By Hilary White and Steve Jalsevac
TORONTO, July 20, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Every summer, motorists and pedestrians in towns across Canada and the US are presented with groups of pro-life volunteers standing next to or holding large signs displaying photos of aborted children. Such projects as Face the Truth in the US, Show the Truth in Canada and the Genocide Awareness Project on both sides of the border bring the images to the public, often stirring debate in newspapers.
The debate within the pro-life movement is ongoing with proponents arguing that the use of graphic images has been among the most successful tools in every human rights struggle since the 18th century when William Wilberforce used them in his campaign against the slave trade. Photos of the Nazi holocaust of the Jews are widely understood to have played a crucial role in awakening the world to the reality of that evil.
Pro-life leaders say that the media blackout on the horrific realities of abortion is so complete that there is little other means of making the case in public.
Fr. Frank Pavone, considered one of today’s most knowledgeable, respected and widely travelled pro-life evangelists, recently gave his views on the use of graphic abortion photos at the 2007 Canadian March for Life Youth Conference in Ottawa. Pavone strongly supports the use of such images as one important part of pro-life strategies.
Pavone stated, "There is no single thing that I have seen more powerful to change people on abortion than simply showing them the pictures… When people see what abortion does to a baby, they are stung to the heart and their consciences are awakened."
The pro-life priest who has founded and heads a new order of priests with a special dedication to pro-life evangelism, says that use of the photos is crucial for educating a disbelieving or evading public about the true reality of abortion. He told the Ottawa youth, "Some people think abortion just makes the baby kind of disappear. They still don’t appreciate that it is an act of violence. It is only the pictures of the aborted children, torn apart, limb for limb that convince people that abortion is an act of violence."
Fr. Pavone emphasizes the graphic images frequently cause numerous, almost instant conversions of pro-abortion people to a pro-life position. He states, "I get emails every day - you will hear people say, ‘I was 100% pro-choice until I saw those pictures.’ We get emails everyday saying that the people who went to our website and saw the pictures of the babies began to cry and in a minute, they moved from being 100% pro-abortion to being 100% pro-life."
The motto of the Priests for Life Website is "America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion." Pavone told the youth "Canada will not reject abortion until Canadians see it and you can make that happen."
Joe Scheidler, the National Director of Pro-Life Action League in the US, who has used the images from the beginning of his decades-long involvement in the pro-life movement, told LifeSiteNews.com that the fight against abortion would never have made any political headway without the images.
Others in the movement, however, have gone so far as to condemn the images as immoral. In February this year, Calgary’s outspokenly pro-life Catholic bishop, Fred Henry, recently sent a letter to all his parishes and Catholic schools banning the local group, the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, that depends upon the images as the centre of their argument. Henry condemned the use of the images as immoral saying they violated the moral principle that "the end…does not justify the means."
The Calgary bishop’s insistence contrasts with that of other Catholic authorities who admit of the legitimacy of the shocking images, even while declining to use them. Pavel Reid, then director of the pro-life activities of the Vancouver archdiocese, wrote to pro-life activist Stephanie Gray in 2004, saying that while the archdiocese would not use the graphic images, there was no argument to be made against their use from the point of view of "faith and morals, but is a prudential decision with which Catholics may disagree."
"Catholics in the Archdiocese remain free to support the GAP," Reid wrote.
Scheidler, who has just finished a ten-day tour of Face the Truth, used stronger language calling the condemnation of graphic images, "extremely dangerous" to the cause of the unborn. "The pictures upset people, but only because they don’t want to admit that this is our culture. If it’s immoral, I don’t see how so many good people can do this."
Scheidler cited the bishops he had worked with using the images, including the revered late Bishop Austin Vaughn. He told LifeSiteNews.com that condemning graphic images because they are upsetting is playing into the hands of the media and pro-abortion movement that "wants us to shut up and go away."
Scheidler, echoing the experience of many groups using the images, said the pictures save lives. During his group’s most recent tour, 20 pregnant young women who had intended to abort, approached volunteers saying that though the images had shocked them, they had helped them decide against abortion.
"People are converted by it," Scheidler said. "[Condemning the pictures] is like telling the Apostles they can’t talk about Christ crucified. you can talk about the resurrection but not the crucifixion."
Some pro-life supporters, while allowing that the shocking abortion images have a legitimate place in the debate, have taken a different approach.
Right to Life Michigan is the organization in the US that pioneered the use of "softer" images in their successful pro-life television ads billboards and radio spots. Despite the group’s emphasis on the gentler approach, however, Pamela Sherstad director of public information at RTL Michigan told LifeSiteNews.com that the use of shocking images of aborted children has its proper place.
"We use them. We have them on the website and we give a warning for people who do want to see the reality of abortion. It does tell the truth of what happens: when abortion occurs, an innocent human life is destroyed." Sherstad said.
Read related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Calgary Bishop Cites Graphic Images for Withdrawal of Support for Prominent Pro-life Group
See full text of excerpt from Fr. Frank Pavone’s speech at National March for Life 2007 Youth Conference
Fr. Frank Pavone on the Power of Graphic Abortion Images
See the Priests for Life website
See Center for Bioethical Reform website
See Pro-Life Action Leagues’ face the Truth page
See Canada’s Show the Truth website
See past Interim article
On the need to show the full horror of abortion