The abortion debate turns smart people into idiots. Here’s one way to overcome that.
“The problem,” people often tell me, “is not that people don’t know what abortion is. It’s that they don’t understand the beauty of the pre-born child. They don’t know that the baby in the womb is a baby.”
I understand what they’re trying to say. The dehumanizing rhetoric of the pro-choice movement has been staggeringly effective. Clump of cells, parasite, sub-human—as with every injustice, insidious propaganda must be applied to the victim in order to ease the consciences of those involved in the killing.
But on a different level, I disagree. Everyone, I think, knows both instinctively if not intellectually that the pre-born child in the womb is in fact a human being. It’s why when someone announces that they’re “expecting,” no one asks them what they’re expecting. Or when someone goes to the hospital to give birth, no one feels the need to check and see what they gave birth to—because they all know. Everyone has seen a sonogram, or an ultrasound. Almost everyone has seen a photo of a child in the womb, whether it be a photo essay in TIME or LIFE, or a documentary from National Geographic, or simply a video of their friend’s checkup.
No, the problem is that our culture is suffering from a cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of holding two contradictory or competing ideas at the same time, without reconciling those beliefs. This is precisely what has happened with abortion: What we instinctively and intellectually know about the pre-born child in the womb does not line up with what we culturally believe about abortion.
Any pro-life activist can tell you that when you’re discussing the abortion issue with a pro-choice person, they become suddenly and mysteriously amnesiac when you start asking them questions like, “So what is it that’s developing in the mother’s womb?” If a friend had just excitedly announced a pregnancy to them, there would be no confusion about the baby in the womb. But in the cultural context of abortion, suddenly intelligent people turn into idiots, and begin stuttering about “partly human” or “potential human” or “maybe possibly will become human.”
That’s why so many pro-life strategies often prove ineffective. Showing them a picture of a born child, for example, doesn’t force them to confront any hard truth or even make them re-examine their worldview. So it is often with pictures of pre-born children in the womb, too—they see the picture, they register it, and it confirms what they already know—that the baby in the womb is, in fact, a baby. What we need is information, is evidence, that directly targets their cognitive dissonance—that attacks the mental wall between what they know about the baby in the womb and what they believe about abortion.
That is why I think abortion victim photography is so essential: Because in one, often horrifying image, the viewer is forced to reconcile what they knew all along about the child in the womb—that it was a tiny human being—with what abortion actually is, a brutal act of violence that physically destroys that tiny human being. Pictures of abortion victims bring down that mental wall, and the controversy surrounding the use of abortion victim photography exists precisely because of the reaction that often results from people struggling to reconcile two separate ideas which, for the first time, they are realizing are horrifyingly incompatible.
After all, when someone is in a dark room for a very long time and you flick the light on, they will recoil. Their eyes will hurt. Light does that.
We see the stunned realization that abortion is a brutal act of violence even in what some people say. “That’s a picture of a slain baby!” one stunned woman told a TV anchor after receiving one of our anti-abortion postcards. One reporter I spoke with asked how we felt about younger people seeing the images, and as I was pointing out that even in Grade 6 and 7 graphic imagery is used to dissuade drug use, smoking, and drinking and driving, the reporter interrupted me by saying, “Yes—but your images show dead infants, and that hits people harder.”
It does—and for precisely the reason the reporter, however inadvertently, pointed out: It is impossible not to recognize that these images are, in fact, of dead children. Worse, they are killed children. That is never going to be a popular thing to point out. But it does cut to the heart of the issue like nothing else does—and it makes the truth about abortion unavoidable.
The truth is a hard one, especially in a culture that has sealed its covenant with the abortion industry with the blood of millions. Pro-lifers who seek a way to change the culture without confrontation or by self-censoring our best evidence of the truth about abortion have to realize that the guilt of our culture runs wide and deep—for every one of those million lives snuffed out, there was—is—two parents of a dead child. Four grandparents. Friends who applauded or suggested the idea that the life be ended. The medical staff who performed the procedure. The boyfriend, husband, partner who may have pressured or coerced, or even simply driven his partner and his child to a clinic where that child would be shredded and discarded.
But only a recognition of what abortion actually is will heal our culture, because only with recognition, only with truth, can there be repentance, without which there can be no healing. We know the truth. Millions don’t. It’s up to us to confront them with the evidence that will destroy the deadly cognitive dissonance that is resulting in so much death.