, and a body-count reaching more than fifty million dead babies, this IS the last resort!

Had Martin Luther King embraced Ms. Fisher’s strangled strategy for social reform, showing lynching photos only in private, and only “as a last resort,” black people would still be drinking from segregated water fountains.  Instead, Dr. King commissioned the making of sickening photos and then lobbied aggressively for their widespread publication and broadcast.  The ennobling fruits of results of his confrontational labors were the improbable enactments of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Ms. Fisher says she decries the public display of abortion photos because, for instance, children attend the March For Life.  It is true that tens-of-thousands of children are bussed into the March For Life each year from East coast Catholic middle schools and high schools.  Many are genuinely devout and authentically pro-life, but others are only nominally Catholic, if Catholic at all.  Some are, or soon will become, sexually active.  Some are, or soon will become, pregnant.  More than a few will abort.  Some of them would change their minds if we showed them the indescribable horror of abortion.  Guttmacher says 20% of abortions are performed on Evangelicals, and that Catholics are 29% more likely to abort than Evangelicals.  Many of the students who attend the March are only vaguely pro-life, if pro-life at all.  And substantial numbers are merely seeking a light-hearted road-trip which frees them from the drudgery of school.  Parents and teachers have told us our abortion photos sobered previously insouciant students.  Failing to meaningfully educate them during this fleeting teaching opportunity would be irresponsibility at the level of literal life and death.

Many of these kids know little and will learn even less about the humanity of the baby or the inhumanity of abortion by listening to the yawn-inducing political speeches which have become a tedious feature of March proceedings.  Abortion pictures save lives because they teach important, complex facts which can only be transmitted visually.  A shocking picture will also be recalled more vividly and for longer periods of time then even the most inspiring speech.  What words are adequate to describe the horror of abortion?  How many Catholic school teachers are willing to show these kids the truth in the classroom?  If we don’t teach them here and now, they may not learn the terrible truth until it is too late – or never learn it at all.

The press has reported tragic news stories describing children as young as nine-years-of-age being victimized by abortions.  Every day in our public schools some pregnant, thirteen-year-old child is taken out of class by a school nurse who, behind the backs of this child’s parents, will arrange a secret judicial proceeding, presided over by a pro-abortion judge who will authorize Planned Parenthood’s abortion of a pregnancy the child’s parents will never know existed.  Some of these children would have the moral courage to resist this scandalous exploitation if they understood the full magnitude of the evil which abortion represents.  Children who are old enough to be threatened by abortion are certainly old enough to benefit from the protection afforded by seeing abortion pictures.  We must muster the moral courage to grant them that protection.

Parents who don’t want their children to see the horror of abortion should simply not bring them to the March, just as responsible parents selectively control their children’s access to certain categories of television content.  Arranging for a baby-sitter is a small price to pay to save the life of another parent’s preborn child.  Ms. Fisher’s “slasher movies” glorify gratuitous violence. Our abortion pictures stigmatize abortion violence.  That is a huge and vital distinction.  We have countless testimonies from women who argue that nothing less compelling than abortion photos would have saved their children’s lives.

Ms. Fisher says we should hide the horror of abortion because post-abortive women attend the March.  CDC reports that nearly half of all abortions are performed on post-abortive women.  Post-abortive women are, therefore, among the women most at risk of aborting.  They are, consequently, the women who most need to see the terrible truth, lest they kill again.  Many post-abortive women (and men) have told us they now realize that visualizing what they had done forced them to stop trying to rationalize it.  Only then were they able to confess and repent, so they could be forgiven and healed.

Public relations issues also trouble Ms. Fisher.  She wants to be admired and she falsely accuses us of discrediting our movement by behaving in a less than admirable manner.  I have attended the March For Life for decades and I have never seen anyone display abortion photos while “shouting, condemning or terrifying,” as she intimates.  The personal conduct of activists who use abortion photos has invariably been above reproach.  I have no idea what Ms. Fisher is talking about, and I am afraid she doesn’t either.

She also asserts the odd fiction that abortion pictures “sometimes push women into abortions.”  Ms. Fisher illogically describes as “undecided,” a pregnant woman who has already decided to schedule an abortion appointment, long before seeing our abortion photos on the clinic sidewalk, which appointment she has already decided to travel to the clinic to keep.  This woman wouldn’t be at the clinic if she hadn’t already decided to abort.  Now the question is merely whether she is ambivalent enough to be dissuaded from that decision.  Any woman who can look at an abortion photo and still subject her child to the horror of abortion is highly unlikely to be converted by a sidewalk counselor’s mere words.  That is a delusional fantasy.

Of course pictures are not a panacea.  Many women so harden their hearts that no influence can reverse their decision to abort.  But attributing their abortion decisions to abortion photos is a contention for which there exists not a shred of credible evidence.  I have never heard anyone say “I never accepted abortion until I saw a picture of it.”  I have heard countless people say “I always accepted abortion until I saw a picture of it.”  The pro-life movement is sadly ignoring the lessons we should take from multiple studies which have repeatedly shown that stomach-churning, nightmare-inducing pictures are an effective means of reducing smoking.  We know experientially that abortion photos also reduce abortion.

Ms. Fisher is additionally worried that “desensitization is a real danger — even among pro-lifers.”  We occasionally encounter this myth among people with little or no actual experience displaying abortion imagery.  Where is the evidence that developing the emotional discipline required to handle the stress of using abortion pictures reduces the user’s capacity for sensitivity and compassion toward others?  I have never seen such an outcome in my decades of contact with thousands of activists who have long experience displaying pictures.  Such exposure actually tends to soften hearts.  Trauma surgeons eventually manage to harden themselves to the bloody images they see each day in the emergency room, but few of them ever become indifferent to tragedy or unsympathetic to the plight of their patients.

She then says “People see what they want to see.”  No they don’t.  They see what we show them.  Ms. Fisher says we shouldn’t use abortion photos because “pro-choicers” counter that our photos are “fake.”  But who cares what “pro-choicers” say?  “Pro-choicers” are not our target audience.  We are aiming at the broad mass of Americans in the mythical middle.  Holocaust deniers say death camp photos are fake but few in the general public accept that transparently false claim.  And few agree that our abortion photos are fake.  For thirteen years, I have personally stood in the presence of hundreds of thousands of college students as they streamed past our huge abortion photos on their way to class.  I have looked into their faces and I have seen their genuinely horrified expressions. They obviously know that what they are seeing is authentic, and all the more so because those who cry “fake” are often the same people who hold bed sheets in front of our signs, in a desperate attempt to cover up our photos.  Why would pro-aborts try to cover up photos they really believed to be counterfeit?

The history of social reform is the history of horrifying pictures:  Pictures of slaves being tortured to death.  Pictures of Native American women and children massacred by the U.S. Calvary.  Pictures of African Americans beaten to their knees for trying to register to vote.  Pictures of little children suffering terrible abuses in American coal mines and factories.  These pictures traumatized children just like those Ms. Fisher seeks to shelter, but the imagery also convinced the country that the victims were real people, fully entitled to rights of personhood.  It also persuaded the electorate that the injustices depicted therein were sufficiently egregious to warrant criminalization.

It is impossible to change public policy without first changing public opinion.  Unlike civil rights activists, etc., we don’t enjoy the benefit of a sympathetic news media, eager to reveal the injustices against which we campaign.  If we don’t expose the truth, no one else will.  Why, then, have March For Life officials tried to push our photos as far as possible from their sector of the Capitol Mall?  Why are so many Christian churches, and so many Christian schools, and so much of the pro-life movement so deeply committed to helping Planned Parenthood conceal the most compelling evidence that elective abortion is an indefensible act of violence which kills a baby?  Is it because they wish to be liked – or at least not abused?  Historically, effective reformers are seldom liked, and liked reformers are seldom effective, no matter how graciously they do or do not behave.  But what terrible injustice has ever been outlawed by covering it up?

We should pray, flat on our faces, that we never become so craven as to suppress evidence of injustice, for fear of persecution.  Ephesians 5:11 commands us, without qualification, to “expose the deeds of darkness,” not to show them only privately, and only as a last resort.  Responsibility for the terrible longevity of history’s most horrific slaughter does not rest entirely upon our adversaries.  We will be judged for our timidity, perhaps as harshly as they will be judged for their barbarity – by history and by Providence.